BEGIN TO BE FREE

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2014 has been a roller coaster year. I have an intense dislike for roller coasters, but as I cruised along, hitting the lows and then being hurled up into the clouds, I grasped the thrill of it all. It’s December now. That time of the year when I unintentionally get caught up in waves of reflection. Even as I’m busy hanging up fairy lights on Christmas trees or looking up yuletide recipes, I tend to gasp. It’s the falling-off-the-bed-in-a-dream kind of gasp. And yet, all I feel is gratitude.

The 100happydays challenge on Instagram gave an effervescent start to the year. A few days into it though, dark clouds appeared without warning. It was hard to keep the challenge going but somehow I managed to find the silver lining every single day. Gratitude is a powerful thing. It urges you to notice the little miracles, ungraciously take for granted otherwise. And as you do so, new miracles happen.

At one point, I realized that liberation is very important. I mean the kind of liberation that frees you from limits on thought or behaviour. Not necessarily in the big stuff but in little, everyday kind of things. When you let go of the old, you make room for fresh starts. I resolved to make changes so there was room to do the things that were worth doing. I let go, delegated and freed up valuable time. It isn’t easy to break up old habits, but once it’s done, you feel light and free. That’s the kind of liberation I was after.

For years I’d been a control freak. And I see how it had muddled up my life. From making crease-free beds to deciding schedules, I’d always wanted to do it all. Little did I realise that working in military fashion was actually cramping up my style. I finally empathised with my vagabond mind. Change seems hard. But if you pick one thing at a time that you want to change and focus on that, it is doable. There might be a rough agenda, but more often than not, where it feels like home, I follow the path.

So yeah, you evolve some and mess up some. I guess a lot more could have been achieved but it’s not too late yet.  Some of the resolutions got a little left behind, but others came up impromptu and I stuck with them. Like this blog, for instance. All my life, I’ve scribbled onto scratchpads and journals, making notes, jotting down ideas, penning lyrics, expressing myself. A whole lot of crap, but I did it anyway. It was only when I started this blog that things finally started making sense. It’s just the beginning though. The culmination is yet to happen. Even if it doesn’t, I’m clear about one thing: never stop doing your best just because someone doesn’t validate you. There’s peace and joy in doing things you love. Greatness will follow.

Now and then, we all get waylaid by inevitable questions of purposes and paths. It’s up to us to respond. Most times, we might be caught up in inane stuff. And we can drone on and on about missed opportunities. But you never know, the next one could be just round the corner. So as the year closes, let’s just tie up the loose ends; quit worrying and live one day at a time. Let’s catch up with where we need to be. Let’s just begin to be free.

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BEING COLUMBUS

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‘Every one of us has in him an undiscovered continent. Blessed is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul’. – Author unknown.

During the time I was living in the Middle East, one time I caught a late evening flight to Mumbai. My mum was there to receive me at the airport and I walked into her arms like a lost person returning home. The tectonic plates were shifting and something was changing, like a seismic activity at the soul level. I later learnt that the feeling of being lost is actually a good thing, because that’s when you know that you can be found. That there is a place you are meant to return to.

I believe in the theory that our emotions, feelings and thoughts find expression through our bodies. The physical manifestations are a reflection of that. So it was evident that all the bottled-up fizz was gonna spill out sometime. And it did. I did not want to end up bitter, so I started questioning things. Instead of asking: ‘why me?’, I wondered: ‘what is life trying to teach me?’ They say that experiences keep coming back to you until you learn what you’re supposed to. It’s a thought worth exploring.

So, one thing led to another and I kept toddling along, trying to understand and explore myself. Once I put the intention in place, inspiration and help started appearing out of nowhere. There are lots of angels around, if you just look for them. There will be one at every turn, at every crossroad; waiting to hold your hand and take you ahead. One such angel I found at the right time was Leesha. She talks about angels all the time but little does she realize that she is one. From an ordinary young girl battling life’s miseries, she found the courage to not only find her own magnificence but constantly pushes others to find theirs too.  From the moment I first met Lee, I knew she was special. Her radiance, her quiet smile, her kind words cleared the cobwebs from my mind. She didn’t give me solutions; rather she made me seek them on my own.

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We all have our own unique experiences. Some like to be secretive about theirs, some cover theirs with dejection, some are just trying to get by, and then there are the ones who show us how life is meant to be lived. I like the ones who wear their heart on their sleeves. They are the ones who hold their heads high, who don’t believe in being ashamed of anything.  They are the torch-bearers who inspire us.  And so you find them and try to follow their light.

For me, there came a time when being in my cocoon was harder than breaking free. From a shy, pathologically introverted type, I seem to have morphed into this blatant, unconcealed kind of woman who unabashedly goes around telling people how she feels. But I like it this way; especially when I see that people reciprocate and respond to the enthusiasm.

The other day I met up with a friend and was trying to encourage her to explore her talent of crocheting. We had talked about everything under the sun, but when she spoke about how she had made a beautiful crocheted purse for her daughter, there was this spark in her eyes, a glow on her face, that wasn’t there before. I wish I could have held a mirror to her in that moment. And maybe I did, for she told me a week later that she had taken up a new project after a really long time.

Here I am reminded of C. Joybell C’s words: “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.  It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away”.

It doesn’t matter if others validate you or not.  You need to give yourself a chance, read your chapter out loud. Among other things, this blog is a reflection of me. If even one person connects with me through my writing, I am satisfied. It is through these tiny little encounters that I feel complete. It is then that I feel like I am crafting what is essentially ‘me’.

Like George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.  If you are waiting for the right time, don’t.  Start creating yourself now.

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

 

MONSOON MEMORIES

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I have memories; random memories, that spring on me at odd times. I hardly ever remember the big stuff. It’s always the in-between moments that seem to be buried in the recesses of my demented mind. They crawl out of their hiding places, playing peek-a-boo; taking me off-guard, bringing a smile most times and dousing me with melancholy at others. And right now, it’s all about rain-soaked memories.

The skies finally opened up freely this week on the dry earth. The drizzle a few days ago had brought excitement and then disappeared somewhere. Dust had gathered on the leaves once again, anxious eyes were turned heavenwards with a prayer and spirits were wilting with heat and fatigue. But the lashing rains have righted all wrongs and the world seems fertile and happy again.

Last year during this season, we roamed about a lot. My nephews were visiting and we took them around, exploring parts of the city that even we rarely visited. South Mumbai seemed like a beautiful dream even as we were living it. The breakfast banter at Mondegar Café, the parched throats being washed down with cold beer at Leopold’s, the hair going wild with the breeze of Marine Drive, a walk through the Prince of Wales Museum and all along the drizzle sprinkling its charms on us – it was the kind of day that you write songs about. And yes, I did.

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A few days later, we were hiking in paradise; exploring ancient Buddhist caves, slipping on mossy rocks, climbing to the peak, gasping at the view and getting drenched under the waterfall, as if the rain wasn’t enough. On our way back, and spent with all the activity, we had stopped at the dilapidated canteen there and gulped down hot, deep fried savouries and sweet tea.

 

But these are recent memories and so I remember the details. But there are haphazard flashbacks that come and go. I see a bunch of kids playing an odd game. They are taking turns throwing a reedy iron rod at the soggy ground. And one of them is me. In another scene, we are making paper boats and I burst out crying because mine doesn’t float as well as the others. There’s a memory of me and my colleagues (fast forward a few years) slurping ice-cream outside a music shop while puddles form at our feet. Another day I’m lounging on damp grass atop a knoll with friends, tired after a long trek. The sun is dipping into the horizon and rain songs are playing on a radio somewhere in the distance.

 

So it goes on. Monsoon memories are going to flood my mind every now and then until it’s time to bid them adieu. Then I shall welcome another season, another kind of randomness. Until then, let me enjoy the raindrops, the intoxicating smell of sopping wet earth, the glistening leaves and bowls of steaming soup. And maybe make some new memories.

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© Renica Rego

WHEN IT RAINS

ImageThe dust of summer has been washed away. This morning the freshly rinsed leaves are glinting proudly in the sunlight. Over the past week, the rain gods had been sending little teasers; a modest sprinkling, so to speak, of pristine hope. Last evening the skies finally opened up freely and thunder rattled the window panes. All the neighbourhood kids went berserk, shrieking and frolicking in the rain. The adults, too shy to join in, watched from the windows.

In Mumbai, the monsoon divides people into two categories – the ones who hate rains, and the ones who love it. I am the latter kind. And to me, this is precious time. When the world around is drenched and there is nowhere to go, it’s time to dredge up all the dis-remembered things. This is when we need to find art in ordinariness. When we need to fall in love with warm baths, cardamom flavored tea, yellowed pages of long-forgotten books, classic movies and hot soups. This is when it’s time to practice awareness.

Awareness is a wonderful thing. It pulls you out of all the sleepwalking through life and centers you on the beauty of it. Who wouldn’t want that? Haven’t we all experienced that feeling of not having enough time all too often? Of wanting to do things, but getting so wrapped up in busyness that we don’t know how to untangle ourselves? We fixate upon finding joy, we run around in circles, until realization dawns that it’s right here, right now, in every little thing.

We might not be great at making time, but we can learn. Even though there is always plenty of it, we still fall short. So I’m learning how to pull out those precious strands and weave a rich tapestry into my day. I want to make time for all the nothingness… loitering in the park, gazing out the window at nobody in particular, putting things in order until it’s time for chaos again, meeting up with friends just like that.

Last week, I made an impromptu lunch date with a friend. There was no agenda. We walked around, yakked and window-shopped. Then we lingered over food. I savored every bit of chick-pea, beansprout, lettuce and roasted chicken in my salad. We slurped, me over gelato, she over frozen yogurt. And later, we hung around sipping ice-cold frappuccino while our minds de-cluttered and our hearts bonded.

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Yesterday, while it poured outside, me and my girls made mango cheesecake. We got messy with the cookie crumbs and butter, spilled batter and licked it with our fingers and had a wonderful time.

That’s what I hanker after; the little nuggets of joy. When I think about the kind of life I want to create, I am clear about my vision. It might seem fanciful to some, boring to others and hopelessly idle to the rest. But that’s what gets me excited. A few fresh flowers, a slice of cheesecake, the people I love, time to feed my creativity and a lot of ordinary days. Yes, that’ll do.

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© Renica Rego

LIFE WITHOUT LOVE

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“Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit” – Khalil Gibran

 

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to the golden wedding anniversary of Doug and Daisy, our friend’s parents. It was a beautiful celebration. A lot of effort and deliberation had gone into every detail. The fresh flowers, the confetti packed in pretty golden boxes, the cake slices wrapped in gold paper, the thoughtful selection of music; mostly old country and folk. It was very charming, very vintage. And for a perfect backdrop there was a sea of beaming people.

We all cheered and hooted as the grandkids led the bride and groom in, both looking resplendent. After their graceful parade to the classic composition of the wedding march, their eldest daughter and son shared a few wistful memories with us. During his speech, their son, Darryl, recounted an interesting chat with his father. Just the previous day, Darryl had asked him, “Dad, can you share with me the secret of your happy married life?” Doug had leaned back in his chair with an impish look and said, “I beg your pardon?”

If we can figure that one out, we’d be on our way to a peaceful and happy life.  What Doug was trying to say is, we can choose to hear what we want and let go of the rest. It’s an important lesson for an egotistical and over-sensitive society like the one we’ve regressed into. In those four simple words, Doug taught us how to love, let go and simplify our lives all at once.

Doug and Daisy symbolized how love, passion and enthusiasm can be sustained well into the twilight years of one’s life. They danced like adolescents, inspired us to dance with them, laughed merrily and chatted animatedly with everyone.

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And my heart just swelled up when Doug took the microphone and crooned to his wife, the timeless classic, ‘Daisy Bell’.

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do

I’m half-crazy all for the love of you

It won’t be a stylish marriage

I can’t afford a carriage

But you’ll look sweet

Upon the seat

Of a bicycle made for two

Daisy glowed with delight. She did not need words. You could see the quiet, simple love in her eyes. No ostentation required.

As the evening drew to a close, we slumped in our chairs with aching feet but our minds were invigorated and our hearts were filled with hope. We reluctantly said our goodbyes to Doug and Daisy not knowing if we’ll ever meet again. But we were taking a piece of their love with us as a reminder. Even when we stepped out into the oppressive heat of the humid night, we were still buoyant and cheerful.

I might be good at picking up lessons from seemingly simple episodes, but equally adept at forgetting them when I most need to remember. One thing though, that I don’t forget in a hurry is that no matter how well composed your life is, you can’t leave out love.

© Renica Rego

STAINS ON MY HEART

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It was around early May. A light breeze caressed the countryside and the day was fragrant with the sweet smell of summer bounties. We decided to explore the moorland and took the most twisted path there was. I was about 12 at the time, a city-bred child, but carrying around a rural soul. My young aunt led the way through thorny bushes and slippery trails. A couple of the neighbourhood kids, whom I’d befriended, followed us regaling me with stories from here and there. We reached the top an hour later, panting for breath, hungry and thirsty.

For a while then, we flopped on the yellowing grass, a steady banter making us break into breathless giggles every now and then. When we were all fagged out, we just lay there, silence covering us like a blanket. And just like that, I looked up at the sky and my soul stilled. I cannot really describe what went through my juvenile heart, but I was completely riveted. I lost all sense of time and can’t recall how long I stayed there; but to this day, I rate that as my most sacrosanct moment.

Later, we had devoured freshly picked wild mangoes, the juice running down our hands, creating almost permanent stains on our clothes. But looking back, the stains of memory left on my heart were clearly much more permanent. I wanted to stay up there longer, but the sun was dipping westwards and my aunt was afraid we wouldn’t make it home before dark.  So we hurried back. Even as I stumbled along behind the others, my mind was still in a trance.

Sometime during February of this year, when I was grappling with one of my dark days, the above incident popped into my head. I closed my eyes, trying to relive the peace I had felt on that hilltop. And sure enough, I felt it.  From that day onwards, I have been looking for and finding joy and sanctity in the most inconceivable places. It’s funny how we get caught up in the drama of daily life and overlook the central theme completely. If we look hard enough though, we always find what we need.

Last week, when I was visiting mom for a couple of days, I made the most of the lovely parks in her neighbourhood. I pretended I was 12 again, lay down on the grass and gazed at the sky, taking in the vastness and beauty of the heavens. It was beautiful. In moments like these, the mind empties itself of the clutter we carry around needlessly and all that’s left is peace and gratitude.

Some wild mangoes afterwards would have been perfect, but the store bought ones did just fine. : )

© Renica Rego