MICHELANGELIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND SUDDENLY, YOU ARE HOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WABI SABI LIFE

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Mrs. Iyer and I met quite by chance. Her weathered face and kind eyes drew me to her right away. There was something about this woman that spoke to me; as if she was about to tide me over impending storms. It was the summer of 1999; a despondent phase which had taken me to a different kind of solitude.

People who know me are familiar with my largely erratic memory. It’s as if my cortical cells possess an innate, almost psychedelic sense of humor. So large chunks of data go missing without notice, and I can never recall things in tandem, but I do have visions from the past that can seem like they happened yesterday. That is how I recall my time with Mrs. Iyer, whom I eventually started calling ‘paati’ which means grandmother in Tamil.

A few months after our first meeting, I quit my job thus freeing up my evenings, many of which I chose to spend with paati. I had friends my age, but my time with her somehow seemed sacred. Paati had a lot to share about her animated life with her husband, their travels together and her recent loneliness after losing him. She was like a treasured book that I wished would never end. Our conversations spanned entire lifetimes, delved deep and colored our senses mirroring the purple-orange sunsets of the Middle-Eastern skies. Our silhouettes in the fading light must have looked weird and wonderful at the same time; a fusing together of the old and the new. Paati taught me about impermanence, imperfection and how to embrace bits of our life that remain unfinished. Above all, she taught me to embrace my flaws and appreciate myself.

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There’s a Japanese philosophy which preaches much the same thing. They call it Wabi-Sabi. It is the art of finding beauty in blemishes and depth in earthiness. It is about going for the natural and authentic. About celebrating the cracks and crevices that time leaves behind. Wabi Sabi makes us see beauty in the dilapidated and ugly.  Although on the surface, it seems to be about physical things, this philosophy runs way deeper than that. It is more about a state of mind, a way of being. As we move forward, the idea of abandoning ‘perfect’ and accepting the scars and the laugh lines seems increasingly prudent. Simplicity seems more appealing than forged exactness. This kind of shift can be truly liberating, and there’s more than just beauty in that. There is freedom.  If we can quieten our mind enough to appreciate the muted beauty in our lives and find the willingness to accept things as they are, we are well on our way to practicising Wabi-Sabi.

Three years ago, I blew my big Four-O candles. Right around then, I’d started noticing the deepening lines on my face and the puffiness under my eyes. A lot of grey strands were showing up in my hair. I playfully started calling them my ‘wisdom highlights’. So while women around me spent hours in salons hiding their greys and getting spa treatments, I chose that time to introspect and hone my skills. I figured that if I had something worthwhile to do as age crept up – a gratifying hobby or skill that I could share with the world, then that would hold me in better stead. As one year folds into the next, I am glad about that decision. If I fail at something, instead of berating myself, I relax and try something else. That to me is ‘looking life through the wabi-sabi lens.’

In nature, everything is transient. A week ago, when the last of the Ganesha idols were being immersed, a discussion about its significance ensued over our evening tea. There are multiple theories about it, but one that interested me was this. The idols initially were made out of the clay that formed on the river beds. After the celebrations were over, those idols were returned to the water and left to dissolve back into the river. I thought about how this relates to our lives. And it became even more apparent for me to celebrate the time I have here. To nurture relationships and build a life that I can be proud of. To embrace growing older gracefully and joyfully. As Eleanor Roosevelt put is so correctly, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

As for my dearest paati, I regrettably lost touch with her over the years. But her parting gift – a vintage bell, still hangs from a single nail on my bedroom wall. It is a reminder of the kind of person she was and the kind of person I wished I’d eventually be. Earthy, ordinary and unapologetically beautiful in my own way.

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DRENCHED IN INSIPIDITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

RIPPLES OF HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.