The Cave

For almost two months now, I have been prepping a little corner of my room, transforming it into a cross between a Workspace and an Escape from Mundanity.  Having gathered a small assortment of quirky knick-knacks to go with the Nucleus – and by far the most serious piece of furniture in the room – the Study Table, I have now carved out a Cave for myself.
This is where I spend most of my Me Times. It is both a resting place for my gears and an oasis of inspiration for the days that I run dry. I do not consider it a finished work, for I know that with each passing day my mind sprouts new ideas that could grow into a very personal thought or ideology to believe in. Hence, I would keep bringing in more tenants to share this limited space. Also, I expect to replace some of these chattels somewhere down the lane, when they have worn out their charm and significance.

But for now, this tiny space in this world, makes an earnest attempt to reflect me truly. And I wish to share a glimpse of the beautiful things that surround me on most nights when I am writing one of these pages.

 

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Stubbornly Calm: On days that I find it hard to concentrate on my work, this humble figurine reflects the peace within me, that I must strive to channelize.

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Strains on Strings: From the chance ringing of the Noah Bells that hang on my doorway to sets of practiced chords yet to be born out of a forgotten instrument, Music keeps me alive. The guitar and the bells remind me of the stories waiting to be told, unsung melodies waiting to be written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bookshelf: Not much needs to be said about the books I dwell with. This little shelf at the corner of the Cave holds not only the pages that I look forward to spend time with, but also the ones that have had a great significance in the Story of My Life. Presently understanding the Buddha through the words of a ‘former Roman Catholic religious sister’, as Wikipedia informed.

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Elephant in the Room: Call it Art, call it Tradition, call it adding Colour, call it a silent Prayer, call it even an act of Faith. My spiritual journey has its humble beginnings. And so it shall inevitably be a part of who I am.

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Words: My cave is littered with words. Words from my course books that promise me a secure tomorrow. Words from my diary that make my thoughts coherent. Words from my favourite authors that tempt me into a Time Slip. And words, scribbled on my post-its, reminding me how good I am at remembering!

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Illumination: An obsession with Lights. I have always been fascinated by lights, natural and man-made, its hues and tones, and how it can paint my emotions right. I also belong to the breed of humans who enjoy sitting in a dark room with a single source of sombre light. I think this obsession might be the ancestorial equivalent for my highly unpredictable photography sprees.

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The Willow Hoops: Something that I learned to love, not because of the beauty or charm of the ornament itself, but for what it now represents. A second chance.

 

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In the Silence of a Summer noon

The sun is shining at it’s best right now. Two days ago, the world marked the first day of the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere, the first longest day in 2017, yet.
Well it ain’t quite Spring over here, in my part of the globe, it’s sweltering summer! Although officially, we started atleast two weeks early.

The afternoons are the worst. Everything alive runs for cover or burns alive. The oppressive midday sun casts a spell upon all in my household. The elderly succumb rather quickly to their afternoon naps which have grown deeper and rather meditative in nature.

I am not untouched by the sun’s sultriness either. Although I did not give in to sleep, I did let my mind drift away in a train of thought, that a tropical Loo blew in this afternoon. I am not in charge of the direction, I cannot hence decide what I am to feel, but maybe a little lethargy and a pinch of curiosity.

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In the dull whir of my ceiling fan, I was carried away to a Summer afternoon exactly fourteen years ago. The day I experienced for the first time, the loss of someone I loved dearly. It was also the day I learned that Death is most usually accompanied by Confusion. Sorrow arrives only later.

It was the first day of my year-end examinations. Mathematics. Urgh! But I had done fairly well. And so with spirited steps I walked back home from school, eagerly looking forward to the start of summer holidays in a week’s time. The happiness that ebbed from the fact that I could ignore Algebra and Geometry for atleast two months, created a sense of freedom to go with the holiday spirit. I remember I had great plans for that summer.

But as soon as I walked through the door, I sensed something was not right. The old and cheerfully-fragile figure, that was my Grandfather, was missing from his usual chair, with his usual, ‘So how did you do today?

I learned later that he had a small accident whence he lost his balance and fell and lost copious amounts of blood. But they said he would be all right and that he would probably be back home by dinner. So I calmed myself down. I still remember watching him shift uneasily in the hospital bed. He was impatient to get back home. He kept telling me and anyone who would listen, that he was fine and that we should do something about getting the discharge papers in order. I smiled and told him that he would soon be home, and left the hospital to prepare for my Science exam the next day.
That was the last time I saw him smile.
Turns out, just minutes after his discharge papers came through, he happily got up from his bed, ready to come home for tea, when his heart decided to stop. It was instantaneous and painless. His last thought was probably, ‘I am going home.

I was surprised when they told me that he wasn’t going to be back home for dinner after all. I was all of 13. Old enough to understand what death meant, but too naive to deal with the process of bidding goodbye. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. My mother was still away in Muscat. Her brother, my local guardian, was busy with hospital formalities. His wife, my aunt, was trying to comfort the weeping and wailing mess, that was my Grandmother. I sat there looking at them all, wondering, ‘What should I be doing?’

I was Confused. I had a lot of questions. All the Whys and Hows, and no one to ask. Thankfully, our neighbours came over and asked me to help them find people off the phone book, those who needed to be informed immediately. I finally had something to do. That I did for quite some time I think, maybe an hour or two.
The next thing I remember, it was almost dusk. It was still pretty hot, not only because Summer had started early again that year, but because of the number of people crammed into that small living room of ours. I had dutifully shared all the important contacts, informed the grown-ups about how and when to reach certain members of the family and the like, when I saw my aunt walk towards me.

She took the phone book away from my hands, looked at me and asked, ‘Are you okay?

I was glad she did. I fell onto her, wrapped my arms around her as tightly as I could and cried. Sorrow had arrived and I was happy to embrace it. I forgot about the questions that had bothered me till then.

Since that afternoon, every Summer, I think about how illusive our concept of Time and Death really is. We are convinced that by achieving our life goals or amassing wealth or love, we can justify our date with Death. We wish to do those things that will keep us alive in the fond memories of people, even after we are gone. We try to steal in some Sense of Self, even in Death. Hah! The Self stops existing when life exits. What remains, no matter who you were, are only ashes.

But we must live, love and feel alive in every way possible. Not to give meaning or continuity to our lives, but to enrich this soul with the wisdom of the world, unique to our own view of it. So that this energy that preserved us can guide another human life through it’s own journey.

My old man died that day, but his loss has made its presence felt in my life many times since. He was a simple man with his own set of vices and virtues. I do not think that today I miss the person he was. No, the world would be fine without him, just as it would be fine without me after 50 years.
I only miss the love that he was for me. He loved me in a very unique way and hence left a void where that was, something no one can fill. And that is all right. It’s good to have some empty spaces in life.

Afterall, it would be impossible to read a story, without the empty spaces between words.

I return to the March in 2017. This summer afternoon has almost exhausted itself. And I should probably go wake everyone up and remind them to drink plenty of water.

An Old Flame

There is a very special place within all of us where we house the memories from our childhood. We hold those happy days close, treasure the innocence that once was and long to feel that uncontainable drive to live and explore. At one point in our lives or the other, most of us have wished to be a child again, for reasons that we know best.

The thing I truly miss the most about the bygone days? The endless hours I got to spend with my first true love, my Books.

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Sonny Boy explores the makeshift bookshelf

Back then, there was not a worry in the world that my favourite authors could not distract me from. Those were the days when I first learned how to travel across the world and even across time, without leaving the warmth of my bed. I could disappear into characters and live their lives, like in a parallel universe. I would even go ahead and say that reading was my drug, not that I was even aware of the effects of intoxication back then. But everytime I delved into a book, I felt elevated, rising above the world around me. I would be filled with inspiration and courage. My world had endless possibilities and none the constraints. Stories, ideas, characters, emotions, achievements and failures, morals and inventions, they all filled my life with a never before clamour. It was in the settling of this brannigan of thoughts, that I met myself, for the very first time.

But now I look back, and long so dearly, to feel that passion for words again, even if it were to last not any longer than a page out of those first books. That feeling, is now lost under layers and layers of responsibilities, not just towards the family and the society, but towards the development of self. Time has temporarily halted at that place in my life now, where I need to ‘Do What I Have To Do.’ Reading is now clearly a luxury, one that I need to plan and place onto my schedule, based on how productive I have been over the week.

However, even during those few hours of lavishness, the feeling of being with my book, sometimes misses me completely. I have become much more selective over the years, and I choose my books very carefully (for the lack of time, or so I am convinced). And inspite of that, I am often left wondering at the end of chapters,
I like the book. Why then can I not be a part of it?”

I feel I am much too distracted now to actually believe that Coelho, Roy or Montgomery, could take my problems away, even if it is for a little while. I have not lost faith in them, but I am yet to let them in completely. The years that I spent shutting myself off from the world of words, is now making me pay its price.

So yes, I accept, I do not expect all my ‘selected books’ to carry me in their pages, away to their far off surreality. But I also strongly believe that the ones that are capable of doing so, are waiting for me to find them, take them home and uncover their secrets.

And here is where I should probably make a mention of my affairs.

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I talk about those books that initiated my return to the world of reading. They were just a couple of books I picked up randomly over time. Or, as I would like to believe, that were placed on my path, by chance, on purpose. They were the ones that kindled an old flame.
Quite unassuming books with rather boring covers, that I began reading for the lack of choice mostly, but suddenly became my lifeline.
Yes, I am talking about the ones that you realize overnight that you simply cannot put down until you finish. Something you had not felt the urge to do in such a long time.

If you’ve fallen in love with books the way I did, and if you have felt the pain of breaking up that relationship for more practical ones with the world, you would then know the importance of having the affairs. The ones that exist only to remind you that the bliss of losing yourself in the silent voice of another word-lover, is not a thing of the past or an unobtainable childhood treasure. It can get as real as you want it to be.
And like all one-night-stands, we will wake up once the high evaporates and stare at the two choices we get; to take it to the next level and follow a locked down passion or to abandon it and continue with life the way it was till yesterday.

I thank my flings with the ‘stranger books’ for waking me up. They casually wandered into my life, not to secure a place in my shelf, but to simply make me look at the ones that lay forgotten there.

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Of Bells and Clappers

So the other day I found myself in an antique gift shop tucked away in the corner of probably the least crowded shopping mall in my city. I was done with my shopping and had some time to kill. What better place than one filled with beautiful counterfeits of relics from the past, right?

Decked up on the shelves on one side of the room were, wooden tribal masks, idols capturing the essence of spirituality among various religions (of which Buddhism featured prominently) and rustic Indian paintings. This, however, was in sharp contrast to the plastic toys, key-chains based on cartoon characters and other modern day gift items settled neatly on the other side of the room. Considering that the name and the theme of the shop promised it’s visitors ‘something old’, it was clearly out of place.
I felt cheated initially, but then I reminded myself that it was India, and here, people were more likely to be surprised if a gift shop, whatever the name, did not sell a key chain. Everything sells, everywhere.

I kept my thoughts to myself and decided to linger around for a while more, marvelling the effort taken to reproduce the mysterious and ancient artefacts.

Apart from the items on the shelves, hung from the ceiling were wind chimes. I held up my hand and reached for the weight dangling from each of them, just to hear them chime. There is something utterly romantic about the way the metal rods strike each other to create chance-based music. I moved from one to another, creating enough noise to draw the shopkeeper’s attention. He directed what was an ‘Are-you-going-to-get-anything?’ look at me, which I pretended not to understand and moved along.

Just as I was reaching the door, my eyes fell upon a very oddly structured wind chime. The bells were placed distinctively far apart so that they wouldn’t strike each other, no matter how hard the wind blew. Tied to a single rope, the bells looked crude, like something someone would make without putting a lot of thought into it. The clappers were made of wood and I couldn’t imagine what horrible noise it would make upon being struck. I reached for the end of the thread, that had no decorative weights attached whatsoever, and gave it a tug.

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What I heard next, got instantly downloaded into my memory jukebox, labelled the ‘Best-Wind-Chime-Ever.’ Only, it wasn’t just random chimes, it sounded almost like an orchestrated ringing of bells.You know that feeling when you hear a really good song for the first time, and you instantly know it’s going to be one of your all time favorites? That was me, at a gift shop, staring at a wind chime!

And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t a wind chime made of bells, it WAS a bell.

What followed for the next half hour involved me irritating the owner of the shop with all sorts of questions about the bell (the only thing he knew for sure was that they were hand-made bells originating from a North-Western Indian village), me gawking at him absurdly when I heard how expensive it was, and me feeling guilty and worried at the thought of justifying my purchase to my husband dearest.

Later that night I discovered, thanks to my friend Google, that those were the very famous Noah Bells, a collection of authentic Indian Khadki bells, made in monasteries across the country.They are hand-crafted, usually a combination of iron, copper and bronze, and finish with a carved wooded clapper. However, what was truly unique was that no two bells could create the same music when rung, be it the deep, resonant notes of the larger bells at the top, or the high, brittle pitch created by the tiny ones dangling towards the end of the rope. And maybe, it was that particular feature that compelled me to splurge this once for a an odd-looking bell. The sound, it was nothing like I had ever heard before.

It was loud, yet not disturbing. It contained within itself a prayer from yesterday and a call-out for tomorrow. The more I listened to it, the more it felt like it did not belong to this time or age, like someone bottled up a little past into these casts of metal and wood. And yes, it was peaceful. As if placed there in that moment to counter the ripples of chaos surrounding it.

The bell now hangs beautifully in my room. My son adores it.Every morning, he wakes up and jumps out of the bed to go give it a ring. I honestly don’t know what I enjoy more, the excitement on the face of my three-year-old while ringing an ancient bell, or the first waves of energy the bell transcends down to me. I lie with my eyes closed for a few more seconds, basking in the feeling of happiness and positivity that it fills my room with. An energy, that I hope to carry with me till the end of the day.

And I can’t help but feel that the bell had been waiting for me all along, in that shop, tucked away in the corner. Now, it’s home.

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“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Best Lemonades

This post here is the culmination of what started off as a self-imposed photography exercise last week.

I used to be the proud owner of a Canon 550D. Used to. Now I still own the camera but not very proud of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great, works perfectly and still surprises the amateur in me with the wonders of light.

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No, it’s not the camera, it’s me.

When I got it six years ago, I had seen myself spending the rest of my life with it, travelling to places together and getting old together. Seasons changed and I became more realistic. I told myself that even if I did not carve a profession out of it, I would atleast be faithful to it and include it in my life as much as possible. Years went by and I got even more realistic. I promised it would not be forgotten during all the important moments and trips in my life. Finally at the end of practicality, I carefully placed it well away from my daily life where it remained ignored until very recently.

Having re-discovered a zest for life again, I forgave myself for my mistakes and set out to explore with my travel mate, for old times’ sake. Initially, I wanted to capture sunrises and sunsets, hills and valleys, beaches and temples. And I did too. Made a couple of short holidays, where I felt re-united both with nature and my buddy. But it was nothing extra-ordinary. With the little luxury of time, that I had rationed for myself, running out, I decided to make one short visit to the weekly vegetable market near my home. The reason; I felt the need to observe people and capture emotions. And what better place than a crowded evening market.

I was full of doubts as I walked into a very local market, swarming with people from nearby villages, who had turned up with their produce, in the hopes of earning enough for the week. That was the static crowd. Among them walked about thousands of careful prospective buyers, polishing their bargaining skills with every purchase.
Into them, I walked in, jeans and tees, holding a DSLR, totally ruining the chemistry in the air nearby.
I half expected someone from the crowd to usher me out. I was full of doubts; it had been five years since the little reporter in me walked into a huge crowd with a camera, to cover a very important cultural festival. Back then, people loved to see and talk to anyone from the media. But here, I was walking into a space filled with closed thoughts and mediocrity. Or so I thought.

I was happily surprised at the way everyone smiled and how most of them even posed for a picture here and then. They obviously thought I was with some paper, and I did not have the heart nor the courage to correct them. And in anycase, it felt good to be a reporter once again.
Some even paused to talk to me about their lives and their produces, in the hope of seeing it published somewhere.

To them, that I dedicate this post.

That evening, I met some very interesting people.

The first to catch my eye was the Incessant Lad. A young boy in his late teens, who was standing atop his vegetable cart. He took his lean frame, sprightliness and clear voice to his advantage and kept jumping about from cart to cart, scouting for prospective buyers and marketing his vegetables. The fact that he was visible above all the men and women seated on ground, and that his sharp voice cut across the heavy buzz of the crowd, seemed to draw people towards him. Near his cart, sat a middle-aged man, with a bored look on his eyes. His father? Business partner? Relative or mentor? The Incessant Lad was an aggressive businessman in the making and he was probably proving his point to the Boss.

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Then came Something Khan. I had seen him on my way in at the entrance of the market, but I did not bother much. His colleagues called me out from behind and requested me to take a picture of their Godfather. Something Khan was a prominent spices trader in the markets of Bengaluru and he apparently had quite a small empire running under him. He sat their smiling at me as his friends tried convincing me that he was an important man to be talking to. I smiled and politely asked him to pose for a picture.
He did not change his posture, just widened his smile on my request and looked into the camera, as if he did not really understand what the whole fuss was about. For a man owning 20 spice stores in the state, he sure looked humble.

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I walked ahead slowly. I did not have a grocery list nor a map, so I walked aimlessly, as opposed to the crowd around me. They had speed and direction and most of them hardly noticed me.

Among them sat Miss Unperturbed. She was selling lemons that life had given her, with so much passion, she might as well have been selling strawberries. She saw me enter the alley and quickly looked away. Even as her friends nearby giggled and smiled at me, she remained largely aloof. She chose to see only her lemons and probably the darkening sky in the horizon. I instantly felt disliked. I was invisible to her. I was the alien who knew nothing about her, invading her space. I wondered if she hated my guts, for walking in with a label of luxury that had always been away from her reach.

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But the Bangle Lady, she was something else. She saw me walking down the aisle and quickly straightened up, adjusted her glasses and welcomed me warmly to her stall. I noticed how her companions from the nearby stalls kept telling her about ‘photo‘ and I quickly realized she wanted to get her picture clicked. I agreed happily. The sky was getting darker now so I took a little time to fiddle with the camera settings for the perfect picture. Meanwhile she picked a few bangles from the trays in front of her and wore them on her right hand, and sat prepared with a smile. Something about the way she looked into the camera made me glimpse her youth when she would have enjoyed bewildered stares from the neighborhood boys, admiring her beauty.
Her beauty now was different. It radiated more from the youth she cherished and the confidence she inspired, than her imperfect teeth she tried to hide. Although I did get a couple of posed photos of her, I think this candid shot captures the beauty of her youthfulness more.

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Exhausted after walking around in dust and crowd for hours, I decided to head back home. On my way out of the marketplace, my eyes fell on the Old Lady. She too was selling bangles, although she wasn’t doing much selling. She sat in the least visible spot and did not utter a word. Occasionally she would glance at the main road from between the carts and also at the horizon. The sun had by then disappeared and what remained of its last light for the day was quickly turning bright orange. She looked eager, not to sell, but to leave. I wondered why. Her face remained stoic. She did not reveal anxiety nor excitement. She chose to remain a secret. Once a while, she would open her sachet and count her collection, the only sign that she was there on a mission. I did not approach the Old Lady. I saw her from a distance and chose to respect her space.

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As I traveled back home, I thought about my ignorance in assuming that people belonging to a traditional community did not give importance to retaining their individuality. I found myself guilty of the same prejudice that I had unknowingly accused them of.

I realized that at the end of the day, we all just strive to make the best of the lemons that life hands out.

 

“Tough times never last. But tough people do.”

 

Impressions

The universe speaks to us silently everyday.

It’s messages are powerful enough to set us sail on uncharted waters, or pull us out of blind disbelief. It can keep us trapped inside a memory or release us into a timeless existence.

Sometimes it comes to teach and sometimes to rescue. And then there are other times, when it comes to remind you of something that you had forgotten, something that you always knew but never accepted.

The language couldn’t have been simpler. Yet it remains mostly unheard, largely ignored and often misunderstood. It reveals itself in front of us in every moment. But only those who believe in them or seek them out, truly understand it. Blessed are the ones who have found their voice amongst the stars.

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For there are others, like myself, who chose to see and believe only what we hoped.
We are blinded by our desires, and choose to ignore them or dismiss the messenger all-together. We fear opening ourselves up to these signs. We are either afraid of reading too much into it or afraid of letting it change us in ways we are not yet ready to accept. Sometimes it might take our darkest hours to awaken our senses and converse with the energy around us, that has been trying to reach out.

This voiceless messenger has been with me since I can remember. Guiding me while I took my first steps and broke my first rules. Through all the rights and wrongs, it stayed with me, non-judging, patient and hopeful. It remained my companion for long on this journey that I set out, with a promise to listen. But over time, my instincts got the better of me and I paid less and less attention to its messages. They blew over me like a lifeless wind as I stepped over the broken mirrors and the broken fences.

But it was still out there, leaving bread crumbs behind so that I could realize and follow one day. How I’ve trampled upon many of those trails in my mad search for meaning and direction.

In time, I realized there was only so much you can go without neither a map nor a compass. And having learnt that the hard way, I sought out my old companion. I searched for it in every forgotten song, in every kind stranger on the road, in all the unopened books on my shelves and in every prayer I heard.

It revealed itself again with so much generosity, that I wished to drown myself in self loath. It had always been there. It was I who had been too blind to see.

And now I remember, what I had always known, that which I had temporarily forgotten. I also realize that it is time to continue our journey from where I had gone astray.

I am reminded how life has always been about moving on from one beautiful thing to another, and never about staying. It was about continuing the journey and not setting camp along the way because the view was breathtaking.

Of course, you must pause, catch a breath, enjoy the sights and engrave it in your soul, so that it forms a part of your beautiful memories. But sooner or later, you have to leave. That moment might have been yours, but if you have learned all that you can from it, you must set it free and let it touch other lives like yourself.

You must leave, so that life can surprise you with new adventures.

You must leave, so you would face new battles that strengthen you.

You must leave, so you would know just how beautiful and precious some of life’s moments are.

You must leave, so you leave your mark somewhere.

But you must leave, knowing that happiness is in leaving.

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“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

I remember these words as I look at a beautiful green butterfly fly right into my hands.

 

 

Just another day

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He opened his eyes just a little, just enough to let the morning rays gently seep in. It felt warm and fuzzy, just like it always did.

Just another day, he thought.

He zombie-ed across the room to the bathroom where he would let the cold tiles and even colder water seal the deal, his return from Neverland. It always did the trick. Although he wished for once to wake up to a different world.

He waded through his closet that put a girl to shame, to pick up one of the six shirts he had worn the whole of last year. He never really understood why he had to have this huge collection of clothes that he would never wear. Although he promised himself everytime he went shopping that he ‘loved this shirt’. They looked bright and happy in the stores, but neatly stacked up on his shelves, they seemed to have died a little. Nevertheless, he had to be clothed, the world wouldn’t accept him otherwise.

The walk down the street felt like a deja vu everyday. Observing the same old people go on about their chores, ringing the same set of cabs and even hearing the same voice over the radio on his way to work. Even the smallest change en-route excited him now. As he got out out of the cab and walked towards his office, he looked eagerly for a face amongst the crowd that looked familiar. He had been here for so long now, they should have noticed him by now. The man behind the dainty French dessert counter, the lady sweeping away the leaves of yesterday or atleast the old lady who sat hidden behind the bouquets of roses and daisies. He always thought that one day he would send these flowers, from this very stall, to a person who could be worthy of it. Well.. he smirked and walked ahead. He probably wouldn’t, he was not that sort of a person, it would be too cheesy!

As he approached his desk, his desk that he had to pledge himself for the whole day, he remembered how excited he had been on his first day. He had felt that he had finally made a sensible choice, working with a big firm, and that too in a field that he had spent his childhood dreaming about. He had arrived, he thought.
His peers would envy him for being where he was. He had made his point; period. It would all fall into place now, he had thought.

And today, he looked at the chair. It greeted him with the same curiosity for the day ahead, that it had years ago. But it no longer challenged him. He had realized over the years that, people, the people he worked with, his peers, his colleagues, his boss, could always be counted on to jolt him back to reality: he was not living a dream, he was just slaving his way into their appraisal reports. He was not a hero, he was a slave.

And today, just another day, he found it hard to sit there. The rexin felt hard against his skin. The monitor blinked like it always had, but it hurt his eyes today. And when the phone rang, he knew what the voice from the other end would dictate. It was always a cold greeting and a parade of questions about the work pending that would end with an update from his side. They always sounded so rude and heartless in his head. They din’t care, he thought. Infact he wondered if they ever listened to a word he said.

But he would do it, still. He was not born yesterday, he knew how the world worked, what the corporate culture was all about, and that there was no place for elaborate greetings or genuine curiosity about the well being of the slaves. He has dealt with the likes of them before. It was a part of his life as he had accepted, a long time ago.

But it shouldn’t be this hard, that’s what worried him today, just a little bit.

The day passed just like any other. Programs and codes he once dreamt of cracking, he did without the blink of an eye. It did not matter anymore. He did them everyday, and there were people whom he had met who could crack them before he could think about it. It did not matter anymore. It did, once long ago, when dreams were still legitimate and ambition dictated every move. And back then he had promised himself, that the day he made it big, he would be very happy just doing what he loved. And he was.. happy, he thought.

Back in his room after the uneventful day, he sat listening to old melodies, nibbling on his cold dinner. He knew that in a matter of hours he would say goodnight to the world again, hoping halfheartedly to wake up the next day. As he listened to one of his favourite bands play, he remembered how as a child he had yearned for everything he had now. But why then, did it not feel right?

As he checked his mails one last time before calling it a day, his eyes fell upon his album. His collection of photos from his travels. That brought a smile back on his face. He had traveled a lot, mostly for work. Still, he had seen places, met interesting people who had given him rare insights, had experiences worth so much more than the biggest pay cheque he ever received. The pictures did not even begin to describe the powerful experiences he has had. And no matter what he did, they would always be a part of him. Everytime he revisited them in his mind, he could learn something new. And now that he looked back, he realized that had he not gone wandering, he would not have understood the importance of the life he lived, the luxury he enjoyed, the freedom he treasured. And he would travel more, he had his whole life ahead of him.

For the first time that day, he felt happy. He smiled and reached for the light.

As his room went dark again, he snuggled inside his comforter for another sound  sleep. He closed his eyes and waited for sleep to arrive. Any minute now.

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And then he saw it. He was sitting on a bench at a joggers park by the sea. Boston, was it? He vaguely remembered. Sitting there immersed in the beauty of the place in that time, in that moment. And at that moment, he longed to have someone sit beside him, to whom he did not have to explain just how magical the moment was. Just a hand to hold. Just a heart to love. An explorer like himself who drifted with him wherever their meandering thoughts took them.

He opened his eyes to stare into blackness. And he knew.

But he also knew, that when he woke up the next time, it would be just another day.

 

 

 

Paw prints in time

When Bella came home to us on a rather warm summer night almost five years ago, she weighed a little over a pound and had beautiful, black beckoning eyes. With her delightfully patterned black and white fur that covered most of her eyes and her adorable antics, she sealed her place in the hearts of my husband and I. We had been married for just over a month and we were already gloating like proud parents, showing her off on every possible occasion.

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But it soon became obvious that our darling wasn’t a very welcome guest at my in-laws’. My heart literally broke when I heard people say, “Dogs must stay outside the house” or “It’s a dog, it is not afraid to sleep alone at night!.” Too afraid to voice out my concerns with my in-laws a month into marriage, I could only but try sneaking her upstairs to our bedroom. Thankfully, my husband stepped forward most of the times and rescued our two-month old baby from what would have been otherwise a very rough childhood.

Over the years our families have grown much fonder of her than we had hoped. So much so that, my mother-in-law is often accused of fattening her up or feeding her more meals than is required during the day. Her argument: She is a kid; she must feel hungry all the time.

Well she ain’t a kid anymore. Almost two years ago, she gave birth to five beautiful puppies, two which died sadly. The rest were taken care of until sent home with good families. Bella is now what we humans would call middle-aged. Her fur has started graying and has lost its sheen, and she gets more tired easily. She even gets wild mood swings during which she just won’t sit with us and would instead go hide somewhere in the attic. But her eyes, they still hold so much love and understanding, that it’s hard not to consider her a person.

I realize that out there in the West, people are more open to letting pets become a part of their homes and lives. But here in India, the concept still remains somewhat alien. People are known to worship animals in the name of religion, rear them for livelihood and most certainly butcher them for meat. But not love. Of course there are people, like us, who do love animals, but as a society, we just cannot accept that animals, like humans, have an equal right to live and share this planet with us. Lest I should sound too critical of my own culture, I have heard that the case remains the same with many other Asian and African communities. Maybe it was because from the very beginning we’ve had to ration our resources very carefully and we proclaimed ourselves the most superior and deserving of all of God’s creations. Humbug!

Scientists and zoologists have always refrained from giving humane attributes while studying animal behavior. Of course, they are only allowed to record what could be perceived with evidence and not what was felt. Hence we’ve read about ‘aggressive behaviors‘, ‘predatory instincts‘ and ‘breeding calls‘, and not ‘anger‘, ‘hunger‘ or ‘passion.’ And honestly, there is little tangible evidence to show that it is not otherwise.
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On the other hand, psychologists claim that we humans share four basic primal instincts with animals, that could very well put us all in one basket;

a) survival
b) sex
c) hunger
d) emotions

Most of man’s other complex characteristics arise from one of these four. So what does that mean? Well, whether we like it all not, we are all more animal than we are willing to accept. And that, we may have evolved a lot, but we all come from the same place, the wild.

But man is much more complex than that, I agree, and apart from these basic instinctual functions, we have congratulated ourselves for developing more finer characteristics that make us unique, like the awareness of self. It is said that man is the only creature aware of his own being, until recently that is. Lately studies have shown that chimps trained with a mirror have shown an understanding of their selves and even exhibited like or dislike towards one’s own reflection. Teach them to take a selfie and I am sure they’ll get what self-obsession is all about!

The use of language for communication, culture, memory power and empathy are some other human qualities that have been declared absent in the animal kingdom. And those of you who are gloating about it, let me break another bubble here, these traits are very much present in animals as well. Mainly primates, whales and some species of birds and fishes have been found living in a close-knit and well communicated societies of their own. So what if we don’t understand their language or accept a rain-dance by an African line of chimps as a cultural milestone? They have it in them just like we had it in us millions of years ago. Cats are said to have ten times more short term memory than most of us. And dogs have made us cry with their stories of undying loyalty, emotions and empathy, not just amongst themselves, but across species as well. Take a cue people! I once heard the story of a chimp who signed “cry” to his instructor, on being told that her baby had died.

So yes, man may have come a long way from his tree hugging ancestors, but I wonder when we decided that it was okay to be considered God’s most valuable creation. I wonder who gave us the right to destroy whatever it took to become the supreme species.
Our furry friends on the other hand, surprise us more everyday, by their sheer willingness to accept us inspite of our weak egos. Yet, we fear to take that step towards understanding and accepting them as lives worth respecting. Are we afraid of finding ourselves small in their vast understanding of this planet? Or is it just a fool’s confidence, growing by the day, blinded by ego?

Bella is my baby and sometimes it breaks my heart when I have to leave her alone at home or make her sleep under then bed when our son sleeps with us. But I try to make it up to her later. Sometimes when I talk to her, she looks at me with so much knowing, I feel she has understood each and every word. And I am reminded, she and I, we all are connected to this one source of life. The only difference between the both of us, is that when I love, I seek fulfillment. And when she loves, she finds happiness.

Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

Flowing with the Tide

Here I am again, 5 years since I chose love over career, wanting to make the same decision again. I repeat, same decision.

So far the lessons life taught me stand thus;

  1. Love is not a popular currency at grocery stores.
  2. Marriage takes as much hard work as finishing high school and college in three years.
  3. Children need parents, not money-minting machines.
  4. And, happiness can only be found within ourselves.

Two years ago, when my son was still too young to give me PTA nightmares, and when my husband and I had hit a financial rock-bottom, I thought, “Would we have been better off if I had just stuck to working post marriage?”

Obviously, I din’t voice my concerns out, for the fear of finding myself right and regretting. But seasons changed and the winter came to an end. Everything was forgotten, including the lame taunting voice in my head. Things looked better for us. And now suddenly there is a Summer Sun shining bright and warm on our faces.
Fate obviously likes irony, and here I am contemplating the same I had done five years ago. Only this time, it says “It’s your second chance, the one your prayed for.”maple-leaf-on-water-2-800x600

Its harder this time around. On one-hand there is past experience putting out all its flashy warning signals out, on the other, there is love and a tiny human created purely out of love. On one hand I have elderly voices ringing out how adults need to behave, on the other there is faith and trust in a human being, that goes beyond what one can explain. Yes, it’s much harder.

And hence, here I am, thinking, what good does all my success amount to if I do not have the most important people in my life by my side to share it? What will my bank account be worth if it can only buy a smile and not happiness to my boys? What will my achievements look next to a troubled teenager and a dis-interested mid-aged husband?

Not much, I am sure.

And that brings me to the last point. Happiness, can only be found within ourselves. That is the biggest blessing we all have, regardless of the fact that few can comprehend it. Happiness need not be sought outside our lives, it lives in us everyday, waiting to be unwrapped. I understand that only I hold the key to unlock it, and only I can set myself free. Whether I succeed or not.. well that’s a tale for another day, but what’s important is to realize that I need to stop searching for it around me.

When at work, I told my boss that I would be putting my papers down pretty soon, she wondered out loud, why women always compromised more in a marriage. I responded with a smile. I now feel, that maybe, that’s why women are different from men. A woman knows that her family depends on her to keep the scales from tipping off. Her instincts will guide her towards a more meaningful existence than a more robust bank account. Isin’t it time for us to embrace our differences and make the most of it?

Only time can judge me, but until then, I will go, with what my heart says. I shall follow the path guided by my instincts. And I will glide like a leaf, wherever the current takes me, because I know the secret to my happiness.

The Call of the Phoenix

Bruised and battered, I limped down the dark streets of loneliness, plagued only by the ghosts of my past and the beasts of my tomorrows. I could barely lift my legs to pick up pace, to run, to escape. My feet, they were being weighed down by my boulders of gold, that I had tied up myself.ghosts

There was a time when I thought that those golden boulders would bring in strength, stability, anchor me during rough tides and protect me from drifting away into unchartered waters. Tonight, I realized, they were just boulders, balls of metal, just crude instruments and means to orderliness.

The ghosts kept hovering overhead. The evil ones pelted stones and while some just vanished through me, mocking my mortality, sending a chill down my spine. But the beasts, they scared me more, for they would not reveal themselves. They hid behind empty trash cans and abandoned warehouses, like they were waiting for me to make a move. And I tried, tried in vain to lift those heavy legs and unchain myself.

The shackles tore through my skin every time I pushed hard against them. I bled but I dint care. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run or just make a stand and fight. I would have given anything to do either. But I couldn’t. And I kept limping defeated, unable to make peace with the ghosts nor fight the beasts.

I looked up for answers. I got none. There were no stars, no moon, or even the promise of a dawn. I knelt to the ground and spoke to the earth beneath my feet. I asked for understanding. I was not enlightened. I was on my own, I realized.

And that’s when I heard, the sweet sound of hope. It sang to me. It sounded like it was from somewhere far away. Was it a bird? An angel? A man? I couldn’t make out, it was so very feeble. It came from a place that was unseen to my eyes. It came from a person I did not know. The sound of hope grew louder and louder the more I listened to it. The more I opened my ears to it, the more familiar it sounded. The more I opened my heart to it, the more human it became. I closed my eyes and listened. I listened hard, trying to make out the words. For now it was just trying to talk to my woman. But there was more I knew. I kept listening and listening, allowing every part of my body to open itself to this new set of chords.phoenix1

And then I heard Him. He sang from the heavens. The words that he spoke. I opened my eyes with a start. The music stopped. I looked around. The darkness prevailed. The ghosts were still there, and so were the beasts. But where did the song go?? I looked around desperately with eyes brimming with tears. Empty winds beat down those dingy streets with not a touch of magic in them.

I closed my eyes again. This time I tried to remember what those words were, that I had heard just before His lullaby of hope had vanished. I remembered them. I heard His voice again, this time softly in my head. I parted my lips, trembling, yet determined and repeated those words, like He had sang. And as those first words escaped my mouth, I heard the soft clinking of metal.

My shackles had started coming down.

I sang again, louder this time.

The chains broke down. The beasts growled and started their slow approach.

I sang again, this time exactly the way He had sung.

The glowing red eyes of the beasts surrounded me. They were preparing for attack.

I realized, I could run now. Or I could stay and fight. But it did not matter. What mattered was that the boulders were no longer tying me down. I got my first sweet taste of freedom.

There was no way to be sure about making the right choice here. But I knew one thing for sure, I was not going to just sit, kneeled to the ground, waiting for time to slowly suck and savor the life out of me. And the thought that, whatever I did, it would be my will, gave me courage like never before.

In the distance, I saw the ghosts looking down upon us, preparing to witness an epic run or a fierce battle. And I saw them more clearly now, the lost ones, the loved ones, the forgotten roads, the abandoned dreams, my ghosts.

Tonight, I will fight. I will not kneel anymore. I will either win or die trying.

I knew, that the moment I stood up and got back to my feet, the beasts would charge. I am prepared for battle, I thought.

But as I prepared to stand, I sang for one last time, His song of hope, His secret message for me, tuned for my ears, so only I could understand. The words that reminded me, that I was worth this battle, that I was worth every risk.

“Hold on baby, just a little more

Follow my voice and lead the encore

You are a child, unique and bold

Take flight, your wings I will hold

Your beasts grow stronger,

As your wait grows longer.

They will want to tear your skin

But their hearts you can win

And when they fade, come find me

I will wait, till you I see

Come my baby, come find me

I will show you, your Odyssey.”

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