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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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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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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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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LOVE-TABLES

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My days had gotten sporadic. Disarray had replaced ritual. There was no structure, no tidy arrangement of chores, no laying down of thoughts in neatly organized rows. For a while, it was okay. But like hair left uncombed for days, my mind got matted and disheveled. I needed some semblance of order, some arrows that would point me to where I should be going.

I have always been ritualistic; even if my morning ritual is nothing more than a cup of tea. The tea isn’t significant, the act of sipping it in the hushed silence of the dawn is. Some days, I wake up bursting with creativity, but many mornings I’m a tangled mess of cluelessness and no perspective. So I linger over my tea, listen to music, read or just mind-doodle for a bit. Eventually, as I sit at my desk and let the words fall out, a path is paved in the wilderness. To quote Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So the point I’m making here is about habits. Good, sturdy, rewarding habits. Whether you live in the fast lane, on the edge or cooped up in four walls, your little rituals and habits will determine who you become.

I wanted to be a few things. But the rigidity of discipline has never appealed to me. What’s appealing is everything flowing in serenity. So instead of making time-tables, I figured love-tables would work better for me. What were the things I loved to do? If I didn’t really love them, but they still needed to be done, how could I find something to love about them? That was my personal ‘Eureka’ moment – the love-table.

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I was never a morning person to begin with. It’s kind of absurd to say that, ‘cause if you aren’t cracked up about a new day, it means you lack enthusiasm and aren’t grateful for what you have. I needed to dust my attitude. When there is no real need to wake up at six in the morning, try sweet-talking your mind into doing it. Try giving yourself a reason. Practice the ‘attitude of gratitude.’ A lot of successful, organized people recommend meditation as soon as you wake up. But it did not work for me. Even before I open my eyes, my mind is ravening for words, my hand is groping for the phone and my heart craves to connect with friends. So the first thing I do is look up quotes to brighten up people’s mornings – quotes that inspire, quotes that move or simply bring a smile. Without realizing it I had started drawing in magic into my own mornings. Like the sun rays that bounce off from distant window panes, the words would reflect back to me and inspire me to weave some magic of my own. This is how I turned into a morning person and a consistent writer.

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Then there are indispensable things like exercise. I like the quietude of yoga, but I needed an outdoor activity to fall in love with. Mum kept harping on the beauty of walking but it didn’t really appeal to me at first. It was boring. So I had to find something to spur me on my walks. I love music. I like the freshness of the outdoors. And I like to smile at people. So the walk became a way of breathing in fresh air, saying hello to people, smiling at strangers and discovering new music every day. The allure of these other things became the reason for the walk.

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And lastly there’s the de rigueur stuff, the oh-so-boring chores. Like doing the laundry! How can folding clothes and ironing be remotely interesting?! So make that television time. Laugh through a funny show, discover interesting places on Fox Traveler, learn about world cuisine on TLC or sway to music on VH1. Voila! Laundry done!

Forcing yourself into a habit in the hope of becoming a better person or having a better life is unlikely to work. Instead, find things you love to do. A habit you love is more likely to stick. Replace things you dislike with things you enjoy. Make your own love-table. As you become clear about who you are, you will know for sure where you want to go. This is how you will honor your true self. This is how you will be what you are meant to be. In the words of Maya Angelou, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Sing your song. And sing it fearlessly.

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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.