THE GIFT OF A SUNRISE

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The first thing I do when I wake up each day is open my heart to the most extravagant show on earth – the sunrise. The progression of darkness into light is the most hopeful thing we can ever witness. It’s like a whole new chance to let go of yesterday and start afresh. “I love that this morning’s sunrise does not define itself by last night’s sunset,” said Steve Maraboli. How amazing if we could just wake up and be a brand new person each day, completely untainted by the past.

March is a season of reflection, of slowing down and pondering over faults and alterations. Every year during this time, I have a tendency to rehash my life; sometimes to good effect, sometimes not. During one of my early morning ponderings recently, I remembered a little episode from school. We were being trained for our high school board exams. During a mock paper, my teacher caught me using the correction pen a little too often. I always had partial OCD, so my paper had to be neat, minus scribbling and errors. It would upset me if it wasn’t so. However, the teacher pointed out that it was okay to just strike out the mistakes and move on. That way I would save time. A complete paper was more important than a neat, but unfinished one. Almost 28 years later, when I thought about that bit of advice, it resounded with a different connotation altogether.

I am not much of a church enthusiast, but sometimes I go and abstractedly sit; just feeling the vibrations and wondering how so much pain, guilt, confusion, gratitude and peace coalesces and fuses into a whole in that place. Decades and decades of emotions forming a tangible web that clings to the walls and ceilings of that one structure. I always wonder what people take away from such an experience. Do they step out, forget everything and stumble all over again? Do they learn from their mistakes and evolve? Do they make amends? My curiosity makes me question everything. But these questions are not so much about others as they are about me. They sprout from my own journey, my personal evolution. The questions keep popping and the answers probably lie in the attempt of uncovering them. We all want to build beautiful, legendary lives. And it serves well to remember that life doesn’t come with a correction pen.

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Quite coincidently, as I was toying around with these thoughts lately, I came across an article on the Native America Navajo tribe and their much celebrated rugs. The unadorned, hand-woven minimalism of the Navajo rugs is art in itself. But the legend that surrounds them is deep. If you look closely, you will find an imperfection in many of the rugs. There are two theories to this. One, that these mistakes are deliberately woven into the rug as a reminder that man isn’t perfect. Then there’s the other theory, the one that resonated with me. It says that although the mistakes might not be intentional, what does seem intentional is the desire not to go back and fix them. Once the mistake is already woven into the fabric, they prefer to leave them there as reminders. When I came across this, the idea set me up for days of thinking and rethinking. Like joining the dots, I connected it to my questions and the episode of the correction pen.

Then a few days later, I happened to be watching the movie, ‘Before Sunrise’. It’s about two young people meeting on a journey and spending the night just walking around town and talking about life and love. The whole movie is a playful but intense conversation between Jesse and Celine. At one point, Jesse says, “…just once, I’d love to see some little old lady save up all her money to go to the fortune teller, and she’d get there all excited about hearing her future, and the woman would say, ‘Um-hmm. Tomorrow, and all your remaining days will be exactly like today. A tedious collection of hours. And you will have no new passions, and no new thoughts and no new travels, and when you die, you’ll be completely forgotten.’ It rattled me a little to think that while we are fretting over what’s passed and toiling over what’s unimportant, our whole life could just turn into a tedious collection of hours. Mistakes be damned! What I needed to do was make the hours count.

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Like every year, this March seems to be a time of transition too. Everything appears to be unpredictable. Each day demands another quantum leap – of faith, of strength, of integrity. What good was a sunrise if I couldn’t pick the one lesson it taught me? Now as the first rays light up the dark sky, I feel more and more inspired to source treasures hidden in unpretentious moments. Bereft of bias, the day seems expansive and uncluttered. In all probability, this must be how we are supposed to show our acknowledgement of the gift. This is most likely how we can honor the ‘Giver’.

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LIKE A LOTUS LEAF

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Back in middle school, I was once summoned to Fr. Dennis’ office. He was my teacher, confidant and guide, all rolled into one. I was a painfully shy kid, but Fr. Dennis knew how to draw me out. That morning he handed me the Bible, asked me to pick a passage and read it aloud. I meekly obeyed not knowing what was in store for me. When I finished, he smiled and said, “You read well and have a beautiful voice. This Sunday you will do the First Reading during the children’s service”. I stood rooted to the spot. I couldn’t do it! I had stage fright! But all my protests fell on deaf ears. That particular Sunday came all too soon and I found myself standing on the dais, Bible in hand, my voice clear and strong enough to reach the farthermost member of the congregation. It was one of those small yet defining moments; the kind where you realize that you’re capable of more than what you give yourself credit for. My life, up until then, had been covered with a veil of ambiguity. But little revelations like this gradually piqued my curiosity and spurred a slow inward journey.

During our formative years, we are taught a lot of things, but no one teaches us how to love and espouse ourselves. In addition to the random syllabus at school, we are conditioned by society to worry about what others think, to downplay our talents, to belittle our accomplishments and compromise on our dreams. It is no wonder then that along the way, we lose our light and purpose. We lead a life set on autopilot, designed by choices that most often than not, are directly or discreetly made for us by someone else.

In the late 1990s, as part of my ‘Creative Writing Course’, my mentor assigned me a project. I had to pick a topic, interview a few people and present a paper worthy of his perusal. The title on my assignment read: ARE YOU LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE? It was disconcerting to find that most people I interviewed weren’t happy. They regretted giving up on their dreams. They longed for a more purpose driven life. When they spoke about their passion, about what they would have actually loved to do, their eyes lit up and their faces took on a glow. In that moment, they seemed to radiate their true selves. It’s never too late though, no matter how old we are. The naysayers will try to bring us down, but it’s up to us to remain unaffected, hold our heads high and carry on. This is the kind of New Year’s intent we should be making: TO LIVE OUR BEST LIVES. It might sound grand but it is actually pretty basic.

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There is a majestic looking ‘Global Vipassana Pagoda’, a Buddhist meditation hall near Gorai, Mumbai, not too far from where I live. I love going there as often as possible. The pagoda itself, built on a peninsula between Gorai creek and the Arabian Sea, is beautiful and there is a serenity that covers the place like a precious blanket. But I’m always drawn to the fringes, to what is around the central theme, be it a picture, a place or even a person. That’s where the real lessons lie. That’s where you most often find treasures. The first time I went there, my exploration of the grounds led me to a lovely lotus pond. It’s a ‘ruminations’ kind of place, where you lose track of time. On the ferry ride back, my thoughts kept drifting back to the lotus pond and more specifically, the lotus leaves. These leaves have a unique feature. They are ‘Superhydrophobic’, meaning that their surface is extremely difficult to wet. Because of this, the lotus flower can thrive in the muddiest of lakes or the dirtiest of ponds without getting affected. All because the water rolls right off the leaves that surround and protect the flower. Shouldn’t this be exactly how we mould ourselves? By remaining connected to our ‘selves’ and letting all that negates our progress ‘roll off’, we might be able to stay true to our path, no matter where we are at right now.

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As the old year folded into the new, I took a wander in the labyrinth that is my mind. There is always so much going on there that it’s hard to discern and sift the marginal from the crucial. It’s been a task long overdue. I sat watching the setting sun, the air smelling of burnt wood drifting from afar. And just when a perfectly quiet moment, bereft of clutter, came along, I made a simple and mindful intent: EMULATE A LOTUS LEAF. To a spirit like mine that gets easily jaded, it might be a Herculean enterprise, but I’m willing to try. As my Reiki Master always said, “Intention is everything.”

 

 

Photo credits: Joshua D. Rego

MICHELANGELIC

When I was in school, someone gifted me a kaleidoscope. I remember being quite enamored by the uniqueness of the toy.  The science behind it escaped me at the time, but the fascination lasted for quite a while. If you think about it, all a kaleidoscope contains is angled mirrors and little bits of colored objects. But the patterns alter depending on movement, and light that infiltrates through the other end. That’s how life is too – little things coming together to form patterns. But what’s important is to ‘let the light in.’

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Of late, my words are slow to come. I go from staring uncomprehendingly into voids to thinking too much, thoughts either stagnant or interlacing and threatening to gush out in torrents. I’ve been aching for serenity, for unflustered reflections and deliberate actions. For a culmination of the bipolarity of my two selves – one that finds the exotic in the ordinary and the other that looks for familiarity in the unknown. I long to step out of the dark and find my own radiance.

As November moved forward, I started yearning more and more for a throwback to calm days. Days when I could sit still and luxuriate in nothing but my own skin. My yoga days which were history now, beckoned to me. So I pulled out my blue tattered mat and tried to meditate. Meditation is unbeatable in its simplicity, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s easy. Thoughts cascade and hurtle across like an avalanche over you. A few days into it and things start getting better; until you reach a point where everything stands absolutely still.

Life is always a work-in-progress. You build some and crumble some. And sometimes, you have to assemble yourself from scratch.  There’s much to learn from every experience and every person you encounter, even toddlers. Recently, I teamed up with my three year old nephew, Ethan in a bid to encourage his new passion – coloring. It was surreal, the way we bonded over rhythmically moving crayons, not just with each other, but with our own selves. And just like that I discovered a new way to meditate.

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I don’t believe in coincidences, so a couple of days later, when my daughter introduced me to Mandala coloring pages for adults, I knew there was a connection. This was a new bridge to cross. An opportunity to deconstruct and interpret pre-determined notions. As I poured color into the intricate designs, it was like creating a self-portriat, understated and pure. Mandala which means ‘circle’ in Sanskrit is a spiritual symbol representing the universe. A simple geometric shape that has no beginning or end, much like space or our own abiding souls. I loved the purity of the experience. Whatever the endeavor, our triumphs depend on our openness to receive and grow from it.

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Life is fickle; proof of it was the November rain that poured out of unrelenting skies onto bewildered heads two nights ago. It’s amazing if you’re prepared for such impulsiveness, like some people who actually walked under umbrellas. If not, it does well to go with the flow and enjoy the pandemonium. That’s how the kaleidoscope of life works. That is how the light gets in. So we, my daughter and I, got home drenched and made quite an evening of it with hot baths, a couple of drinks, steaming food, an animated exchange of stories and an old classic on the television. Evenings like that are ephemeral and not to be wasted. They’re like visiting old childhood haunts that leave one replete.

So at the end of all the meditation, whether it was by sitting still or decanting color into monochromatic patterns, valuable realizations emerged. That there is a season for everything. For rushing around and for slowing down. That self-discovery can come from the most inconspicuous of experiences. That once we let the light in, life can be beautiful from every angle. All we need to do is relentlessly work at discovering our real selves.  When Michelangelo was applauded for the magnificence of David’s statue, all he said was this: “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.” This is what Shifrah Combiths describes as ‘Michelangelic’ – the beauty that’s left when everything that doesn’t belong is chipped away.

AND SUDDENLY, YOU ARE HOME

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I grew up in a small East-Indian village. It was the perfect place to grow up in – simple, clean and warm; all the things that define home for me. Our house was small, but beautiful. There was a tiny patch right outside the window where mum used to grow roses, petunias, bougainvillea and some herbs. Every week, she would squat down there and get her hands dirty. I did not understand all the effort she put into the activity at the time, but what mum was doing was pulling out the pesky weeds so her precious plants would have a healthy place to grow. When I was older, she explained to me that it isn’t enough to just sow and water; frequent weeding is priority if you want to see your garden thrive.

As autumn rolls into winter, a new wave of optimism surges forth from deep inside me. From the disorienting listlessness of summer to the shedding of fall, it’s an echo of how I alter and amend my own self. The seasons affect me more than I’m willing to admit. The other day, as I walked down the street through a tornado of dead leaves, it occurred to me that this is a time to discard what’s redundant. More than the physical clutter, it’s the mental mess that destroys us. Thoughts, feelings and relationships need the most cleansing. People can either drain you until your veins feel dry or nourish you enough to make your soul sing. This is where mum’s weeding theory came into play. As always, I started drawing parallels. It was time to pull out the weeds and grow.

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Last week I visited Dubai. I was excited to go. Not because of all the glitz and glamour of the place. Even when I lived there for eleven years, those things didn’t dazzle me. Plus, I was always a non-citizen who couldn’t speak more than a couple of Arabic words. What was it that bound me to this desert city then? Why was I always eager to revisit? So when I walked those pavements all over again, the warm breeze seemed to bring the answers to me. It wasn’t about being rooted in any place. It was more about the people and the affiliations. It was about who I became while I was there.

There is a well-known and powerful Maori concept called Turangawaewae. Literally, turanga means ‘standing place’ and waewae means ‘feet’. So it translates as ‘a place to stand’. Turangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our place in the world, our home. And home is always, always where your favourite people are.

My six days and seven nights in Dubai were more beautiful than I can put into words. Every meal I had was shared with people that mattered. Every moment nourished emotions that were precious. Every sunrise brought a new freshness into relationships and every sunset sealed it. Dubai is a shopping destination and although I didn’t shop much, I came back heavily loaded. The experiences and memories were certainly 24 carat solid gold.

On my flight back to Mumbai, I came across this beautiful summation of ‘home’ by K.R.R. that summed it all up: It’s fascinating how we’re taught that ‘home’ is this tangible place, the most simply defined to terms – it’s a house, a postcode, a country. And yet, sometimes home cannot be explained by a street number; sometimes it’s a face, a voice, a laugh more honest and familiar than any truth you have ever known. We’re taught that in its most literal sense, home is where we live and grow. But one day, in the silence that follows nostalgic stories and subsequent laughter, you may realize that you never did more living or growing than when you had certain people by your side. And suddenly, you are home.

So while I’m diligently weeding and picking, I realize that the pure stuff outweighs grime. There’s a sense of euphoric calm in knowing this. I feel grateful for a loving family and a few intimate friends. Maybe I’m a gypsy at heart, but the truth is, home can never be a place to me.  Home is the arms of my beloved, the tender kisses of my daughter, the deep concern in my mother’s eyes, the jibes and laughter of my crazy friends. Now I can say with certainty that I have found my tribe, my ‘standing place’. This is home. This is my Turangawaewae. I hope you find yours.

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LAGOM

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Choosing work that makes you show up even if it’s unpaid is what defines your true path.

Life is defined not by apocalyptic moments, but from seemingly diminutive ones that come forth like a whisper and honor who you are. One of my most defining moments came in the September of 2000 – the day I decided to quit my paying job. The choice I made then has gradually gathered significance over the years.

We were expatriates in a foreign land, but it was a good life. Quite honestly, I never felt alien there. Nor did I feel exploited at my work place, as most expatriates do. It’s just that my heart wasn’t in it. I was working for an Iranian family business. They were nice people and treated me well. No late sitting, never a harsh word and authentic Iranian food served for lunch. My love for Chelo Kebabs and Bademjan have stood the test of time. Despite all that, I felt stuck.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. For starters, I was throwing away my financial independence. It meant cutting down on a lot of things. But I was adamant. Too much money was never my goal in life. The Swedish have a word for it – Lagom. It means something like, not too much, not too little, but just right. So I went ahead and did what felt right. In the fifteen years since, I have never regretted my decision. What I gained was way more than what I lost. Among other important things, spending precious time with my daughter was and remains a rewarding revelation in itself.

By then, I was already on my way to discovering my passion – writing. I took up little projects and opportunities that came my way. It didn’t pay me much, but being true to myself and doing that which pleased me was compensation enough. Each day, I was building myself to be who I was meant to be. As opposed to a salary that earlier defined my worth, I was now discovering that my true worth came from the peace and joy that I radiated. Choosing work that makes you show up even if it’s unpaid is what defines your true path. Besides, when you do what you love abundance follows.

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This thought was amplified recently when I visited the slums of Govandi, the dumping ground of Mumbai. It’s a poverty-stricken, crime-riddled place. There is garbage piled sky high, the homes are little more than tin roofs and bare floors, there is never enough food and worst of all, the water supply comes from tankers ‘once a week’. Domestic violence, addictions, rapes and incest are rampant.

In the midst of this ramshackled world, a friend of mine runs a school for the slum kids. These kids come from the lowest strata of society, from below the so-called poverty line. Their stark stories were sordid enough to outdo the dump that bordered their world. But despite all that, there is one thing that went straight through to my heart – the sparkle in their eyes! Their eagerness to study, to move forward, to earn their rightful place in society shone in those beautiful faces. At home, they might be just another pair of hands that rummage through garbage to earn some money. But in that dilapidated building that housed their classroom, they were transformed. Life sprang forth from them like rainbows from a sun-drenched monsoon sky.

Later, as we walked around the ‘basti’, a little girl started following us around like a lamb. Along the way, Nazia slipped her hand into mine. It was a casual gesture but somehow it meant the world to me. It was more than just a holding of hands; it was trust, love and a message. A message that reverberated through my head and has settled into my soul. A message that might unravel in time.

Sometimes the Universe sends us paychecks. And sometimes a huge bonus. I recognized the day as a blessing. As if before I left this world, I was given a glimpse of the pre-requisites of heaven. In a society, where everyone is constantly trying to prove something to the world and is hankering after more and more, I was introduced to selflessness, compassion, empathy and pure love. The teachers and staff who work there come from poor families too. But they look like the richest people in the world. They do not need facials to make their skin glow. They are intrinsically beautiful. Their life is a daily struggle to educate those kids, yet they seem serene. All they seem to want is a little help and support. Not too much, not too little, but just right. Like the Swedish say, ‘Lagom’.

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DRENCHED IN INSIPIDITY

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Back in 1998, I wrote a letter to the editor of a reputed magazine in the U.A.E. It was an emotional response to an article in the previous issue. My letter got picked as the ‘best letter of the week’ and I won a gift voucher of AED 200. That was a lesser victory compared to the call that came through two days later. It was the editor himself offering me an apprenticeship at the magazine. Instead of grabbing the offer with both hands, I hesitated and turned it down. I made excuses saying the current job was more secure; besides I did not have any writing background or qualification. Looking back, it baffles me to think that a stranger had more faith in me than I did myself. He did plant a seed in me though, and true to his word, watered it too by publishing everything I wrote in my free time. But think about the opportunity I kicked just because I lacked faith in my ability as a writer.

We all have stories like this one – of missed chances, things unproven, time wasted, talents buried alive. And it all stems from one thing – lack of faith in our selves. Being a Reiki healer, I now know that our realities stem from all the emotional baggage we heave onto our fragile shoulders as children. What we believe about ourselves, how we perceive the world, our fears and insecurities go back right into the bleak alleys of our childhood.

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Tender minds are easily affected and every word, every gesture is important. As a parent myself, I can see the errors I have made. We can’t really blame ourselves though, because at any given time, we act on our knowledge and experience; we aren’t perfect and mistakes happen. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “When you know better, you do better.” What’s important is that we grow; there’s always room to grow. Evolution is the best example we can set for our children. If I harp about faith and resilience to my daughter and waste my own talents, I am not doing the right thing.

After years of living a corporate life, my friend Roshin recently dared to swerve off into a totally new direction. She quit her job and started living her dream. It takes courage and self-love to do that. New beginnings come at a cost, but as you go forward and the journey becomes the destination, you realize that it’s totally worth the effort. Our past doesn’t have to define us. We can choose to change. We can let our story show how resilient and adaptable the human spirit can be.

Every morning, I sit at my desk by the window and urge myself to come alive. Some days I stare at blank screens and nothing comes forth. Then there are the inspired, dazzling days when words just come pouring out and jostle for space; when every alphabet dances and my soul is reflected in them. Those are the days when my faith is restored, when the fire is stoked and strengthened, when life feels intense and earnest.

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Today is one of those adequate days. It’s drizzling outside and the breeze is pleasantly cool. The outside world has become a metaphor for the inside world. Monsoon is my absolute favorite season. Everything comes alive and looks so spectacular. I love winter too, but the poetry and romance of raindrops on quivering leaves pulls at my heart like nothing else can. The dust of summertime failures is washed away and new hope glistens. This is the season that makes me want to sparkle. We live drenched in insipidity just because we are afraid to step out of it. It’s only when we relegate fear and pull up our cob-webbed bits of courage and polish them to a shine that things will ever change. Time relentlessly marches forward and seasons change. So why can’t we?

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RIPPLES OF HOPE

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Every time I sat at my desk in the past few weeks, I ended up disgruntled. Staring at blank screens is new to me. I have never been lost for words before. But there are always firsts. After a glorious month of multiple celebrations that kept me busy, euphoric and swathed in love, there came a lull. Life rises and falls like the ocean; never constant, always battling with its pull towards the moon. And all we can do is wade in and out of the changing tides hoping that we’ll be able to carry on.

So the days got heavy and it led me to rearranging things around the house, sticking flowers in glass bottles, collecting mangoes like they were going extinct and watching a lot of television. All the time, at the back of my mind though, lurking in the shadows were dismal thoughts…about how I was whittling away at nothing, how things weren’t working out, how time was just slipping by.

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Just around then Masterchef Australia’s season 7 commenced. It is my biggest summer relief every year. I wait for this. This is when my love for life quadrapules. This is when my aesthetic sense takes over everything I do. The way I position the rosebuds, the way I organize my books, the way I rearrange my life. This is also when my emotions get the better of me. It sounds strange to my own ears that a person would cry while watching a cook off. But that is how it is. Because it isn’t just a cook off. Every episode is a lesson in resilience, courage, passion and love.

One of the episodes during the Marco Pierre-White week was particularly interesting. Marco is the father of modern cooking. He is an intimidating man but has a heart of gold. And he spouts so much wisdom. This is what he said about dreams: “Dreams are without question the most important; because without them you never achieve anything. If you have a dream, then you have a duty and a responsibility to yourself to make it come true. If you don’t make your dreams come true, then you’re just a dreamer”.  It jolted me awake from my summer reverie. It’s fine to throw coins in wishing wells, and I do that a lot, but was that enough? Where was the effort? Where was the hustle? Was I ending up being ‘just a dreamer?’

It’s true that life seems at a standstill sometimes. But nothing is ever as bad as it seems. I counted the things that deserve gratitude and my fingers fell short. So I urged myself to find acceptance. More than anything, I urged myself to be honest. If I felt pain, I ought to feel it, not run away from it. That is honest living. There is no such thing as how things should be. If this is how they are, then that’s it. So you get out of the trenches, dust yourself and pull up your loved ones. You look around and often times, you will be better off than most.

Things do get better eventually. As I looked up towards the heavens with eyes of gratitude, the clouds burst open and sent showers to wash away the built up dust. We stepped out and let the raindrops drench us. People came in droves on the bridge. It was beautifully serene. The evening sky, the freshly bathed leaves, the scent of rain on dry earth, the laughter of people around me was enough to make sense of all the perplexity that had plagued the long drawn out summer days.

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There is nothing really grand about life. It’s just a mish-mash of little things. So I set about bringing in what has always defined us – the fits of laughter, thoughts floating over cups of coffee & baked mango desserts, messing up the kitchen with new recipes, sharing music with each other from our playlists. And most importantly, keeping the faith.  Because really there is no other option.

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Then there are those dreams. Sometimes, as I go about stirring curries in pots, there’s this splendid feeling. A feeling that innocently starts in the pit of my stomach and rises up, until it engulfs and sets fire to my soul. It is then that mediocrity, failure, loss…all of it dissipates and I’m left with ripples that shimmer with hope.

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