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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LOST TREASURES

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Finding an old friend is like finding a lost treasure

– Anthony D. Williams

Despite the smoldering heat, this summer seems the most vibrant and animated to me. After eleven years of staying abroad, when we had moved back home in 2007, a strange thing had happened. My world had descended into abject melancholy. Funny how it works, you uproot yourself from home and nestle in a foreign land. You work at building a life, make friends, foster ties. But it isn’t really home. So, eventually you decide to move back and then realize that home doesn’t feel like it used to either. It’s abysmal. The days came and went, punctuated by little flurries of some good moments and some mundane ones. Family was supportive and life wasn’t bad, but somehow the laughter didn’t ring true and the heart didn’t flip like it used to.

At some point, my daughter pointed out that like her, I was the ‘dog’ type. We connected home not with a place or structure, but with people. That’s when I realized what I was missing. It was faces I could call friends, voices that would throw swear words at me, laughter that would tire my lungs out. The thought pulled me deeper into the darkness. It wasn’t easy to find people you could connect with. Real, deep friendships can take years to develop.

Life can surprise you though. Our existence is nothing but layer upon layer of histories. And when the tectonic plates shift with built up pressure, relics from the past emerge and new realities are brought forth. Like treasure from the annals of my childhood, old friends reappeared. Amities were restored, magic happened and stardust filled my life.

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I have no interest in keeping up saccharine appearances. No inclination for polished small talk. All I care for is candid conversations and comfortable silences. Those are the kind of relationships that matter to me. So I got the kind of friends I wanted – the frayed, tough, appropriately dorky, cheerful, generous, honest and drama-free ones. They tolerate my crass laughter, endure my dark moods and understand my childlike delight for gifts and glowing birthday cakes. I recognize their idiosyncrasies. We are like derivatives of each other.

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The effervescent presence of my chronically barmy friends has infused my days with a sparkle that keeps me glowing on the darkest of days. They are like the smell of freshly baked bread on sunlit streets – soulful, uplifting and basic. This month I complete eight years of being back home and it finally feels like home. It was also my birth month. So I got my crazy parties, candlelit cakes and mad laughter. It was a grand time. There were stories clinking in sync with the frosty glasses of beer, the wandering in and out of forgotten memories; faces rapt like pilgrims on a pilgrimage. I looked around, my heart swelled up with pride. These were epic, no-gravity moments. I could see that we had put the roots into each other. If ever there was a resplendent time, this was it.

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The house looks poured out, empty. For over a week, it was bursting at the seams. Faces radiant, rooms buzzing with words, bodies moving and colliding, bags stacked against walls, chaos everywhere. Strangely enough, in that chaos floated a kind of stillness. There were moments when people were talking all at once, raucous laughter bounced off walls and what I breathed in was serenity. Family from overseas had arrived home to celebrate the 75th birthday of the family matriarch. Some days are just hallowed and we had a week full of them.

It’s a fact that no matter how much you try, distance makes relationships come undone a little, or totally sometimes. You send messages, make calls on special occasions, and try your best to hold everything together. But sharing meals cooked together in large old pots, kitchen gossip over cups of tea, watching the kids huddled up on makeshift beds, nothing can compare to that. That’s pure sensory overload and touchingly beautiful. What started off as a birthday celebration became the glue that bonded us all back together. We manifested magic in those few days.

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As expected, the birthday party was spectacular. The day shone with epic moments and sparkling tributes. There was singing, dancing and a lot of warm hugs. Mother, whom everyone, young and old, fondly calls ‘Mai’ (which means ‘mother’ in Konkani), was beaming through glistening eyes. Seven kids, their spouses, ten grand kids, extended family, close friends; the vibrations that filled that banquet hall were incredible. These are the memories that fill your heart; these are the ones you talk to posterity about. These are the ones that crack open your existence and help you transcend.

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Everyone has long returned to their homes and I am settled into my world, but yet there are moments when I miss them. The first couple of days, I wandered around in a daze, unsure of how to go back to normalcy. My sister-in-law left behind the kids’ cereal box and bowls and I let them sit just where she left them on my kitchen counter. Little parts of them that made me feel they were still around. When people come into your world, even for a while, they leave remnants. Little smatterings that make everything look different. I don’t know when days like these will return, but there’s hope that what we sowed will bloom time and again. So, now in moments of solitude, I silently send up a prayer to good times – the ones we enjoyed and the ones foreseen. Until then, there’s a fountain of reminiscences to soak in.

There were lots of precious moments, but one memory stands out for me. My nine year old niece, Keira, all dressed to leave for the airport was stirring random chocolaty things that she picked from my larder and refrigerator in a warm bowl. I asked her what she was doing and she replied, “I’m making you a dessert before I leave. This is just for you”. It was so incredibly charming that my heart melted faster than the chocolate in that red bowl. There was so much purity and affection in that little gesture. Keira gave me an intense, beautiful memory to hold for life.

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In Hawaiian culture, ‘ohana’ means family. The term was made famous in the movie, ‘Lilo & Stitch’. There is a scene where Stitch is running away and Lilo in her soft, heartrending voice says: “Ohana means family. Family means ‘no one gets left behind’. But if you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you though”. That’s what I want to say. To Keira, my ‘Stitch’ and the rest of the family as well. That whether we are together or separated by oceans, we must make sure that we do not forget and no one gets left behind.

Here’s to Ohana. To family.

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THE YEAR I MET ‘ME’

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 “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi

I’ve been so busy emoting out loud and unraveling my stories that I might have missed the in-between silences. I spent so many hours dressing up my words that I’ve ended up in a state of undress. It isn’t easy to bare your soul to the world; it’s in fact, the ultimate kind of nakedness. But I’ve grown to love the novelty of it. I love the shedding of inhibitions and the unshackling of self. You put one foot in front of the other and at some point a whole journey is made. It’s a cartload of crazy, but this is my emancipation. This is how I like it.

As I take a moment to untie the knots that were formed, little lessons fall out. But there’s one message that trumps every other. That if you believe in yourself, there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe in you. After a whole year of discovering, questioning, learning and sharing, today my baby, ‘THE MIND DECLUTTER PROJECT’ turns one. It’s a milestone worth celebrating. This space was born out of holding onto splinters when the waters were raging; when I felt like the storm would leave me ravaged. Slowly and surely, I seem to have found my way to the golden shore.

When I made my first post, I did not anticipate the cloudburst – of encouragement, of gratitude and most importantly, of love that was to come my way. The love that I have received because of this space is sacred. Nothing compares to it. A lot of people have, silently or vociferously, shared this ride with me. As much as they have learnt about me, I have discovered them too. It’s such a blessing to be invited into people’s lives, to be allowed to roam their world. I love the familiar as well as the foreign. So thank you to all of you who read my words, acknowledge my work and support this space. I wholeheartedly appreciate it.

When I meet people, a lot of them tell me that they read each one of my blog posts and like my work. But they hesitate to comment because they don’t know what to say. I want you to know that even one word is enough to make my day and to encourage me. So please comment/acknowledge. And should you enjoy what you read, I’d love it if you share it on your social media networks. But whether you do or not, I’m still grateful.

Although I started off on a quest of clarity, my work eventually gave me back a lot more. I became more than what I do. I became a reflection of the people who love me and whom I love back. I became my wavering thoughts and altered feelings. I became a mirror to other people’s feelings. And if I keep sharing all of it and think it matters, it’s because I truly believe that our unadorned lives and our modest legacies matter in the greater scheme of things.

I have no clue of where I’m headed; there’s no checklist whatsoever. I’m not a planner. I just trust that things will work as I go. As of now, the journey and the destination seem to have merged. But I know that wherever I go, will be where I’m meant to be. Meantime, the biggest gift this blog has given me is the ability to live a full life. To appreciate everything and everyone around me. To live in awe of every mystery, big and small. It has given me strength, resilience and freedom. And blissfully abundant days. There’s much to celebrate and miles to go.

Once again, I’m thankful to all who fly with me. May we be the wind beneath each other’s wings.

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WINDS OF CHANGE

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It was a warm and classic afternoon. I met Rose after 27 years. She was, and still is, one of the most loving people I know. Rose radiates life and joy. Walking into her arms, it felt like walking into a world of warmth and the three decades just melted in our lingering hug. Incessant banter aside, what it came down to was the sparkle in her eyes and the passion in her heart. We met in a bustling food court. The air was filled voices and aromas of cheese and fresh bread. But all of that became a blur; it was just us. Four heads huddled together, laughing, talking and pouring our hearts out.

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Rose is a banker turned social worker. As I sat there hearing her animatedly talk about the school she runs for slum kids and the hurdles she faces each day, the enormity of her mission hit me. It must take a lot of courage to step down from the top of the corporate ladder and walk into a notorious slum. A lot of resilience to wake up every morning and stay true to your purpose. Heaps of goodness to maintain the purity of your heart. Rose is simple woman but to hundreds of people, she is an exquisite, treasured gift.

Life is beautifully complicated and simple at the same time. But it’s good to stick with simplicity and follow your heart. We all have a purpose; it’s only a matter of time plus a little effort, before we find out what it is. As far as life paths go, I’ve been pretty nomadic. There was never any plan, no plot or design. Although a little late, I do realize that when your passion is aligned to your work, magic happens. There are countless writers around the globe. And I’m not trained in what I do; it’s more of an organic thing. So all these years, I thought that there wasn’t much I could offer that someone else couldn’t do better. But then a subtle shift happened and my thoughts changed. It was then that I realized that everyone has a different perspective, a different skill, something specific that only they can offer. It’s a gift that is meant to be given. It is as unique as your fingerprint.

When it comes to inspiration, I always look to the younger generation for fresh ideas. My daughter, Rhea always has a unique perspective on everything and recently she spoke to me about gift-giving. Instead of buying gifts, she encourages her friends to gift her something that belongs to them; that holds a part of them. It’s a beautiful idea. To carry with you a piece of someone you hold dear. I was thinking about this when I met Rose and it struck me that it is be so precious when you gift your art, your skill, your time, your passion to the world.

This is indeed a good time to bring about reform in our daily lives and consequently in the world at large. If you pay attention, you’ll see a significant shift happening around you. It is no coincidence that people are becoming more aware; they want to eat healthy, stay fit, fight for their rights, raise their voices against injustice and work towards a positive change.

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That afternoon, as the four of us parted, I took away with me a piece of Rose and what she stands for. The change that people like her are working towards excites me. Rose is more than just a social worker; she’s a passionate soul. So it’s not her work that defines her; it’s her passion that defines what she does and who she is. Sooner or later, I hope we all find our passion and in doing so find each other and our true selves. There’s hope yet. The winds of change aren’t far away.

A LEGACY OF LOVE

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Reveries are good, but you can’t stay there forever. All week, I’d been waiting for inspiration.Something, anything, to rouse and stir me. The days weren’t empty, far from it; yet there were gaps. Lacklustre little gaps that struggled to let the light in; that demanded reality. As the seasons move, I recognize the need for alteration and change.

So it seemed appropriate that my sister-in-law suggested a trip to the tranquil Fr. Agnel’s church in Bandra, to commemorate Papa’s fifth death anniversary. Tucked away from the bustle of the city, the timeworn church sits serene amidst sounds of birds and seas. Inside, the air is old and dark and luminous all at once. You feel primal and pristine. Ancient, yet improved. It’s the kind of place where you reclaim yourself. Later, we visited The Shanti Avedna Cancer Home, a few blocks away. I was reluctant to go at first, but it turned out to be one of the most calming places I have ever visited. Peace and love grace those quiet hallways; abundantly so, and certainly enough to alter a little something inside you.

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I don’t know why exactly my sister-in-law chose these two places, but once I went there, they took on significance for me. Both the places toned with Papa’s personality. Sturdy and serene. Quiet and assertive. And most of all, filled to the brim with love. Four years ago, on his first death anniversary, I had tried to encapsulate Papa’s substantial life story into a few words.

This is probably how inspiration is found. In little things, in modest lives, in unpretentious people. So here I am, repeating that same story. Maybe it will touch you and stimulate you. Maybe it will take care of your gaps. Maybe it will just remind you of things you have forgotten. And in reminding you, I will reminisce myself.

This is the story of Papa, my father-in-law. A man I’m proud to have known.

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It was towards the end of 2009 that Papa got diagnosed with throat cancer. He was old and not very strong physically, but he had an amazing strength of mind. When we told him the doctors had advised radiation, he just accepted it without question or complaint. I do not know another person who has borne such intense pain with so much dignity and silence.

The agony went on for days. And then, God decided that a man so gallant deserved to be in a better place. Just as the sun went down on Monday, the 23rd of November, 2009, Papa moved on to a higher life.

Anyone who knew Papa would agree that he was one of a kind; a man of great integrity, honesty and self-respect. He raised seven wonderful children in his lifetime, saw them settle down into their careers and marriages, enjoyed his ten grandkids and celebrated everything with a cryptic smile on his face. Since he spoke very little, he was never the centre of attraction; but his presence and his personality always stood out even in the midst of a crowd.

Many people find it hard to believe when told by his very successful children, that Papa had been a taxi driver all his life. Those were times of extreme hardship and abject poverty. If he failed go out and sit behind the wheel even one day, the family was affected. So Papa went out and worked every single day, come rain or thunderstorm.

One thing always struck me tremendously and it still does. Whenever my husband or his siblings speak about their seemingly deprived childhood, they only have positive and happy memories.  How could they have been so content, I wondered, when they had so little? No fancy home, no branded clothes, no colourful toys…and yet their childhood had been filled with laughter and love. Papa couldn’t provide them with expensive things, but he gave them love, family ties and values which have held them in good stead to this day.

Papa left us with many valuable lessons, precious memories and a legacy of love, family bonding and integrity. The day after his burial, we all sat late into the night talking about what we learnt from him. And the lessons were many; not only from his life, but from his death as well.  Even in death, Papa brought his family closer.

For more than a week afterwards, when we clung together supporting each other, we questioned ourselves, talked endlessly, strengthened our bonds, ate and prayed together and made little resolutions in our hearts to love and live well. Finally, we had realized what was most important to us.

Life knows and it tells us more than we care to understand. Not many of us think of death while we are busy living. But when we lose someone dear to us, God might be sending us a reminder. A reminder to pause in the midst of all the chaos, go within and find our essence.

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WHEN LIFE THROWS YOU LEMONS

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It’s been a week of vicissitudes; enduring days without faces so far taken for granted, looking up old pictures and reliving moments, counting stars at night and birds in the evening sky, getting used to making just one cup of tea, chatting constantly with friends but all the time conversing with that one person in your head.

It could have been a dull time, but it didn’t have to be.  In times like these, you discover things; things that you would otherwise never think of. Like relationships – with that one person, with everyone else, with yourself. You realize that even though you wouldn’t choose to be alone, you are comfortable with yourself.  It’s an opportunity to pick up fallen leaves. Straighten crooked frames. Maybe write some songs. And then ruminate some more on the important things and the not so important ones.

I spent a couple of days with mom and we talked and talked until exhaustion made us fall into deep slumbers. She made me breakfast and I helped her pick new dinnerware. We lunched and slurped on ice-cream through a steady commentary on passers-by. We tried on clothes we didn’t really wanna buy, bought stuff we weren’t really gonna use, took pictures for posterity and played dress-up.  Mom is 68, but we still do that.

Things aren’t always perfect and they needn’t be.  It’s like rain and sunshine all at once. You think that and you are drenched in gratitude. You realize that acceptance is all that is needed. A great quietness descends and makes everything right. In this quietness, you find the grace and warmth to reach out to others. Even though there’s so much to do, you still find the time and inclination to send a message, make a call or drop in to say hello. The quietness makes you want to reach out and put a smile on someone’s face.

In the end, it has turned out to be a wonderful week; a week of healing hearts, fostering bonds, raising spirits and changing perceptions. Above all, it’s been enlightening to know that if life throws the proverbial lemons at me, I know now to accept them gratefully. Whether I make lemonade, grab a bottle of vodka or leave them to rot in the refrigerator can be decided later. The choice is mine.

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