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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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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YOLO LEGACY

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We carry within us the wonders we seek without us – Thomas Browne

Once grandpa brought home a tiger cub; it was sometime in the late 1930s. He was walking home through the forest, spotted a lone cub, thought it was abandoned and decided to adopt it. Needless to say, he got a good spanking at home and was forced to return the cub where he got it from. That was how grandpa was until the day he died – impulsive, adorable and full of childlike curiosity.

Every summer, when it got too hot in the city, we packed our bags and went to live with grandpa and grandma. They lived in a modest home deep in the valleys of rural Mangalore in South India. That was our ‘vacation.’ It might not have been exotic but it was certainly enriching and well-spent. I adored grandpa and his idiosyncrasies that for me had hidden lessons like little wrapped gifts in a treasure hunt. He would wake up at dawn and lovingly sweep the front yard. That was the first thing he did and it was a metaphor for starting the day on a clean slate. As soon as I woke up, he would hand me a small brass pot and drag me to the well. We would draw water together, my small hands covered with his large, calloused ones over the rough rope. He would spend entire mornings watering the plants, admiring the flowers, tending to his vegetable and fruit patch, pointing out the ripe ones and urging me to pick them. This is how he taught me to care and work for what I loved; to appreciate the beauty around me, to have patience and enjoy the rewards when they appeared. Once he hacked open a huge jackfruit with his bare hands and we chomped through the entire thing in one sitting. In today’s lingo it’s called a YOLO day. A day when you indulge yourself because ‘You Only Live Once’. Grandpa lived and breathed the YOLO philosophy, though in a different way. It wasn’t about pigging out on a certain day; it was living life to the full every single day. He exemplified how to nurture the inner child and never let it die.

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Grandpa using headphones for the first time.

On days that he chose to stay home, grandpa would sit on the patio listening to the news on his small portable radio. His sharp brain would absorb every bit of information and it was incredible how much he knew about world affairs. But most days, he would disappear, only to appear in time for our evening prayers. He would waddle down unconcerned down the dark, twisted path that led to our house in the valley. Grandma would keep expressing her disapproval about him roaming around in the dark, but he only just laughed all the time. Sometimes, he came home really late when we were already in bed. Then he would squat on the mattress beside me, turn up the oil lamp a little, recount real life stories in his booming voice and sneak me sweets under the blankets while I hung on to his every word.

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The way life has been pausing and crawling recently has given me new perspectives. Sometimes the rain falls around like it will never stop and quite suddenly the sun comes out and everything is so different. It’s like living in two parallel universes. There are days when all I want to do is wear my escapist garb and crawl into my own skin. On days like that a memory of grandpa and his toothless grin is enough to haul me back. And quite suddenly things become symphonic and perfect. Life breaks free from shackles and appears untethered and free. There’s a beauty in how relationships, past or present, are stitched together into our lives with invisible threads. How what seems so simple can gain so much importance. Grandparents are always taken for granted but someday when they are gone, you realize that they live in parts of you that you didn’t know existed. When you realize that, you quite suddenly fall in love with reminiscences of them, as well as parts of you that they still live in.

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Grandpa didn’t accumulate wealth and heirlooms. But he loved life, indulged his curiosity and laughed nonchalantly. Those are the qualities and lessons he seems to have passed on; a kind of legacy – the YOLO legacy, as I like to call it. What could be more precious than that? When I get excited about picking sea-shells from the shore, write my name on frosty window panes, lose myself in music or laugh out loud at inane jokes, I think of grandpa. On dark days when life seems to be pulling me down and I smile back at it, I hope he’s proud of me. He never preached but set us an example of how to feel wonder at the tiniest thing, how not to live a numb life and how to open ourselves up to the wonder of ‘us’.

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.

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.

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

 

AMMA’S CHARMING STORIES

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On balmy summer nights, when there is a rare and empty silence, I look up at the moonlit sky and miss Amma.  My childhood ruminations can never be complete without a mention of her. Those were the days of ‘no agenda in life’, no right or wrong, just living in the moment.   Most nights after dinner, the neighbourhood kids would gather around Amma. We would spread out mats under the drumstick tree and make ourselves comfortable, our eyes lustrous with expectation. Amma was an avid storyteller. Her stories were alluring, laced with drama and intrigue. We hung on to her every word, totally enraptured. Our mothers usually huddled around in a separate group, but at times a hush would fall on their gossip and we knew they were as drawn to the tales as we were.

Amma was an elderly woman who lived with her grandson.  They were poor and occupied a shabby, ramshackle house in the quarter. At one time, she had been nanny to a now famous Bollywood actress. But she never bragged about it.  What defined her was her incredible storytelling, her simplicity and her warmth.

The other night, at about 1.30 a.m., we were awakened by a power cut. It was unbearably hot.  For the first one hour, we tried to cover our discomfort with jokes and conversation.  I fanned myself with a newspaper until my arm threatened to fall off. When we could take it no more, we went down and sat in our car with the air-conditioner on. In the eerie silence of that night, dotted just by the hum of the air-conditioner and an owl screeching in the distance, I closed my eyes and imagined I was back under the spangled skies of my simple childhood. I could hear Amma’s lulling voice and the camaraderie of the neighbourhood, and like a serenade, it soothed my soul.

Life was never meant to be a struggle.  It was meant to be simple; to unfold effortlessly.  Like Amma’s charming stories.