SAVED BY A SONG

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It was one of those rare occasions when I had wandered into a church. As my knees hit the floor, the strains of ‘Old Rugged Cross’ filled the air; hundreds of voices rose in crescendo and the tears came rolling down. After two years of Marie’s passing, the floodgates had finally opened and cleansed me. That celestial moment became my testament to the undeniable healing power of music.

Being a loner all through my teen years, the only true connection I had was with music and words. On long afternoons, I was almost always found huddled in a corner with a book and in the evenings with my tiny cassette player in a darkened room. Although I never stopped listening to music, the bedtime tradition that had waned over time, is now revived and made sacred. Once the telly is off and I’m alone in my room, the windows are thrown open and the music comes on. Embellished by moonlight and kissed by the gentle breeze, the sounds seem ethereal. It is, without a doubt, the most magical part of my day.

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Years ago, when I had signed up for piano classes, my music teacher had encouraged me to look for life lessons in music. If you let it all the way in, music can bring about a real catharsis, she had said. It’s true. Music can foster unity with another mind, another culture, and life itself, like nothing else can. And all of that comes right back as an insight into your own mind. That’s how the purgation takes place. Some days it’s jazz that moves me, on other days it could be rock or forgotten Bollywood oldies. The music we choose is never random, it reflects our emotional/mental state at the time. That’s exactly why we get obsessed with certain songs; it’s because they speak to our deeper selves.

I have an inherent need to understand a song (and everything else) in all its entirety. So recently when a friend sent me a Bangla song, it upset me that I couldn’t find a proper translation of the lyrics. “You would have enjoyed it more”, he said wryly, “if you just listened to it.” That, right there, was another analogy for life.

The struggle to find our worth can be an ongoing battle. A broken relationship, an unfulfilling career or a lost dream can leave us feeling shoddy. Until one day someone holds a mirror to our soul and we remember love. Just like the beauty of a person is revealed by how they make you feel, so it is with music. A song that you find mediocre could be someone’s favourite just because it spoke to them when they needed it the most. It’s an idea that made me accepting of other people’s choices, in music and in life.

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Whether it’s just a car ride I want to enjoy or a dark patch I’m trying to work through, what has, and always will help me, is a piece of music. Above all else, it teaches us that love is more than just a word. It’s our connection with the world around us. It’s what helps us make sense of the chaos that surrounds us. It shows us that no matter where we live on this planet, we are essentially the same. Sometimes when I find myself withering, I sit back and let a song wash over me, other times I write my own. Either way, it can be safely said, that I’m always saved by a song. A single lyric or melody at the right time can change everything. It can give your life direction, beauty, meaning. And the courage to live with a little more heart.

There’s a quote from One Tree Hill that I love. “Every song has a coda, a final movement. Whether it fades out or crashes away, every song ends. Is that any reason not to enjoy the music?” We’re all perpetually trying to figure out things, working our way through the rough terrain of life, wondering where it leads us. Well, with the right soundtrack, our journey can be a transcendent one.

 

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 60 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

CAUGHT UP IN ROSTERS

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I stopped under a tree at the edge of the lane, juggling an umbrella and groceries, the rains lashing and soaking me. Out of nowhere, a sudden abstraction gripped me and I was floating to another place, another time, eons ago. An unreasonably warm afternoon and two gangly, pig-tailed adolescents walking back from school. In the distance, the ice cream vendor sees us coming and we discern his faint smile. As we get closer, he pulls out two milky cones of goodness and hands them to us with affection and the familiarity that comes from an almost daily ritual.

Sheryll and I have a box full of reminiscences, little golden nuggets of ordinariness. We used to spend most of our afternoons together. While the world around us snoozed, we happily went about our clandestine pursuits. As soon as we got home from school, I would hurriedly finish my lunch and pop over to her house next door. Little things gave us so much pleasure. Sheryll’s parents were both working, so they would leave her some money in a tin box. That patterned tin box absolutely fascinated me. It did not just hold coins; it signified a kind of autonomy that intrigued my little mind. We would pick a few coins and run to the neighbourhood store. The array of glass bottles filled with brightly wrapped toffees and sweets tantalized our senses. Sometimes we would pick dates over toffees. We would then run back home clutching the goodies, sit on the steps and savour every bit. Sometimes Sheryll would come up with quirky ideas. She would pull out some tamarind from the jar, place it on a piece of paper, cover it with sugar, wrap it up and leave it under something heavy. A while later, like a conjurer, she would unwrap the magic and offer it to me. The sweet tanginess of that tamarind could almost be a metaphor for the bond we shared.

Now why would memories like these come to me in the middle of the market place while I’m stuck in a downpour? Well, I have no idea. But they do. The mind is unfathomable. I’d love to scoop out moments in my day between doing the laundry to dusting out the cobwebs and just gaze endlessly into the deep nooks of my strange mind. But I get caught up in rosters. And in the process, maybe lose what could be ‘me’.  It’s a thought that bothered me until I staggered onto another tangent.

On my visits to see my grandparents every summer, I used to look forward to the end of the day. We would spend the whole day in mundane things; visiting people, doing chores, running errands. In the evening, when we got home, grandpa would have a huge cauldron of hot bath water waiting for us. The heady smell of burning firewood and the warmth of that water was enough to wash away the fatigue of several lifetimes. Rejuvenated from the bath and after polishing off grandma’s sumptuous dinner, we would lay around listening to grandpa’s ghost stories and how he had once brought a tiger cub home. The stories were repetitive but we hung on to every word as if we were hearing it for the first time.

So I reckon monotony is necessary. Maybe the tediousness is what leads us to where we want to go. A lot of times, it’s during those very unexciting moments that we stumble upon ourselves. That’s when life holds up a mirror and allows us a glimpse of our uniqueness.

Every evening now, when the family gathers around the table for tea and swaps stories from sometimes momentous and sometimes dull days, I realize that this is how our existence is made alive. We get to walk lurid plot lines, but only sometimes. Most times, we are just making boring stories. But somewhere in that boredom, lies the secret to a fulfilling life.

© Renica Rego

 

LETTING GO

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Flawed and fabulous. That’s how I see myself now. But I wasn’t always so sure of who I was and it took me a while to clear the fog. Self-reflection never came easy to me. Maybe because I was too busy dusting the furniture. I’ve spent half my life straightening cushions, arranging wardrobes and wiping down kitchen counters. The leftover energy was used up on excessive worrying, pointless thinking and needless deliberations. Until I realised that life couldn’t say ‘hello’ to me if my back was perpetually turned on it. 

Perfection is hard to maintain, trust me; and not really worth it. You won’t let the wind play with your hair, if you’re worried about ruining your blow dry? So I am learning to let go; to let life happen without my endless manipulation. What’s the big deal if the bed isn’t made as soon as I get out of it? Will my family disown me if I skip making dinner one night and order in? Is it a crime if I just want to spend the day listening to music and reading? It’s not and nobody really cares. I just thought they did. These are just metaphors or allegories I’m drawing for the bigger aspects of life. And gradually as I calm down, life comes beckoning to me.

The other day, we were at a dinner party and my young nephew shared with us his amazing philosophy on letting go – ‘ANYTHING IS COOL’. Coming from a 17-year-old, it was pretty deep. He droned on about how life can be easy if we just went along without making a fuss about everything. If you ask him what he’d like for breakfast, he says, ‘anything is cool’. Ask him if he’d like to watch a movie or just hang out and he’ll be like, ‘anything is cool’. This philosophy works well with the day-to-day stuff but when it comes to the serious things, it might not, he clarified. Like you can’t drop out of school or do drugs; that’s not cool. When it comes to choosing your career, you can’t say ‘anything is cool’. And so on. I was suitably impressed by his clarity and wisdom. I suppose it’s all about attitude. Being chilled out about the lesser issues makes room for your mind to deal with the bigger ones effortlessly. What stuck with me though, were those three simple words: ANYTHING IS COOL.

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Somewhere along the way, I thankfully figured that letting go and finding harmony is important. By becoming harmonious, you start attracting positive experiences and positive people into your life. Toxic people, toxic feelings, toxic thoughts will always pop up. But just like in a garden, it’s important to keep pulling out the weeds from your life too. You will always be too much of something for someone. If they can’t handle it, it’s their problem. Just let it go. Apologize if you hurt them, but do not apologize for who you are or what you want to be.

After trying to be in control, when I finally loosened up, it seemed like I had underestimated the pleasures of an unstructured life. Now I wake up every morning and try to effortlessly move from one moment to the next. It’s exciting because I’m always dwelling in possibility. Anything is possible. Anything is cool!

Growing, improving, moving, loving, listening…that’s what life is about. Inspire and be inspired. Show people the sun where they once saw clouds. Let them do the same for you. We are meant to be wonderful. We are here not just to survive, but to thrive. When you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing. And so are you!

PS: As I was writing this, my friend and I were having a discussion on whatsapp. And he said, “I am amazed by God’s world. He made everything, but doesn’t interfere in its governance. If a lion chases a lamb to death, that’s how it’s meant to be. He has set the world in motion and left it at that”. And I thought: If God doesn’t interfere with life, why do we? Think about it. 

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CLOSURE

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The weather is too beautiful not to be missing her. When a cool orange glow lights up the evening sky and bounces off window panes, I find myself sipping on tea and lost in thoughts of her. Tea-drinking was ceremonious to Marie. Even on her busiest day, she would always make time for a leisurely cup of tea. Sitting on her couch, squinting at nothing in particular, lining up the thoughts in her head…that’s how I remember her. There was so much she wanted from life and so much she wanted to give back. Marie was my mirror, my reflection; a strong, warm soul with a highly raucous laugh. Now there are only memories, empty spaces and echoes.

People come and go. But soul-sisters are a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Marie and I met as most people do, in accordance with destiny’s plans. It seemed like an ordinary friendship at first. But when we started completing each other’s thoughts and understanding the in-between silences, that’s when it got eerie. That’s when we realised that our connection ran deep.

There was this one time, when I needed to travel on my own. I was young and naïve. I tried putting it off because I had never travelled alone or lived apart from my husband. She just said one thing to me: “You need to do this, Ren; not because you have to go, but because you choose to”. That was my one way trip to emotional independence. She was always trying to pull me through.

When I lost Marie to a terminal illness, the tears did not come as expected. They came a good two years later. Out of nowhere and without any warning. It was late evening; the lights were dimmed, there was music playing and I was nestling a drink. That was how we rolled back in those days too. That was how we defined leisure and camaraderie. And just like that, I broke in half. The sobs came hard and left me exhausted. But strangely enough, they healed me too.

That night, it was as if Marie came and gently removed the bookmark from our chapter and urged me to move on. She was big on finishing what you started. Like always, even though a hallucination, she took my hand and led me to myself.

At about that time, I wrote a few lines but never dared to share it. I’m doing it now because someone somewhere might need a connection. Someone might need hope and courage; because losing a loved one can mess up your mind in a big way.

They say there are six stages of grief – denial, anger, fear, guilt, depression and lastly, acceptance. Different people might deal with it in different ways. But closure is important. And acceptance is key.

 

STAGES OF GRIEF

 

I ain’t devout, prayed very rare

Went to church once, found my angel there

She left too soon, I wasn’t ready

It left me hurt and all unsteady

I refused to believe that it was final

What it was, is pure DENIAL

Saw her lifeless, no smile no more

My tears were dried, my heart was sore

Her daughter stood by, just a teenager

All I could feel was rage and ANGER

Then they put her six feet under

The candles were lit, it seemed like a blunder

How could I live without you dear?

My heart was gripped with chilling FEAR

I brooded for months over what went wrong

Could have supported more, could have been strong

My mind was boggled with a lot of filth

What I felt was searing GUILT

The skies got cloudy, the birds didn’t sing

My moods were morose, I’d lost my wings

Got all worked up, felt frustration

Sank into pits of dark DEPRESSION

One night then, I dreamt of her

She smiled at me, and smiled some more

Are you fine love, I asked her then

She nodded her head and held out her hand

I hugged her close, she wasn’t in pain

Her heart was strong, her face radiant

She made me promise, I’ll move on then

Finally there came ACCEPTANCE

 © Renica Rego

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MONSOON MEMORIES

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I have memories; random memories, that spring on me at odd times. I hardly ever remember the big stuff. It’s always the in-between moments that seem to be buried in the recesses of my demented mind. They crawl out of their hiding places, playing peek-a-boo; taking me off-guard, bringing a smile most times and dousing me with melancholy at others. And right now, it’s all about rain-soaked memories.

The skies finally opened up freely this week on the dry earth. The drizzle a few days ago had brought excitement and then disappeared somewhere. Dust had gathered on the leaves once again, anxious eyes were turned heavenwards with a prayer and spirits were wilting with heat and fatigue. But the lashing rains have righted all wrongs and the world seems fertile and happy again.

Last year during this season, we roamed about a lot. My nephews were visiting and we took them around, exploring parts of the city that even we rarely visited. South Mumbai seemed like a beautiful dream even as we were living it. The breakfast banter at Mondegar Café, the parched throats being washed down with cold beer at Leopold’s, the hair going wild with the breeze of Marine Drive, a walk through the Prince of Wales Museum and all along the drizzle sprinkling its charms on us – it was the kind of day that you write songs about. And yes, I did.

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A few days later, we were hiking in paradise; exploring ancient Buddhist caves, slipping on mossy rocks, climbing to the peak, gasping at the view and getting drenched under the waterfall, as if the rain wasn’t enough. On our way back, and spent with all the activity, we had stopped at the dilapidated canteen there and gulped down hot, deep fried savouries and sweet tea.

 

But these are recent memories and so I remember the details. But there are haphazard flashbacks that come and go. I see a bunch of kids playing an odd game. They are taking turns throwing a reedy iron rod at the soggy ground. And one of them is me. In another scene, we are making paper boats and I burst out crying because mine doesn’t float as well as the others. There’s a memory of me and my colleagues (fast forward a few years) slurping ice-cream outside a music shop while puddles form at our feet. Another day I’m lounging on damp grass atop a knoll with friends, tired after a long trek. The sun is dipping into the horizon and rain songs are playing on a radio somewhere in the distance.

 

So it goes on. Monsoon memories are going to flood my mind every now and then until it’s time to bid them adieu. Then I shall welcome another season, another kind of randomness. Until then, let me enjoy the raindrops, the intoxicating smell of sopping wet earth, the glistening leaves and bowls of steaming soup. And maybe make some new memories.

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© Renica Rego

JUST ONE CANDLE

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Lazy weekends, dishevelled hair and clandestine conversations. The kind of conversations that spring from nothing in particular; just sitting cross-legged on unmade beds, all heavy-eyed and sipping on tea. And then the words tumble out revealing long-kept secrets, drawing wide-eyed gasps. Once the hearts are emptied, the laughter rolls out, bouncing off walls amid little sighs of relief. So we sat there until the skies turned from clear to dark, and we into mere silhouettes. No one tried to reach for the light switch. We stayed that way for a while until our stomachs started rumbling and I got up to cook dinner.

My cheeky girls threw me an invention test. To make pasta sauce out of whatever I could find in the pantry. I rose to the challenge. The chatter moved to the kitchen and from there to the couch until the pasta and the words were wiped out.

This weekend I slept a lot too. It’s very unlike me. Most nights, I barely catch about 5-6 hours of sleep. And as a rule, I never sleep in daylight. But when the body starts protesting, you got to listen. So I curled up at every opportunity and fell into deep slumbers. What with all the lazing and snoozing, by Monday morning, I was energized and new.

So yeah, when I gloss about decluttering, a rule that should always take precedence is this: Follow the basics. We seem to forget that bonding, eating and sleeping are at the very core of our well-being. If we falter there, we are bound to regret it at some point. I am doing pretty good on the bonding and eating; so from here on, I plan to sleep as much as my body needs me to.

Good, sound sleep springs from a relaxed mind, advises my significant other. He should know. If anyone sleeps like a baby, it is he! As for me, my thoughts can get more tangled than my earphones. So that’s a challenge I have thrown at myself now.

Many years ago, I learnt how to meditate and practiced it too. It is said that when you reach a point of ‘no thought’, you have mastered the art of meditation. During that time, I sometimes fell into these little cracks between the avalanches of thoughts. Those were the ‘eureka’ moments. But life got in the way, I got in life’s way and somehow I drifted from that path.  Now I am tip-toeing back into that zone. It’s going to be an uphill climb, slippery at times, tedious at others, but I shall persevere. This time, I hope the cracks are wider and deeper.

It’s about stepping out of the darkness. Just one candle can be enough to chase the shadows away. We can choose to be in the light. We can begin in this very moment.

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