50 CANDLES IN HEAVEN

This is a special tribute to an incredible woman who graced my life for a few years and left all too soon. Sometimes, even the briefest of influences impact our whole life. This is one such relationship. Over the past six years, I’ve written her several letters. It is just my way of coping with grief. Today I’d like to share a piece of this unique love with you all. Marie would have been 50 today, and I imagine the heavens might be lit up with 50 candles.

IMG_20180913_16505207 February, 2012.

Dear Marie,

Time slowed down the minute I walked into your hospital room yesterday. The contours of your frail body looked stark against the backdrop of clinically white sheets. But what followed me home was the vacant look in your eyes. It stilled my heart and I felt betrayed. But recognition slowly returned and you whispered, “Looking good”, like you always do when you see me. I have no recollection of my own response because somewhere in the long expanse of those few seconds, time had slowed down considerably.

Later, while feeding bland grains of rice into your reluctant mouth, I thought of all the meals we had cooked and eaten together. Do you remember how I couldn’t handle your spicy food, but gradually got addicted to it? Those flavours, your laughter, our shared dreams and thoughts, they have soaked into my skin.

You were my rock; and now it is I who awkwardly babbles words of encouragement to you. What do I know about your pain? All through it, you sat motionless; then with a sigh you said, “I’m tired”. That was the moment I knew you were giving up. It felt like the setting sun was taking everything with it and we were struggling to breathe.

As I write, I look at the darkness outside and try to understand the one within. Maybe you need to rest. Maybe I should be okay with it. But I forgot to say ‘I love you’, so will you hold on a little bit longer?

R

[Marie passed away on the 9th, before I had a chance to visit her again.]

IMG_20180913_16483927 September, 2015.

Dear Marie,

It seems like another lifetime when we were kissing each other’s flaws, blowing on burning wounds, our laughter spilling the chilled cocktails that you so enjoyed. Or was it just yesterday that we were confiding over kitchen counters, our words falling over each other, flavoring pots of your spiced curries. Time blurs and I lose myself in what was and what could have been. You continue to live in soulful poems, crop up in the lines of tuneful songs, smile from behind flaming orange suns. I step on the shards of my broken memories and the sting takes me back to you. They say closure is found in stillness, but when I try, the silence becomes your voice and it follows me wherever I go.

[Written two and a half years after her passing, on her 47th birthday.]

 

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27 September, 2018.

Dearest Marie,

There is a silence around me as I write; a silence so dense that I can almost touch it. I hear a distant laugh that sounds just like yours, but it halts right outside the window. It’s been over six years and yet there’s an empty space that nothing seems to fill.

Mostly I try to focus on the good memories, but every little pain reminds me of you too.  I have my own little collection of aches and pains now; although they seem ridiculously miniscule to what you went through. I remind myself of how your myopathic heart brought forth your warrior spirit. ‘The best we can do is find spectacular ways of dealing with our tragedies’, you would say. I try to find solace in words; sometimes I curl up inside thoughts and fall into reveries. Most times though, I flow like a river, unimpeded onto my own course, following my covert goals, unconcerned with the world. You always pushed me to be the best version of myself and I think you might have started being proud of me now.

Last week, we stopped by at your resting place and arranged flowers in your memory. The greenery and peace there are so perfect. I recounted how much you had loved my surprise bouquet on one of your birthdays. Maybe I should have sent you flowers more often. Maybe I should have written you letters while you could still read them.  Maybe what they say is right, that regret is stronger than gratitude.

You would have been 50 today and the air would have been redolent with ginger tea, Davidoff, Peach Schnapps and fried chicken. As the evening folds into the night, I shall raise a glass to the sky and whisper, “Happy birthday, Marie”. Surely it’s a myth that people become stars, but darling, twinkle a little brighter if you are one.

R.

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ENDNOTE:

The purpose of sharing these personal letters is just so they serve as a reminder of how we take people and love for granted. Good people are precious. Recognize and appreciate them. Celebrate life and smile a lot. Never say no to love because not everyone will value you and the ones who do will not stick around forever. So love with the wildest abandon while you can. Tomorrow might be too late.

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NO RESOLUTION YEAR

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A dear friend gifted me a set of six tea cups about a year ago. The beautiful array, cradled in soft white silk had taken my breath away. So much so, that I never used those cups lest I stain or break them. It’s a different kind of procrastination, one that I’m done with now. December with its brazen mix of fairy lights, bustling kitchens, incessant merriment and warm hugs encourages indulgence. So amidst all the blatant festivity, I found a quiet afternoon to sunbathe on my couch and pour myself some ginger infused tea. Life felt as exquisite as the dainty cup I held in my hands. It was the perfect moment to transition from one year into the next.

2016 was like an errant child. Most days I quailed and stumbled. I also broke my rule of learning one new thing, but somewhere along the way it struck me that learning is arbitrary. When I was invited to judge an inter-school elocution competition at the beginning of December, and was expected to speak to the participants and the audience at large, my stage-shy self ended up crossing an impediment that had held me captive for years. That opportunity gave me a fresh perspective. It also sent me into a kind of flashback to cold days when as a child, I used to cycle on the playground of that very school. When riding with wind in my hair did nothing to liberate me from the chains that bound my soul. When the starry expanse of sky only reminded me of how confined my world was. It felt like scenes from a movie that I’d watched long ago. Walking those tree-lined streets made me think of all the people I’d known and never saw again. But most importantly, it made me realize of how I’d found myself. Of how free I felt now. You fight and you fight and someday the shackles break loose. The sweetest liberation comes from the hardest struggle.

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This is a time of new resolutions, but I’m not making any. After the endless overwhelm I’ve whipped up for myself the past few years, it’s time to take life with an ease that can only come with awareness and repletion. The first time I made bread, I asked my mother how to determine the consistency of the dough. All she said was, “You will know.” That’s how I feel about life now. There is a sizeable project brewing in my head, but there is no stress. I have ideas but there is no unrelenting hurry. Beau Taplin puts it succinctly, “Don’t stress so much about settling on a path for 2017. The division of time into years is a human invention, and fact is every moment of every day is another opportunity for resolution and growth. So when the fireworks fly, relax and enjoy the moment. The rest will come to you.”  That’s the recipe I’m settling with.

One little pointer in the bread making process is this. The pliability of the dough is directly proportionate to the passion you put into kneading it. You know, the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died. “Did he have passion?” That, to me, is the only resolution worth making.

Here’s wishing all of you a genuine and passionate life. Cheers to the days ahead!

 

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WANDER MORE OFTEN

_20160506_151712When we first arrived at my aunt’s place on B.C. Road, it was a clear, sunlit morning. As we wandered around the grounds surrounding the house, I marveled at how verdant it all looked. Rows of swaying coconut palms, mangoes dangling from overburdened trees, the nonchalant munching of the cows, the raucous cackling of the chickens; it was all very nice. But the real fascination for me came after night fell. Life stilled to a whisper, except for the chirping of the nocturnal crickets and the warm glow of fireflies. I perched myself on the low wall that marked the boundary, just sitting there in the twilight, my whole being alive and one with the magnetic silence of the balmy darkness. It’s only when a panicked search party came looking for me that I realized I’d been sitting there for over an hour. It was an allegorical night and later in bed, I remember jotting down three words in my journal: Wander more often. Pretty insightful for a 14-year-old, I daresay.

Recently, a Facebook post on spin tops triggered the above memory. I’ve always been fascinated by this humble toy but never been good at actually making one spin. But now I started thinking about the mechanics of it. The way it spins and the motion of which causes it to remain perfectly balanced on its tip because of inertia. The balanced languor of that inert night in an otherwise rapidly spinning world was quite akin to the spin top theory.

When my yoga teacher taught me meditation a few years ago, this is what he had said: “Relax and breathe. Watch your thoughts as they come and let them go. Be the passive outsider. Eventually you will reach a point of total clarity. That’s when you will feel awake”. In the words of Jigar Gor, “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is what you learn on the way down”. This is exactly what my guru was trying to teach me. Clearly, ‘awakening’ is not limited to ten minutes in a lotus position. You come to your yoga mat to feel, not to accomplish. His words resound in my mind now with a fortified meaning. Meaning that extends to all of life. Now as I lie wide awake at nights, I realize that somewhere along the way I seem to have relinquished all that I’d learnt. Balance begs to be restored. Lost ideas float around like confetti in the brain. These aren’t the delusions of an insomniac mind but colossal blunders that needed to be dealt with.

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Like any child, growing up I’ve had my moments of open-mouthed wonder. One such event was a magic show I attended. Gaping at the magician’s every trick, I was drawn into a kind of parallel universe. It was like moving in and out of real and magical worlds all at once. The experience was beyond anything I’d experienced thus far. The witnessing of such a feat was to me, nothing short of a gift. But the actual gift was hidden, lost in translation and too nebulous for an infantile mind to comprehend. I’ve tried a lot of stuff since but it’s only now, well into my fourth decade, that I grasped the full meaning of an idea that seemed simple enough to be radical.

All the yoga and meditation had so far come to naught just because I had missed one little point – Unmitigated letting go. I had assumed that my guru wanted me to let go of the negative thoughts, but now I realized that he hadn’t really specified that. How radical! Our minds (and thus our lives) are like that magic show. It’s all about perception. What we believe becomes real.

Quite suddenly, ‘being in the moment’ took on a new meaning. It takes a bit of effort and courage to peel away the layers that have gathered over time. And unless you’re Archimedes, it’s certainly never a mind-blowing eureka moment in a bathtub when you finally discover what really works. It’s an uphill climb with constant landslides that hurl you back where you began.

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As is slowly becoming evident, I’m certainly not as utopian as my poetic temperament indicates. When there is an inherent need to put every idea into practice and make it work, the flotsam of idealism ploddingly gives way to sparkling reality. The mental back and forth, the search for experiences, the spiritual connections, the craving to taste life turns one into a nomad without ever traveling much. You grow adept at ruminating with your eyes wide open. Not unlike the cow in my aunt’s barn who chewed on its cud all day long, the crunch of impassioned musings can keep you going most times.

As I step into my 45th year, the physical journey moves in tandem with the spiritual one. Regardless of the maturity that comes in spurts, life doesn’t cease to be ambivalent. Even then, with each passing year, I come closer to my inner nomad. And for that I am eternally grateful. The lack of ostentation in a nomadic life appeals to me. For a nomad, even a stationary one, the truth is not really in the wandering, it is in the ‘unmitigated letting go’.

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’.

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

UNBROKEN

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We’re not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again – Pink 

My earliest memory is of a three year old me, sitting by the window in the fading light, waiting for Dad to come home. I never went to bed without saying goodnight to him. He always brought home a little present for me – a small bag of grapes or oranges or a bar of chocolate. Maybe it was the goodies I used to wait for, but I like to believe that we had a strong bond, one that can only be had between a father and daughter. This might be the reason the memory is so vivid in my mind. It was also the best time I had with him; because around then Dad got a job in Kuwait and what we were building one brick at a time collapsed like a house of cards. At the time it was difficult for me to understand his sudden absence from our lives. Like any child, I felt betrayed and confused. At times like these, though it’s no one’s fault, lives are affected beyond repair and the ramifications leave tangible footprints that can never be erased. Time will fill up the deepest gash, yes, but there are always scars. It took me a long, long time to fill up the emptiness, erase the misery and genuinely laugh again.

All these thoughts resurfaced and floated around in my head a few days ago. My thoughts are never in sync, but even then it was strange because I was in a happy place and it was a happy time. My husband and I were celebrating 21 years of togetherness. We had woken up early that morning and like two fuzzy headed lovers, cruised along the highway humming love songs and smiling for no reason. There was a light drizzle, the verdant mountains sprawled lazily and the world seemed incredibly beautiful.

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We got to our destination and checked into a quiet, cozy little room that overlooked the lush greenery and the sea beyond. It wasn’t a swanky place, in fact, it was way too simple, but there was an old world charm to the austerity. As if life was deliberately made unadorned and effortless. We arranged our few things, freshened up and stepped out. The ocean lay just across the road. We ambled along to be met with a gloriously forsaken looking stretch of pale gold sand spread out in both directions, the water gentle and playful in its kissing of the shore. I sat there for what seemed like an interminable time.

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Later in the evening, when the tide was higher, we went back. The day had been replete with moments that deserved a place in my mental scrapbook. It was at sundown, as we sat looking out at the sea, waiting for twilight that those childhood memories came gushing back to me. It was baffling at first. But then I understood. The bricks that had collapsed all those years ago had been picked up over time. Slowly and surely, they had been placed one upon the other; and now life stood weathered but sturdy. All of those early years spent in a state of incompleteness had somehow led me to this moment years later. A moment that felt so complete that nothing could make it more perfect. This is how life comes full circle. When I look back, nothing looks like a coincidence. There is a coherent pattern to how every second moves from one to the other.

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That night we lingered over our meal and talked of random things. We got a little drunk and sang songs in our Spartan room. Without even realizing it, my gash had filled up, my scars had faded and I was unbroken and beautiful. That’s what I like about life. It takes away a lot from you, but if you’re patient and understanding, someday you are blessed with an abundance that takes your breath away.