THE SILENCE BETWEEN

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It was the Zen-blue sky that hit me first. As I taxied out into the city, my skin absorbing the chilled breeze like water on parched soil, Bangalore seemed to be welcoming me. For some strange reason, it felt like grandpa’s wrinkled arms and toothless grin beckoning me home. Quite enamoured by the feeling, I walked into my husband’s Marathahalli abode with zero expectations but with an uncanny certainty that the following week was about to change something in me.

The next six days were spent wandering around, exploring the city. No place is, as such, perfect to its residents. Anyone who lives in Bangalore will most certainly complain about the traffic that seems lodged on flyovers and in narrow lanes likes clinging parasites. But as an outsider, I subliminally saw something significant that alleviated the burden of it for me. By the evening of the first day itself I had discounted all the snags in favor of the one thing that stood out in the locals of this ordinary, almost pedestrian city. And that was their unruffled serenity. There was a sense of collective calm despite the bustle. People chatted amicably with strangers in buses and auto-rickshaw drivers grinned charmingly while demanding ridiculous fares. When a car hit our taxi at a signal, the cabbie got out, inspected the damage, shook his head slightly, paused for a second and then waved it off. No anger, no foul language. That is probably the key to composure – the pause. Mozart, the prolific composer of the Classical Era believed that “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between”. If all the music is in the pauses, maybe that is how our mind should function too. I found myself inspecting the connotations, reading the subtext and developing wistful images to carry home.

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On day two, sauntering through the Lalbaug Botanical Gardens, I came across a colorful statue of Nandi. Typically, Nandi being Lord Shiva’s vehicle is always found sitting at the doorway of the temple in a perpetually silent but alert waiting mode. Nandi thus has gained on a symbolism, teaching us the virtue of simply sitting, vigilant but without expectations. The image of Nandi essentially reminds us to pause and pay attention to life. Only in the pauses can the music of the Universe be heard.

The next day, my sister-friend Suzanne, invited us for lunch. After a sumptuous meal, she and I set out for a stroll by the Ulsoor Lake not far from her home. As was wont to happen, we delved into a deep conversation. “There’s a reason we feel so calm and alive being around nature,” she remarked touching the leaves that hung over our bench and gazing at the serene lake. “It’s because nature never pretends to be what it’s not. A leaf is a leaf, content and happy with its true form. That’s why we feel good around people who are like that too”.

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As I mulled over this it became apparent why I had thought of grandpa the day I arrived. Grandpa was like that, content and cheerful, demanding nothing from life and never pretending to be what he’s not. He would gallivant, stop to chat with everyone on the street, lose track of time and come home with the fading sun bringing a sack of fish. Grandma would get livid and hurl the sack in the fire, but grandpa would only laugh. “Why are you so angry, Eliza?” he would ask nudging her playfully. It was the same kind of authenticity that I now saw in the locals of Bangalore.

As my week drew to an end, I found myself feeling grateful for the pauses that presented themselves from time to time. Devoid of distractions, the poignancy and joy of such experiences steadily engages and unfills me at the same time. As I prepared to leave, the sky that I had so fallen in love with became even more luminous as if allowing me one more image to relish my reminiscences with.

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Back home in Mumbai, days eased by in one uninterrupted flow. The rain was pelting down in bursts bringing a refreshed brilliance to the days and the nights were made snug by the warmth of fluffy comforters. Everything seemed revived by the clarity I had acquired from my time away. One afternoon, quite nicely as if on cue, I came across a classic Zen story narrated by Zen master, Fukushima-roshi to acclaimed writer, Pico Iyer. One day, an old man was trying to explain to his grandchild about Jōdo Buddhism, and he said, “In the West — that’s where the Pure Land is!” And the child pointed out that if you go west and west, you go right around the world, and come back round to where you are! In short, paradise is right where we are, if we care enough to pause and look.

MISTY MEADOWS

 

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As we drove higher and higher into the mountains, the mist got thicker. Visibility was limited to about three meters ahead. Quite suddenly, rain started pelting down heavily, blinding us even more. The pounding of raindrops fused with Jamie Lawson crooning, “I wasn’t expecting that…” Music within and without, with a similar cadence. It was the most surreal drive of my life and I certainly wasn’t expecting that. The road was narrow and steep; and opened up to the valley on either side. All we had to lead us further was the faint blink of lights from the car ahead of us. That’s exactly how the past few months had been; hazy and blatantly exigent.

At some point though, the fog always clears. And so finally, after an interminable wait, things had started falling into place. Life makes you wait, testing your patience, your faith, your strength. It makes you doubt everything that you might have trained yourself to believe in. And then suddenly, like a burst of unexpected rain, the abundance showers right down on your startled head.

We had left the city behind and headed to the hills on an impulse. It was an impromptu plan and one that made me want to live the rest of my life in that manner – purely spontaneous and unpremeditated. We arrived at Misty Meadows just as dusk was settling in. A warm, welcoming glow radiated from idyllic houses that lined the streets. Life seemed tranquil and quiet on those moorlands. We spent that evening devoid of distractions. There was no WiFi and no telly, just words and smiles floating around. After a simple meal, we retired to the bedrooms upstairs. The river in the distance was beautiful in the twilight. We could spot cars parked on the bridge over the river and made up stories about clandestine affairs and romantic conversations, giggling our way into the silly night.

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The next morning, I woke up at dawn. It was still dark outside when I wandered onto the terrace, shivering slightly but soothingly warmed by the silence. The moon was hanging in the sky like a neatly clipped fingernail, obscured now and then by the pregnant clouds. As I lingered, the sun came up unseen and the silhouette of the meadows appeared through the brooding mist. It was the most beautiful morning I’d had in a long time.

It was after breakfast that we had embarked upon that haunting drive. Later, as we stumbled upon rocks and puddles, walked on lush meadows and gazed upon verdant hills, I realized how close we had come to God in those few hours. All my five senses seemed numbed, but there was a sixth sense that seemed sharper than the five put together. A divine presence was everywhere, in every detail.  Half-encumbered in this realization and sloshed by the weight I’d been carrying around, I plonked down on a rock. Fatigue mingled with raindrops and rolled down my back, leaving me cleansed and a little narcotized.

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This whole experience was much like what the Japanese call ‘Shinrin-yoku’ or ‘Forest Bathing’. It was first proposed in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan to promote a good lifestyle and is now a recognized stress management activity in Japan. My fascination for Japanese culture is now bordering on reverence, almost threatening to override my absolute fascination for the Tuscan way of life. It’s comically strange because they seem absolutely converse. Tuscans are voluble while the Japanese are more muted; but if you make a reduction, the essence that it boils down to is very similar:  Simplicity.

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Growing up, I had the good fortune to experience ‘Shinrin-yoku’ often. Hardened by city life though, we become impertinent and that’s why it is absolutely important to make an effort to get dwarfed by nature and humble ourselves from time to time. It is in such moments that we find moments of clarity and direction. It is then that we are filled with hope. And from nature, we learn the one great lesson: to trust the timing of our life.

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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 SWEETNESS OF DOING NOTHING

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As summer uncertainly loiters around spring, I’m already angst-ridden with the severity of it. Even in its nascent stage, summertide  is intense. It unsettles me and my ‘pitta’ constitution goes into aggravated mode. So most often than not, this is the time I experience problems. And the paradox is: this is when I judiciously grow. There’s a futility to knowledge made redundant by unremembered experiences. It’s mortifying the way I recover from a folly, bounce around for a while and gloriously falter again. I veer dangerously off course, little realizing how arduous it can get. And then the restoration begins. Like primeval Italian frescos, the crumbling and the restoring becomes a process year in and year out. Therein lay the beauty of esoteric discoveries that I crave.
One recent evening as I brooded by the window, a sweet and distant memory came back to me. It was a clear night. We were sitting on a log after dinner and a moon-drenched Sheryll was pointing out constellations to me. She chattered on and on, while I leaned onto her bony shoulders just staring in awe. At some point, we zoned out. Everything then receded in the background and all that remained was the magnificent stillness of the heavens. That was the kind of consuming stillness imminent now. I could sense a significant revelation lurking around the corner.
As is wont to happen with me, the reminders started pouring in through memories, books, conversations and movies. I’ve watched ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ at least twice before and read the book as well, but this time around it seemed different. It is strange how every time you watch a movie again (or re-read a book), it throws things at you that weren’t there before. The movie or book hasn’t changed, it’s you and your perspective that has. There is a scene in the movie, where the adorable Balinese healer, Ketut Liyer sums up happiness and balance for Liz: “People in Bali understand: in order to be happy you must always know where you are. Every moment. Right here is perfect balance; right at meeting of Heaven and Earth. Not too much God, not too much selfish; otherwise, life too crazy. You lose balance, you lose power. In morning you do meditation from India, serious, very serious. In day, you enjoy Bali. Then, in afternoon, come see me. An off day you do new meditation, very simple: sit in silence and smile. (….) Smile with face, smile with mind, even smile in liver.” I loved the part about meditating with a smile. Smiling with your liver, no less!  As I eased myself into calming my mind, the heat dissipated and the equilibrium gradually seemed to return.
IMG-20150625-WA0050I covet a slow, disentangled life. Savoring moments so when the journey draws to a close, I have no regrets. Growing up, even in a miniscule two-room house, I managed to cut myself off from the rest of the family on evenings that demanded quietude. Dad had gifted me a cassette player with small red speakers and a Jim Reeves 36 Love Songs collection. I would dim the lights and lose myself in the music. Those were the evenings that sustained me. If not for them, I probably would never have known myself. It’s what the Italians call Il dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing. Or rather as I see it, the sweetness of wallowing in exquisite, quiet moments. Life might not be so simple all the time. It’s hard to participate peripherally, looking in from the fringes like an outsider. Life demands participation.  It keeps throwing up surprises and challenges. It unsettles us. But if we practice Il dolce far niente from time to time, the days can get wonderfully ambrosial.
Busyness is good, until the point it turns into an ailment. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life”, said Socrates. That’s how I see it too. Life feels full and gratifying when there are unconstrained moments scattered about like fallen flowers on a spring day. After four long months of being confined because of my ankle fracture, when I finally felt well enough to resume my walks, I had made up my mind about one thing. That I will never ‘hurry’ anymore. Now as I walk the trail at a leisurely pace, I observe nature. How nothing seems hurried. Nothing has a hyped up goal. Where busyness doesn’t equal status. No lists to tick off while feeling important. Yet everything evolves the way it’s meant to. Quintessentially, it’s all about just ‘being’.  In his book, ‘Busy: How to thrive in a world of too much’, Tony Crabbe puts it thus: “Unless we regain the ability to notice, to savor, we will be sucked ever more into unrewarding and unsustainable busyness.” The question is: Do we want a simple, coherent life or an opulent, frenetic one?
I love another quote from the aforementioned movie: ‘There’s a wonderful, old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son-please, please, please…buy a ticket.” The lottery here could be interpreted differently. Like if a genie grants you three wishes, what will you ask for? The materialistic ones will ask for, well, material things; while the sagacious will go for peace, joy and health or something to that effect. Because in the end, aren’t those the things that everything we do boil down to?
I like to tread on life from the outside in. As a kid, I was a good student. Studies were fairly important, but there were other parts, the frills that adorned life, that couldn’t be compromised on. I always had some covert mission going on. In middle school, I kept a diary with detailed descriptions of my most inane thoughts. In high school, the fascination turned to writing derelict poems that no one ever read. In college, the creative expression spilt forth through slapdash paintings. And so on and so forth. All these things never led anywhere, but they defined me in those moments. In my 40s, I’m still that girl, and the edges are what make up my whole. When I first read ‘The Secret’, I understood how things work. What I wanted in my life is what I needed to surround myself with. It was as simple as that.

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As I write these lines perched on my favorite bench in the park, the sun is slowly dipping into the horizon and the ground around me is littered with little yellow flowers. In the subtle outlines of the evening, I find peace, quiet and healing. This is what my heart aches for. This is the gist of my aesthetic journey. This is what ‘Il dolce far niente’ means to me.

 

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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’.

SIMPLE SUSTENANCE

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Thirty-two years ago, in 1984, I had my first experience of community cooking. In those days, weddings in Mangalore were a long-drawn out affair that lasted days and brought the whole neighborhood together. Food was organic, authentic and cooked in huge cauldrons on open wood fires. For a young city girl like me, it was a fascinating experience to participate in and a rich memory to retain for life. It was a twin wedding in the family, so I was doubly excited. The evening before the wedding, insane amounts of batter was ground by hand on huge grinding stones and left to ferment for the idlis to be made the next morning. I insisted on being included in the idli-makers team and woke up at the crack of dawn to assist. The aromas, the exuberance, the solidarity of it all, are lodged as a surreal kind of remembrance in my otherwise mostly defunct brain.

In retrospect, my whole life seems like a roaring compilation of food memories. In the tiny home I grew up in, there was no separate kitchen to speak of. From the single bed, which was my self-proclaimed throne, I could just reach out to the cooking counter. Mum used to wake up early and start working on the chappatis and omlettes. That’s the aroma I would wake up to. As I grew up, I started helping Mum with the cooking. We would work side by side in the miniscule space, humming along with the radio. To this day, mum and I bond best when we are cooking together. Like two comrades, we embark upon adventures with our new recipes, get delirious with the difficult ones and find quietude in the tried and tested. When we’re done feasting, we go on walks, she talking incessantly about this and that and making me laugh until suddenly we’re back to discussing our next meal.

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The neighborhood I grew up in was a different world altogether. Walking unannounced into each other’s homes for a meal was very normal. The Koltes next door was a family of six. Mrs. Kolte was a great cook. Though they didn’t have much, she managed to put together meals that could compete with a professional chef’s.  I just have to close my eyes, think of her spicy chicken gravy served with mixed lentil vadas and I’m transported back to her home. On special occasions, she would always send us food before she fed her own children. It was neighborly love on a level that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

Then there was Aunt Gertie. She was a kitchen elf who chose to spend all her free time stirring, baking and cooking. The day she made crabs, I would pointedly and shamelessly hover around until she asked me to stay for dinner. Then I would sit cross-legged in her kitchen and savor the meal in a rapturous state, unaware of the crab juice running down my arms. She would point me out to her daughter, Sheryll, who was my best friend and say, “This is how you eat. Stop picking at your food and learn something from the girl!” The generosity and honesty of a mother wasn’t limited to just her own children.

I love food, but more than that, I love the eating experience. One day I surprised our house-help, Barki with a strange request. She lived in a tiny hut just across the lane from our house. Every evening as the sun went down the horizon; she would squat in front of an open fire and make piles of jowar bhakris to feed her large family. That day I asked if I could join them for dinner.  She was aghast and didn’t know how to respond. It mortified her to think that all she had to offer was jowar bhakris, bland dal and a chilli-garlic chutney. But to me, it was enough. The smell of burning wood, the bite of the chutney, the fresh-off-the-fire bread, the cool winter breeze and the happy tears in my host’s eyes made it one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had.

From the kulfi wala who fed us free kulfis after school, to the grocer who packed a few extra dates as a treat, the love far exceeded everything else. Later when I entered the cold corporate world, the only solace amidst the chaos of pounding typewriter keys and mounds of paperwork was the lunch break. I’ve always been fortunate to find people who make it their business to feed me. My first job was in this huge organization where to my utter surprise, the cooks took an instant liking to me and singled me out for attention. The food they cooked was only for the top management, but they sneaked me into the pantry and fed me meals that smelled and tasted like manna from heaven.

When I moved to Dubai, the pantry experience moved with me. Only the cuisine differed. I was working with Iranians there and found a new kind of food paradise. Regardless of whether I had carried a tiffin from home or not, the cook would send steaming trays of Cheelo Kebabs, Feta Cheese, Iranian bread and salads every afternoon. One day, I ordered Tandoori Chicken as a return gesture. My Iranian bosses ate it with gusto but the spice was too much for them. The fair Iranians had sweat dripping and tears streaming down their reddened faces!

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Dubai was all about food and friends. Every weekend was a big pot-luck party. In the winter months, we carried huge amounts of marinated meat to the parks and beaches to barbecue. We sat around the glowing embers and devoured juicy chunks of chicken and sausages with Arabic bread, hummus and pickles. The camaraderie of those cool winter evenings in a foreign land was an experience beyond words. It was like huddling together under a warm blanket.

Whether it’s the luscious fruits I’ve enjoyed in the heat of Bangkok, chilled coconut water in quiet streets of Phuket, warm shawarmas on the way to Hatta or sizzling falafels in the mountains of Oman, a very key ingredient of a good meal is the simplicity with which it is cooked, served and eaten. The best parantha I have ever eaten was at a rickety dhaba on the Delhi-Agra highway. It was served on a sultry afternoon with a dollop of white butter and a kind smile. The most sumptuous Maharashtrian meal I remember is at a small resort in Sogaon, served by a sincere, loving hand.

Modern life has altered the eating experience for most of us. But every now and then, I like to make the food and memories count. Since we choose friends that resonate with who we are, my flock was, is and always will be a bunch of foodies. We discuss food as if our life depends on it. We eat like there’s no tomorrow. It isn’t gluttony; it’s an expression of who we are. Our meetings are always, always planned around lunch or dinner. The way we see it, the sharing of a meal is as emotionally and spiritually nurturing as the food on our plates. It is what rejuvenates and bonds us. It is pure sustenance. My food experiences intertwined with my relationships, have defined the way I view life. There are lots of parallels to draw. But one that I uphold above everything else whether it is food, friendship or life is this: That simplicity trumps everything.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BEAUTIFUL

 

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I spent about 15 years of my life thinking I’m seriously flawed. I was the ‘in full acne bloom’ kind of teenager who grows layers and layers of shell to withdraw into. My spotted skin wasn’t really a problem; the way people defined beauty was. But I was too young to realize that. The way they ranted about it appalled me. It was pure sadism the way it was uncaringly pointed out that my beauty was ruined, that my chances of landing a good husband were as marred as my face, that the scars would remain for life. Little did they realize that their lack of empathy would disfigure me more than a skin bump ever could.  For a long time, my self-esteem remained fluid at best. In my late 20s though, it became apparent that there were far more important things than worrying about a mere reflection in the mirror. I often liken this kind of realization to a shifting of the tectonic plates that cause the earth to move. And move I did – from hackneyed beliefs, from narcissism, from who I was expected to be.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to be blessed with people who never let me forget my worth.  My daughter, Rhea is one such person. She doesn’t use words to express her love, but when she hugs, it’s like the ardor of the love gods descending on you! She is without a doubt, one of the most loving people I know. Recently, I received a book in the mail; a surprise New Year’s gift from her. It was an adult coloring book, the kind used for meditative purposes. In choosing that gift she had expressed so much. It was her way of sustaining my creativity, encouraging my growth and in the process simply saying that I matter. To me, that kind of expression is beauty in its most dazzling form.

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In his book, ‘Who Will Cry When You Die?’ Robin Sharma writes about creating a love account. He talks about how our random acts of kindness and selfless acts of beauty can make someone’s day better. He urges us to practice being more loving by making a few deposits in this very special reserve by doing something small to add joy to the life of someone around us. A simple text message asking how someone’s day was, sharing a favorite song, recounting an anecdote or episode, a warm hug, a small little surprise in the mail are little things that say ‘you are loved and appreciated.’ Making at least one person feel worthy should be rated as our best achievement on any given day.

There’s an interesting story about an African tribe that’s been doing the rounds on the internet lately. The identity of the tribe is debatable, but that’s not what I want to talk about. What fascinated me was the story itself. In this tribe, whenever a person misbehaves, he is summoned to the centre of the village. Everyone gathers around him in a circle. Then one by one, each person present speaks to him about all the good he has done in the past. They talk about his strengths, kindnesses and virtues. This ceremony stems from the belief that we are all inherently good, but sometimes we make mistakes. The tribe sees those mistakes as a cry for help. By reminding him of all his goodness, they reconnect him to his true, pure self. In my last post, I recounted how my teacher, Mr. George proved that faults are best corrected by love. This story corroborates that belief. How beautiful it is that someone reminds you of your wholeness when you’re broken; your beauty when you feel ugly.

One particularly enlightening lesson came to me from a friend recently when he referred to me as a ‘kasturi-mriga’ or musk deer. When this particular deer catches wind of the alluring aroma of musk, he rambles on in pursuit of its source. The poor soul doesn’t realize that the sweet fragrance resides nowhere but in its own navel. At a forlorn moment that little reminder lifted me out of my despondency. We are quite often like the kasturi-mriga, searching without for what is all along lying within.

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As I open myself up to life, the meanings and lessons become more discernible. Every morning I wake up in anticipation of what lies ahead and as the day draws to a close, I deliberate over the significance of what ensued. My favorite realization is that there is so much yet to learn, but some things I am certain of. I am clear about my vision of beauty and uphold the importance of being beautiful. I am convinced that beauty is not about how you look. It is about courage and smiling through your tears. It is being there for someone who needs you, listening to a friend who is pouring their heart out even if you yourself are broken, making people feel like they are not alone. Kindness is beautiful. Love and empathy is beautiful. Being authentic is beautiful. Unfolding and evolving is beautiful.