Tuesday, 19 July 2016

First Lessons..

Background: Sometimes parents have to live separately (in different cities) as an occupational necessity and in such cases; children invariably end up living with one of the parents. One such hapless single parent had the monumental task of sending the 3 year old kid to school while being ‘dedicated’ to another six month old in the house and also rising to meet the professional expectations whenever called upon to do so. The fact that this three year old (henceforth 3YO) was moving between places and joining a new school in July (as against the beginning of ‘Academic Year’ in April) certainly did not help matters. Yet, with all the enterprise (and uncharacteristic humility) at the command of the Not-by-Choice-Single-Parent (henceforth NBCSP), the 3YO managed to get admitted to the elitist pre-school (where the children of city’s glitterati learnt what it takes to obtain a seat in the Famous Fives (say five of the best schools in the country located within the city). Needs to be mentioned, that in this case, the NBCSP was not bedazzled by the promise of the fabled Famous Fives but was rather swayed by the fact that a time-twin of the 3YO (child of two dear close friends/batchmates) attended the same school (even the same class) and would have been a sort of anchor for the 3YO to look forward to school each day. Just a word of mention for elitist-preschool-Principal (henceforth EPSP), who needs to be thanked for accepting 3YO to the school without much fuss (as long as the rules of the school were strictly adhered to by NBCSP!). 

FORGET Scene 1/Scene2/Scene 3 as non-existent episodes of rudeness on the part of EPSP towards NBCSP or better still blame NBSCP as being over-sensitive! Only that perhaps in any other major city while such episodes will not even register as a blip on the radar of basic decency, in this city of tehzeeb it definitely could raise a few eyebrows.

NBCSP (Standing): Ma’m, Could I please speak to you regarding my child?
EPSP (tersely): Regarding what?
NBCSP: Ma’m, regarding her homework.
EPSP (already visibly irritated): What is it?
NBCSP (even more politely, trying to make her understand): It’s just that 3YO has just changed places last week and is unable to adjust to the new routine, so sometimes she may not be able to complete her homework.
EPSP: What do you want us to do?
NBCSP: Give her time to adjust. She knows her alphabets and numbers and colours but sometimes is just not willing to write it in her notebooks. She will take time to get used to it.
EPSP: Make her practice. Practice makes a man perfect. 
NBCSP (wondering about the ‘man’ part): Just that in her older school they were not very strict with the homework part.
EPSP: Put her in Playgroup then. We don’t have any homework for playgroup children.
NBCSP: Why would she go to playgroup if she is three year old and knows everything that is expected from a child at her age?.
EPSP: In other schools, they give up to five pages of homework. We give only two. And you want us to do everything and you want to do nothing.
NBCSP: She does her homework everyday but sometimes its just too difficult to make her write. Also, I have been in the education department for the past one year (looking at all the primary schools of the State) and understand a little bit about early childhood learning. I was just requesting you to give her time to adapt to the new environment.
EPSP (rolling her eyes): We could completely exempt her from any homework in that case.
Also, there’s a big school here which expects your child to write ten pages. And whatever power you have gained in the education department, use it there.
If you still wish to talk more, you could wait in my office.
NBCSP (completely quiet, appalled by EPSP’s rudeness and  at the same time controlling her instinct to give a befitting reply) : She has been regular with her homework so far. I do not see there is anything more to talk about.

  • It is actually impossible for people who live in fixed places all their lives to understand what it takes to call a new place home every six months, grow roots there, knowing you will surely be uprooted again. (Not even trying to suggest that one needs to look from the perspective of a 3YO who cries herself to sleep each night, hoping when she wakes up both her parents will be there to comfort her like always)
  • Sometimes people who are in the business of imparting education (including myself) too need an education especially when it comes to children as young as 2-3 years old.
  • May be there's a certain bit of pride in sending one's child to a famous school (not to mention the 'label' you carry for the rest of your life, and I include myself in this too) but how many things can a 3YO whose heart is constantly elsewhere, can be made to drag through forcibly in the course of 24 hours.
  • What if the child of a famous set of parents fails to make it to institutions like Famous Five. Is it end of life before it has even begun?
  • What about children who might have the calibre to make it to any top school but complete their education in small towns for a variety of circumstances (like the above mentioned 'occupational necessity').
  • Lastly, thank you Maria Semple for writing Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

And it comes to leaving again!...

The time runs out fastest precisely when we want it to slow down and let us be where we are. And its six long months that am talking about. I had come to Pratapgarh when little P was barely ten days old, it was the last week of January (last spell of cold) and A was yet to come to terms with the challenges associated with this new official assignment. In the middle of December, precisely a month before P was born, when A had been posted out of Lucknow and given less than 12 hours to take over in Pratapgarh in difficult circumstances, we had bitterly resented the sudden shift of events. Not only it meant me being left alone with N when it was beginning to get difficult for me, I had also looked forward to spend my maternity leave in the comfort of my own house, living in a city. But while not everything turns out as we want it to be, with the benefit of hindsight, the beautiful memories of the past six months will continue to be cherished for an entire lifetime.

Once I moved here, it was difficult to come to terms with the new reality of living in a countryside house when one had spent three comfortable years living in an ultra-modern, self-designed, super-convenient apartment space. My initial days were spent trying to restore some normalcy to our daily routines (and having a less than one month old baby certainly doesn't help!). While I relentlessly tried to revive the flow of wind and light around this beautiful colonial house, I also found myself increasingly drawn to the boundless treasures it seemed to contain.

A large part of my time (before the summer sun became too harsh to bear) was spent sitting in the 'courtyard with magical light' as I call it and watch the play of light and seasons on the Siris tree that grew beside it. Even before I had brought newborn P over, A had restored a number of doors and windows around the house. My greatest joy on my first morning in the house was waking up to a garden view (after a very long time). Often afterwards, in the early hours of the morning, I would find a golden ray of sunlight filtering in through the gap in the curtains  in my room as if kissing the cot-mobile while P slept like a little prince underneath.

I could not be more thankful to God for making it one of the happiest times of mine and A's life as we watched little N chasing butterflies, filling the rooms with her multiple pursuits and we entertained family and friends alongside. It was here that I could finally live my dream of building a studio where I could paint/craft for hours without any distraction and stream endless music while being at it. While we introduced Masha to our multiple birdie guests (and he taught their names to wide-eyed N), or the multiple impromptu snack parties we hosted and clicked pics for the keepsakes, both me and A were beginning to fall in love with the place that has given so much to us. 

While I sit here writing this and there's less than 24 hours remaining before I take up my old duties in Lucknow, move back to work and start school for N, I completely realize none of it would have been possible without the fabulous people who took care of us- the women who took care of my kids during the day so that I could make up for my sleep deficit, the housekeepers who kept everything in order and the officers who hosted us, worked hard with A and stood by us. Upon return from a recent visit to a fabulous plantation resort in Chikmaglur, we realized there was no point traveling 2000 kms for the same. At least not when one himself lives on a huge estate, in a century old heritage bungalow while still being able to enjoy delicious home-cooked meals. If waking up to the call of the birds and sleeping by the sound of cicadas sums it up, then it is precisely that.

Yet there is more to my 'leaving' this time. And its not just the house, the people and the place. Its also the security and well being of living together as a family that I leave behind (till no certain future date!). Living as a single parent to tiny ones in a city, while continuing to attend official responsibilities is going to be a huge challenge. And there's also the guilt of depriving A and kids of the joy of each other's presence. Multiple sources of advice (and may be even a part of me) suggest I extend leave and continue to live on a little longer. But what solution would it be. In a profession that we have chosen, this will always be the case. While I do not write this by way of justification, but another six months or a year wouldn't make much of a difference. The kids will continue to need both me and A the same for a very long time to come and also better learn soon what it takes to be the children of a 'working mom' (you could say an ambitious and obstinate one at that).

And just before I go and take one final look at the things (before I start packing them up), I look up at the twenty feet high ceiling and think of the innumerable people like me and A who would have lived in this house, children like P and N who grew up in its environs and the countless stories exchanged under this roof. And yet the house doesn't complain about the good and the bad,it doesn't moan about the change of the times and continues to be. How I wish things worked for us the same way!

Time, You Old Gypsy Man
Will you not stay, 
Put up your caravan 
Just for one day? 
All things I'll give you 
Will you be my guest, 
Bells for your jennet 
Of silver the best, 
Goldsmiths shall beat you 
A great golden ring, 
Peacocks shall bow to you, 
Little boys sing. 
Oh, and sweet girls will 
Festoon you with may, 
Time, you old gypsy, 
Why hasten away? 
Last week in Babylon, 
Last night in Rome, 
Morning, and in the crush 
Under Paul's dome; 
Under Pauls' dial 
You tighten your rein - 
Only a moment, 
And off once again; 
Off to some city 
Now blind in the womb, 
Off to another 
Ere that's in the tomb. 
Time, you old gypsy man, 
Will you not stay, 
Put up your caravan 
Just for one day? 

~Ralph Hodgson

Monday, 23 May 2016

Silence and Solitude..

Been trying to find some answers in life. Why is acceptance so difficult and people/situations so complicated. Surviving on my daily dose of solitude and trying to listen to the voices inside my head. Guess if things can not be changed, only should gracefully learn to let go.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A snail-mail project and a million questions!

I've always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” 
Robert Michael Pyle
Sky Time in Gray's River: Living for Keeps in a Forgotten Place

My past few posts have been dedicated to my zillion pastimes during six months long maternity leave and the importance of doing nothing once in a while. The initial days were all  about getting used to two kids in the house and their innumerable demands on mom's energy and time. After a while, however, life begins to follow a pattern and one is somewhat able to reflect on small acts of kindness and gestures of affection shown by family and friends which make life truly worth living. Given mine and A's mechanical home-office-home routine and our tendency to remain caught up in inanities of everyday life, often people/things that deserve heartfelt gratitude and need to be acknowledged go unreciprocated and after considerable time has elapsed, one is rather ashamed of expressing the same (with such delay) anymore.

Over the past few years, as me and A lived in separate cities (for a long time even separate states), life had become a constant effort to spend time together and many important things slipped past unnoticed and unacknowledged- whether it was our best friends' getting married and then having their first kids, or shifting out of places without saying thanks to the people who constantly supported us. Therefore, this time when we had the opportunity and the time, we decided to let all the fabulous people in our life know how much they mean to us. While my original intention was to make a handcrafted card for each recipient, it took no time to figure out that (given my zillion other preoccupations and being 'full-time' Mom to two tiny kids) the thank-you-card-idea would once again become an item on our wishlist only. Therefore, I decided to get two of my watercolors printed in the form of thank you cards (Thank God,for once the internet printing company delivered to a place like Pratapgarh) and shoot them immediately to our 'magic circle' of friends.However, getting everyone's postal address seemed to be a task in itself and I SMSed/Facebooked/Whatsapped everyone to send us their address please.

The most interesting part of the story is the variety of questions and responses that followed my request for postal address:

  • Majority of people enquired if we intend to visit them soon and much as I feel delighted with the idea, I had to politely convey my answer in a negative.
  • The other set was hopeful that am planning an event (to celebrate something) and perhaps intend to send an invite. For one, while postal invites are still the norm in our part of the country, Me and A did not even send our wedding cards to begin with and rely completely on paperless invitations till date!
  • Yet another interesting set had two subsets of its own. This comprised two people we are extremely open with and who wanted the full story before they would fish out their address. While one of them felt that only somebody as crazy as me could come up with this (and gladly complied), the other plainly refused to accept any Thank-Yous from me whatsoever.
  • Then there was yet another (largely international) set who cited 'operational difficulties' in receiving anything by post (like nobody at home to receive, shifting homes in the interim etc). Considering the difficulties at their end, I could never bring it upon myself to incur international postage charges without being sure if the post will ever even reach them.
  • Lastly, there were dear friends who chose to never respond to my request.
While it shouldn't be a surprise that (prima facie) the idea of receiving anything by post is rather difficult to digest,I was equally charmed by the responses to my request for people's home address (and hence this blog post!). However, for all the trouble that it is, as a dear friend warmly conveyed 'it struck the deepest chords of the Heart'. It was heartening to note that the post still works (and much faster now!) and most people were touched by the simple surprise. There are also a dozen cards still left to be sent for a multiplicity of reasons and I hope they too serve their intended purpose. Much as I have created a story out of the entire exercise, there is no judgement involved in doing so. Some of the dearest people in our lives couldn't be sent any card and as one of them remarked, they perhaps do not even need any. Yet, to each one of them, we owe tons of our happiness and gratitude.While the card could barely contain a few words, to most, I wish I could write tons and tell them how life would not have been the same without them.

Generally, people who are good at writing letters have no need to write letters. They've got plenty of life to lead inside their own context.” 
― Haruki Murakami, 
A Wild Sheep Chase

Doors of perception!

“We lose keys and we find keys and we get new keys. We just have to find the ones that unlock the right doors. Sometimes, we have keys, but we don’t know what door they fit. That can be the hardest part, putting the right key in the right door.” 
Dan Groat, Monarchs and Mendicants

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Of Few Poems and Amaltas..

Sometimes there is not much to write by way of a 'post' but a recurrent thing/theme/object also wouldn't allow one to find peace until one gets it out of one's mind. Come summers, and as its time for the Laburnum flowering, no matter where I am, a surfeit of 'Amaltas' memories start playing in my head. 

The memories go far back to our school days when we would come home on sizzling afternoons and the streets of Delhi would be paved with either the 'gold' of Amaltas or the 'crimson' of Gulmohar. As years passed, the daily 'struggles' and far more 'important' things crowded the mind space and one no longer even spared a thought of the same. And yet, today, nearly two decades years later, staying in a district where I have managed to come across just one Amaltas no matter how hard I try to find, I pine for my hometown and its 'streets of gold'. 

Each time I think of Amaltas, my most stirring memory is that of my dear friend (and hostel mate KC) leaving JNU and two of us setting out early on the day of her departure to take as many pics as possible of our beautiful campus. Today when I look back at those pics, nearly all of them seem to present a yellow splurge in the backdrop. If I am lucky enough to find, I would add to this blog post a pic (of the same tree of gold growing inside our Godavari hostel) that I happened to capture during my last visit (which in turn has precious memories of its own). Though a lot of water has passed under the bridge since we left our alma mater, a few things are caught in a time warp. Am sure each of us who carry a bit of JNU in our hearts, will always also carry a bit of this gold.

Years later as life took me to the arid Bundelkhand where summers meant a challenging time of misery, droughts and fires, and the landscape turned dreary into the color of dust, it was once again only a few trees (Amaltas, Gulmohar, Palash and Mahua) which would provide succor to the eyes and the soul alike. Needless, my 'gilted' memories are the only thing I carried along as I waved goodbye to Bundelkhand twice!

Leaving Delhi almost a decade back (and living in multiple places before I could settle and call Lucknow my home), once again my eyes are invariably drawn to Amaltas in bloom anywhere on the streets of Lucknow. Yet a particular favorite of mine is a feeble Amaltas near the Loreto crossing that I saw everyday on my way to the State Secretariat. It doesn't remain in bloom for long nor there is anything special associated with the same and yet I couldn't help making it a part of my art journal and writing a few lines about it.

There was this lovely yellow tree
Everyday it seemed to be greeting me
On my way to the work
My own little happiness quirk 
 (14 May, 2015)

As I shared my art journal entry (sans the poem) with friends and family, long stories flowed in (not to mention a century of 'likes')! Of particular mention are the two poems I received. Not just that these poems need to be shared, the memories would no longer be complete without them.

अमलतास / गुलज़ार

खिड़की पिछवाड़े को खुलती तो नज़र आता था
वो अमलतास का इक पेड़, ज़रा दूर, अकेला-सा खड़ा था
शाखें पंखों की तरह खोले हुए
एक परिन्दे की तरह
बरगलाते थे उसे रोज़ परिन्दे आकर
सब सुनाते थे वि परवाज़ के क़िस्से उसको
और दिखाते थे उसे उड़ के, क़लाबाज़ियाँ खा के
बदलियाँ छू के बताते थे, मज़े ठंडी हवा के!
आंधी का हाथ पकड़ कर शायद
उसने कल उड़ने की कोशिश की थी
औंधे मुँह बीच-सड़क आके गिरा है!!

The Laburnum Top/ Ted Hughes 

The Laburnum Top is silent, quite still
in the afternoon yellow September sunlight,
A few leaves yellowing, all its seeds fallen
Till the goldfinch comes, with a twitching chirrup
A suddeness, a startlement,at a branch end
Then sleek as a lizard, and alert and abrupt,
She enters the thickness,and a machine starts up
Of chitterings, and of tremor of wings,and trillings -
The whole tree trembles and thrills
It is the engine of her family.
She stokes it full, then flirts out to a branch-end
Showing her barred face identity mask
Then with eerie delicate whistle-chirrup whisperings
She launches away, towards the infinite
And the laburnum subsides to empty

There are a number of people who have stood by us in life's journey and who have left an indelible imprint on our lives. Incidentally, many of them already know of my 'Amaltas love' and were not surprised to receive a-middle-of-the-year-no-rhyme-or-reason 'Thank You' card that carried a pic of (you guessed it) AMALTAS! 

However, the story doesn't end here. I came to know, my 'yellow fever' has truly caught on, when,(living far away from my loved ones,) one morning I unexpectedly received  the adjoining pic and realized sometimes no words need to be said.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Losing Ronnie and Finding Rudolph!

Dear N,

It will probably be years before you are able to decipher the true reason for narrating this story but as your Mom I have been meaning to write this for you for long and no matter how late you ask me about this, this memory will always be my amongst my hardest lessons in life and  a parable I will probably reflect upon often.

When you were barely six months old, my favorite boss (Uncle A) and his wife (Aunt S) returned from their sabbatical in London and amongst several things, brought along a stuffed puppy for you. As Aunt S still vividly recounts she picked it for you during the Christmas week sales in anticipation of your imminent arrival into our lives. It was not the only stuffed toy you had and definitely not your first one, but from an early age you took a liking for it. When you would need to cuddle something to sleep with, we would give you the same pup and soon it became your inseparable companion who even traveled with us on long journeys to distant places. As you learnt to speak, we taught you to call it Ronnie (because it wore a leather name tag which mentioned the same).Each time we would visit your either set of grandparents, I would fear that if Ronnie got left behind, how will I ever calm you and procure it back.

In the winter of 2015, your Dad got transferred out and as it was nearly time for P to come to us, you and me had no option but to continue staying all by ourselves in Lucknow. Each afternoon, I would send you to the park outside and you would spend hours playing with your toys and ball in the sun. Needless to mention Ronnie always accompanied you. I still clearly remember that afternoon as I was putting you to sleep after lunch and you started crying for Ronnie. As we began to search your pram, your room and gradually the entire house, it became clear that Ronnie never came back with you that day.

While I managed to put you to sleep somehow, I myself could not find any peace. Not just that Ronnie was exorbitantly priced and pretty difficult to buy anywhere in India (and I learnt it only when we lost it and I mounted an internet search to find a replacement for you), I could not come to terms with the loss myself. As you continued to cry (for days afterwards), I felt miserable and helpless, for being unable to save you from the pain of losing Ronnie. Sometimes, my instinct would tell me to request one of our several friends living abroad to help me find a replacement. It took your dad a good amount of time to explain to me that it was okay and you will gradually get over it. 

When you read this story years afterwards, you will perhaps not find it to be such a big deal at all. But at that point of time in my life, it was. May be I was emotionally fragile (at that stage) and tried my best to keep you happy (while you missed Dad) with my limited energies and alone-time with you. For a while, I even turned selfish and would have done anything to restore Ronnie to you. But something kept me from doing so. I slowly began to realize that no matter how much I may try to protect you in life, you would sometimes get hurt (both physically and emotionally) and agonize over it for days afterwards. While I will always tell you to get over it soon, the hurt will take its own time to heal. You will devise your own mechanisms to deal with pain/loss and hopefully, emerge stronger in the process. And with all the resources and comforts at my command, I would not be able to prevent any of it from happening to you. Much as my parents loved me and still do, they could do nothing about the pain it entailed as I grew into a Mum of two.

Now, it would shortly be six months since Ronnie went back to live with his Mom (that's the story everybody in the family has to repeat). While it was difficult for you initially, over time, you not just brought Monkey and (a Pink) Ronnie to accompany you everywhere, Nanna even bought you a Rabbit you now love. And the biggest surprise of all, Masha brought you an elk from Finland and we decided to name it Rudolph (after Santa's reindeer). While you are unable to pronounce Rudolph even though you are three, Rudolph is clearly the current favorite and am sure Ronnie is already a distant memory to you.

Each time you lose something as precious as Ronnie, I hope you will remember there's always another (pink) Ronnie, Monkey and Rabbit waiting to be discovered. And just when you least expect, you might get Rudolph. Even if you had Ronnie now, am sure life would not have been much different and you would not be willing to change one bit of it for anything. In the process of writing this to you, I am also reminding myself of the lesson I have learnt both as a parent and as an individual.

With lifelong concern and my heart,

Monday, 2 May 2016

A page from the everyday life of an about to be 33 year old!

“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring. I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else. I could always think of things to do by myself.” 

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

As March Madness makes way for 'May Mellowness', and friends and family grant a lifelong extension to my license to be mad, for the first time since school I find something to look forward to each day and for the first time 'everyday' seems more interesting than some 'special' days. While there a million thoughts running through my mind and at least half a dozen blog posts (which require dedicated writing time) traipse half-baked through my imagination, I earnestly wish I could freeze a slice of my time and relish it at a later stage in life. While time travel remains a distinct improbability at the moment, I could always mark this great time of my life with chosen reference points which will be my memory aids in days to come. If I were to present a cross-section of my daily activities, this is what it would look like:

  • Enjoying- Summers in Pratapgarh (I know its 43 degrees outside!) and long evening walks 
  • Listening to- MTV India Unplugged (all seasons)
  • Loving- my disconnect (not yet freedom) from cellphone/Whatsapp/Facebook..
  • Learning- to drive around and observe the beauty/architecture of country homes
  • Feasting (my eyes) on- Gulmohars in full bloom and Mahua leaves which appear red in sunlight
  • Relishing- home-cooked 'Litti-Chokha' (typical meal of this part of the country) 
  • Playing- Two Dots (my meditation)
  • (Night time) Reading- David Levithan (all books), Murakami (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)
  • Organizing-Craft Supplies/ Digital files/ Photographs
  • Clicking- Parakeets and Hornbills and Hoopoes flitting about in the fields in the evening
  • Dreading- Return to office in July and managing two kids by myself
  • Hosting- People over lunch/tea and serving meals they do not expect in Pratapgarh (We never host dinners because its kids' sleeping time)
  • Sending- love and wishes in the form of self designed cards to dear friends all over
  • Hoping- to complete my Tapestry of Dreams before younger one turns one
  • Reflecting upon- being emotional and instinctive (and its fall outs) (As Murakami says, "Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.")
  • Smiling- over the little things my kids do and amazed at God's kindness.
  • Thanking- Everyone and Everything that has made all of the above possible

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Of beautiful ruins..

Hogi is dher imaarat ki kahani kuchh tau
Dhundh alfaaz ke malbe mein maa’ine kuchh tau

                                                         ~Shahpur Rasool

(Surely a story hides behind these ruins, somewhere
Search the debris of words, the meaning is there, somewhere)

While reading a book on Delhi recently, I came across these lines and could not help but think of some beautiful ruins in the heart of Lucknow I happened to visit last summer.Whatever be the original purpose of such buildings or the current extent of their dilapidation, the air around them teems with stories which bore witness to silent passage of time. Sometimes one feels as if one merely had to outstretch one's hands, and catch a few words which seem rather too palpable. But then, lest the superfluity of my words ruins the beauty of the the feeling such places evoke, I rest my case with a sense of awe and abandonment.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Doors Have Been Shut

I was lonely
But did not seek anyone
Then I met you
And now I am
Lonelier than before

You took away my words
My songs, my poems, my prayers
How I wish I knew
You did not even understand
The language I spoke

There are ways to say things
Which remain unsaid
I wish you could
Hear my silence
That grows louder each day

A part of me knew all along
My anchor rests on loose soil
But heart has its reasons
That reason knows nothing of
And that is where it ends.

Do not look for me anymore
Do not even try to gather
The meaning of my words
You had it all
But now

The doors have been shut
The doors have been shut

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

March Madness- of a different kind!!

Life is beautiful. Being a mom to a three year doll has been a delight. Been blessed with a baby boy this January and life never seemed so incredible before. While it does take a lot to manage two kids, being home on a six month long paid maternity leave is also an opportunity that presents itself only twice in a working woman's career in my part of the world. And to add to these wonderful circumstances, living in a place away from the trappings of city life and close to nature, is an experience of sorts.

For someone who has spent nine long years in government service, March in India only means a month of meeting financial targets and reconciling funds and expenditures. Needless to mention, in my recent memory, March has always been an immensely stressful time of the year when office work takes precedence over everything else and life in general is put on hold. As our colleagues and friends in most professions too follow the rigors of financial year closing, there have hardly ever been any memories built around this time of the year.

While most of the above is till true, this particular March for me has been a rather memorable and personally satisfying one. It is perhaps for the first time in life that I have been able to immerse myself into any number of hobbies without any constraint of time and space. The entire experience of endless reading-poetry-painting-bird watching-photography-cooking-listening to music and so on has been a thoroughly refreshing one and renewed hopes and energies alike.

While I wish I could write every aspect of this phase of my life and read and reread it later in life whenever the going seems to be tough, certain things are too beautiful to be left un-shared. Being somebody who can not sleep without reading, I do not know if I never paid attention to the beauty of certain words before or if these three books (whose passages I reproduce below) were exceptionally well written, but certain books definitely take the reader to an entirely different level altogether.

“The more you love someone, he came to think, the harder it is to tell them. It surprised him that strangers didn't stop each other on the street to say I love you.” 
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

“Because we see only what we already know. We project our own capacities—for good as well as evil—onto the other person. Then we acknowledge as love primarily those things that correspond to our own image thereof. We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. Any other way makes us uncomfortable. We respond with doubt and suspicion. We misinterpret the signs. We do not understand the language. We accuse. We assert that the other person does not love us. But perhaps he merely loves us in some idiosyncratic way that we fail to recognize.” 
― Jan-Philipp Sendker, The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats

“Even now, all possible feelings do not yet exist, there are still those that lie beyond our capacity and our imagination. From time to time, when a piece of music no one has ever written or a painting no one has ever painted, or something else impossible to predict, fathom or yet describe takes place, a new feeling enters the world. And then, for the millionth time in the history of feeling, the heart surges and absorbs the impact.” 
                          ― Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

While I was caught up in the web of these exquisite words, even more words flowed in. As I started reading about World Poetry Day,(which happens to be on 21 March,) while I revisited some of my favourite poems, I discovered the poetry of Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali and in the order of precedence of my all time favourites, he currently tops the list.

  1. Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali
  2. I Will Meet You Yet Again by Amrita Pritam
  3. Unending Love by Rabindranath Tagore
  4. Jo Beet Gayi Woh Baat Gayi by Harivanshrai Bachchan
  5. Bullah Ki Jaana by Bulleh Shah

Talking of books and poems, can songs and images be left behind. While I love to fill the rooms of our (current) colonial era house with varied music and sunlight, the house too presents small joys to elate our hearts in the form of chirping of birds, dappled sunshine, long shadows in the afternoon, the sound of wind in the trees, and so much more. The house and the place provide ample opportunities for experiments in art and photography and the results are often deeply gratifying. These multiple pursuits interspersed with the visits of loved ones and rounds of endless banter have only added to the charms. 

While one does miss the comfort and convenience of own house and the freedom and choices of city life and also while sometimes the professional hazards become too much to bear, our stay in Pratapgarh and the pursuits have shrunk these longings and troubles to a mere trifle. Once we leave this place, we may or may not get to see this place ever again. The house (more than a century old) itself may not be around in a few years time but the air around this place will always contain a few molecules of our precious memories of one of the happiest times of our lives. I do not know what future holds for us but this place will definitely be etched in our minds for all times to come. If this is not happiness, then nothing else can be...

Sunset over the Ganges at Kalakankar

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Tree of Life!

"For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is Happiness."

~Hermann Hesse
Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Timeless Afternoons..

There is an hour of the afternoon when the plain is on the verge of saying something. It never says, or perhaps it says it infinitely, or perhaps we do not understand it, or we understand it and it is untranslatable as music.

~Jorge Luis Borges

Thursday, 7 January 2016

A bend in the River

Once again, another New Year day marked the beginning of an end for me. Not that there is nothing to look forward in the year 2016 or that life has been unfair in any way. Just that while one was busy receiving New Year wishes and reciprocating the same, there was also a simultaneous realization of things which will not be the same anymore. 

For the past two and half years since I resumed office after becoming a Mom, the patterns of change in my life had been rather predictable. While change did happen and  I changed places and assignments, one thing that remained rather same over much of this duration was a portion of the route I took to and fro from office each day. Nothing remarkable to deserve a dedicated blog post but to me, this road now seems like a repository of many mundane memories which will continue to cast a shadow on my life each time I pass by. 

It might not seem particularly interesting, but the teddy bear shops which dot a particular stretch on this route have been a source of boundless joy to my little N and each day while she accompanied me to office, and even now while she traverses this way, the sight of myriad stuffed toys displayed on the roadside are a huge incentive for her to stay awake! (As also the Fun Mall, which to her, is a perennial source of french fries!!). 

Much like Little N, while I do watch out for the upcoming shops and food joints along the route and keep count of exceptionally bountiful flowering trees along the way (like the brilliantly pink-purple canopy of jacarandas outside PICUP building, the flaming orange-reds outside Sangeet Natak Academy or the swathes of tiny Plumerias peeking out of the dominant greens of Lohia Park), it is the river that has captivated my imagination and thoughts all along.

While the route merely traverses the bend along the left bank of the river, and one never crosses the bridge technically, there are many things I will always associate with this phase of my life. For example, while the left bank is today being developed as a riverfront promenade and there is an ambitious construction-reclamation drive underway, in not so distant past, I can recollect looking at the uneven flood banks and the languid drains which joined the river and the children and pets from the shanties along the dry banks who criss-crossed the road on my way to the office each day. Today however, none of it remains and massive construction machinery is all that is visible along the left bank. Even a small rapid has been artificially developed not very far from the Barrage. 

But it is not all this that I remember the river for. It is for that 4'o clock winter sunset from a particular point when the sun would become hazy, the birds would roost on the overhead electricity cables and the river would appear to be a languid stretch of grey in the background. How many times, I wished I could stop the car and capture the melancholy of the moment as it presented itself to me each day on my way back from lunch. Similarly, it is that 5 o' clock evanescent sun of a Lucknow summer that would lend an aura of melted silver to the rippling waters of the river and on many a occasion while returning from a Secretariat meeting back to my office, I remember promising to bring my DSLR sometime soon and seize that sight as it appeared from the bridge near my office. Adding to this long list of these unfulfilled promises, I wish I had spared a moment and clicked the changing hues of the lighting on the main bridge over the Barrage late in the evening.

While I will no longer follow this route everyday anymore; I hope life affords me an opportunity to redeem my promises someday (but then I do not know if the sights will remain the same and even if they do, if to me they will 'appear' the same). I have seen the river change over the past thirty months and I have also known it to change with each passing hour, each passing day and each passing season. Just like the river, (over the said duration), my life has witnessed changes too- some big and some small, some ephemeral and some forever lasting. 

Each time I will think of my journeys along the river over all these days, my thoughts will echo the words below:

I thought how lovely and how strange a river is. A river is a river, always there, and yet the water flowing through it is never the same water and is never still. It’s always changing and is always on the move. And over time the river itself changes too. It widens and deepens as it rubs and scours, gnaws and kneads, eats and bores its way through the land. Even the greatest rivers- the Nile and the Ganges, the Yangtze and he Mississippi, the Amazon and the great grey-green greasy Limpopo all set about with fever trees-must have been no more than trickles and flickering streams before they grew into mighty rivers.

Are people like that? I wondered. Am I like that? Always me, like the river itself, always flowing but always different, like the water flowing in the river, sometimes walking steadily along andante, sometimes surging over rapids furioso, sometimes meandering wit hardly any visible movement tranquilo, lento, ppp pianissimo, sometimes gurgling giacoso with pleasure, sometimes sparkling brillante in the sun, sometimes lacrimoso, sometimes appassionato, sometimes misterioso, sometimes pesante, sometimes legato, sometimes staccato, sometimes sospirando, sometimes vivace, and always, I hope, amoroso.

Do I change like a river, widening and deepening, eddying back on myself sometimes, bursting my banks sometimes when there’s too much water, too much life in me, and sometimes dried up from lack of rain? Will the I that is me grow and widen and deepen? Or will I stagnate and become an arid riverbed? Will I allow people to dam me up and confine me to wall so that I flow only where they want? Will I allow them to turn me into a canal to use for they own purposes? Or will I make sure I flow freely, coursing my way through the land and ploughing a valley of my own?” 

Aidan Chambers, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn