MISTY MEADOWS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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’.

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.

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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LIKE BIRD WINGS

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Your hand opens and closes, and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings. – Rumi

One evening, as I walked back home from church, I decided to take a different route. It stirred up a dormant awareness; one that I’d always tried to maintain but had somehow settled into the oblivion of a bored life. Sometimes, a simple act can give you a fresh perspective. All at once, there were new things to discover, different people to observe. It made me more watchful and focused. A week later, my new found sense of adventure still intact, I tried a third route and hit a dead end. I walked back, lost for a while, until triumphantly discovering a little by-lane that led me home. I liked this route the best. There was a row of pretty houses lining the street and friendly people sitting on patios. They smiled as I passed them by and it was like being part of their lives, if only for a moment. This is how life is too. There are so many paths, so many experiences. Sometimes, there are crossroads and sometimes the road seems to lead nowhere. But life is brilliant and there are no blind alleys, no dead ends. Only experiences and escapades that beckon and entice, if only we pay heed.

In the book, ‘Manuscript found in Accra’, Paulo Coelho writes: “And to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine: that kills you far more quickly”. It’s true. Moreover, adventure does not necessarily mean bungee jumping or mountain climbing. It can be anything that excites you, gives you a different take on life and helps you reinvent yourself. It can be as simple as tapping a different side of your personality, like a friend of mine who volunteers as a social worker in her spare time. It could be indulgent like learning something new. Or simple like reviving an old hobby. For a person who walked into book stores just to get drunk on the smell of books, it was mortifying that I hadn’t read a book in months. So I picked up one and in the musty vanilla scented pages, I unearthed vision, fantasy, imagination and somewhere in between, a part of myself. So welcome anything that takes you away from routine. There are new paths, so to speak, that beg to be wandered into. Once you find what floats your boat, the days don’t seem jaded anymore.

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So, as I move from structured days to the more fluid ones, I see how the hours shape me. Sometimes, I’m diligently ticking off my to-do list and at other times I’m like a languorous nomad. The former cannot be ignored, but it’s the latter I crave and thrive on. Those are the moments I like to taste and smell and soak in. When we’re caught up in the repetitiveness that defines our daily life, we tend to forget what it feels like to live in these unhurried moments.  Once you slip into insipidity, life is nothing but a series of chores that need to be attended to. You wake up and go about like an android doing what is required. And the minutes just speed by, the sun sets and you curl up in a heap of exhaustion. You lay on your bed, your mind unfeeling, the television a blur of images. That’s when it’s time to set up the equilibrium; because what might appear as indulgence is actually a compulsion to maintain sanity.

It’s good to wander in and out of known and unknown lanes. And as you do so, you feel ready to take a quantum leap from an indiscriminate life. That diminutive effort is enough to lift you out of ordinariness and make you soar. So much so, that you’d never want to go back to a lackadaisical life.