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.

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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

SOMEONE PLAYS YOUR SONG

Music is the best way to declutter the mind. Without music, there’s no life. Today is ‘World Music Day’, so here’s a song I wrote about how music lifts us out of our darkest moments.

SOMEONE PLAYS YOUR SONG

There are the oh-so-perfect days

When the smile won’t leave your face

And all the things you do, feel

Like they’re drenched in grace

But it all just falls apart

Like a house made of cards

You try to build again

You go through all the pain

Right then someone plays your song

And the magic gets turned on

Lifted by the chords, you start to sing

Music can get you through anything

Music will save your life

Music will set you right

When nothing else seems to work

Music will shine the light

 

Music is your therapy

Say what you can’t really say

Music is the one real thing

To get you through your dark days

Cause someone always plays your song

And the magic gets turned on

Lifted by the chords, you start to sing

Music can get you through anything…

Music can get you through anything…

© 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

THE CHEQUERED KITCHEN

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The gulmohar tree outside my kitchen window seems to be growing parallel to my life. It’s a prime witness to my escapades in the pantry – the triumphs and failures, the sweat and the tears. When I moved into my current home seven years ago and started doing it up, my prime focus was the kitchen. Food is important to me; not just what I set out on the table, but the entire process of putting it together. I’m quite the forager at heart and you would know if you observe how much I love wandering around the marketplace. My daughter is greatly amused by my excitement for fresh, beautiful produce. The sight of blood red tomatoes, bright orange carrots, and fresh leafy greens is something I can’t resist. My insane love of veggies can be traced back to my Grandpa’s backyard vegetable patch. The taste of those eggplants, climbing spinach and ivy gourds came from pure love.

The reason I’m talking about vegetables and kitchens here and the connection it has with my minimalism theme is pretty clear. Simple food equates a simple life. Fresh foods inspire fresh thoughts. When the body is detoxified, so is the mind. We are what we eat. At least, that’s the philosophy of a sattvic or yoga diet.

Glamorous or simple, food is food. In the midst of all the Instagram and Facebook uploads of exotic and sometimes mysterious foods, I’m also happy to find food enthusiasts who promote simple, clean eats. They make you want to eat broccoli and spinach like it was manna from heaven (which it is). They are the ones I look out for. Simple meals are not passé. And fresh food is healing. As an Indian, nothing beats steaming rice topped with aromatic lentils and some veggies on the side for me. Or just-off-the griddle rotis (Indian flatbread) dunked in thick matar-paneer gravy (that’s green peas and cottage cheese). The taste of homemade food is always the best. And it’s good for you.

Recently, my house-help, Chanda taught me how to make jowar rotis (sorghum flatbread). These rotis dipped in a hot curry is a marriage made in heaven. Chanda must be around 60, but looks strong and healthy. Apparently, she hasn’t seen a doctor in years and doesn’t know what stomach gas feels like. Her diet is pretty straightforward and frugal, consisting mainly of whole grains and vegetables. She’s the kind of diet guru I’d like to follow.

For my birthday last month, my mother-in-law made me a traditional Mangalorean dessert. It was her birthday gift to me. I was absolutely stoked. To express my appreciation, I made her a nice curry of some fresh river fish and a side of veggies the next day. It’s wonderful how food became an expression of love and gratitude for us.

So food, to me, is not just about eating. It’s about enjoying the preliminaries and feeling the emotions. It’s about feeding the people I love. That’s why the kitchen is important to me. It’s where the soul of your home resides. Chopping with gusto, churning with passion, seasoning with love…these are great ways to put your focus in the moment and find pleasure in little things. Cooking is about nourishment, healing, creativity and art.  The best thing about this art… you can eat what you create!

© Renica Rego

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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