50 CANDLES IN HEAVEN

This is a special tribute to an incredible woman who graced my life for a few years and left all too soon. Sometimes, even the briefest of influences impact our whole life. This is one such relationship. Over the past six years, I’ve written her several letters. It is just my way of coping with grief. Today I’d like to share a piece of this unique love with you all. Marie would have been 50 today, and I imagine the heavens might be lit up with 50 candles.

IMG_20180913_16505207 February, 2012.

Dear Marie,

Time slowed down the minute I walked into your hospital room yesterday. The contours of your frail body looked stark against the backdrop of clinically white sheets. But what followed me home was the vacant look in your eyes. It stilled my heart and I felt betrayed. But recognition slowly returned and you whispered, “Looking good”, like you always do when you see me. I have no recollection of my own response because somewhere in the long expanse of those few seconds, time had slowed down considerably.

Later, while feeding bland grains of rice into your reluctant mouth, I thought of all the meals we had cooked and eaten together. Do you remember how I couldn’t handle your spicy food, but gradually got addicted to it? Those flavours, your laughter, our shared dreams and thoughts, they have soaked into my skin.

You were my rock; and now it is I who awkwardly babbles words of encouragement to you. What do I know about your pain? All through it, you sat motionless; then with a sigh you said, “I’m tired”. That was the moment I knew you were giving up. It felt like the setting sun was taking everything with it and we were struggling to breathe.

As I write, I look at the darkness outside and try to understand the one within. Maybe you need to rest. Maybe I should be okay with it. But I forgot to say ‘I love you’, so will you hold on a little bit longer?

R

[Marie passed away on the 9th, before I had a chance to visit her again.]

IMG_20180913_16483927 September, 2015.

Dear Marie,

It seems like another lifetime when we were kissing each other’s flaws, blowing on burning wounds, our laughter spilling the chilled cocktails that you so enjoyed. Or was it just yesterday that we were confiding over kitchen counters, our words falling over each other, flavoring pots of your spiced curries. Time blurs and I lose myself in what was and what could have been. You continue to live in soulful poems, crop up in the lines of tuneful songs, smile from behind flaming orange suns. I step on the shards of my broken memories and the sting takes me back to you. They say closure is found in stillness, but when I try, the silence becomes your voice and it follows me wherever I go.

[Written two and a half years after her passing, on her 47th birthday.]

 

IMG_20180913_162137

27 September, 2018.

Dearest Marie,

There is a silence around me as I write; a silence so dense that I can almost touch it. I hear a distant laugh that sounds just like yours, but it halts right outside the window. It’s been over six years and yet there’s an empty space that nothing seems to fill.

Mostly I try to focus on the good memories, but every little pain reminds me of you too.  I have my own little collection of aches and pains now; although they seem ridiculously miniscule to what you went through. I remind myself of how your myopathic heart brought forth your warrior spirit. ‘The best we can do is find spectacular ways of dealing with our tragedies’, you would say. I try to find solace in words; sometimes I curl up inside thoughts and fall into reveries. Most times though, I flow like a river, unimpeded onto my own course, following my covert goals, unconcerned with the world. You always pushed me to be the best version of myself and I think you might have started being proud of me now.

Last week, we stopped by at your resting place and arranged flowers in your memory. The greenery and peace there are so perfect. I recounted how much you had loved my surprise bouquet on one of your birthdays. Maybe I should have sent you flowers more often. Maybe I should have written you letters while you could still read them.  Maybe what they say is right, that regret is stronger than gratitude.

You would have been 50 today and the air would have been redolent with ginger tea, Davidoff, Peach Schnapps and fried chicken. As the evening folds into the night, I shall raise a glass to the sky and whisper, “Happy birthday, Marie”. Surely it’s a myth that people become stars, but darling, twinkle a little brighter if you are one.

R.

IMG-20180913-WA0012

ENDNOTE:

The purpose of sharing these personal letters is just so they serve as a reminder of how we take people and love for granted. Good people are precious. Recognize and appreciate them. Celebrate life and smile a lot. Never say no to love because not everyone will value you and the ones who do will not stick around forever. So love with the wildest abandon while you can. Tomorrow might be too late.

Advertisements

FLUORESCENCE

2B0BD3AD-E56C-485B-A36F-7C0213BAEAE9

Thanksgiving need not be one day in a year; it’s an emotion that must be felt and expressed as a frequent, if not daily, ritual. So, as I celebrate another year of my earnest and quiet life, this constitutes a toast to all that I’m grateful for. A life, by no means perfect or even remotely recommended, but profound all the same. To me, what enables an impassioned, bona fide life is the people who grace it. People who have taught me to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. If it wasn’t for these little superintended tutorials, I would have strayed and how.

Recently, my friend, Gazala, wrote about how they nurtured their bashful little orchid plant that refused to flower. It took a year and a half of coaxing and whispering sweet-nothings for a beautiful white orchid to finally bloom. That’s how people are too; you dust them with rhythmic sprinklings of love and encouragement and they’ll flourish.

057A9F04-4364-42F6-92AD-6F9A913AEE7D

Sometimes, love can feel smothering though; but it does well to understand where it comes from. This reminds me of one of the two times I’ve talked back to my mother. Dad being away all the time made mum over-protective about me. I wasn’t allowed to stay out late and it rattled me to think of all the parties, camps and adolescent fun I was missing out on. One day I got flustered enough to blurt, “What do you suppose I might do in the dark, that isn’t possible in daylight?” She was hurt and I bitterly regretted my outburst.

Around that time, an aunt was giving me stitching lessons. One day, she taught me how to use the basting thread. A basting thread is essentially used to temporarily hold the fabric together and removed once the work is complete. Parents are quite like those basting threads, holding us together until we’re ready to face the world on our own. Like a butterfly that flies in and softly rests on an outstretched hand, the realization settled in on me. Through the years, I became mum’s confidante and she, my anchor.

IMG-20160224-WA0021

There is a beauty in leading by example and I have a list of people to thank. Doting family and vintage friends, no doubt; but the unacquainted too. The ones who came tiptoeing into my life and gifted me fresh perspectives. The ones who inspired me by being who they are, sharing their ideas and fortuitously guiding me to execute my own. The strangeness and magnificence of life is authenticated by such associations. And before you know it, these kindred souls become the flourish to your ordinary life.

A couple of years ago, when I signed up for a songwriting course, I had no idea that I was setting out on a journey to find a part of me that I didn’t know existed. It was a fun experiment that not only reinforced my belief in myself but showed me how a person you never ever meet can influence you. My mentor, Mr. Pattinson opened up a world that intrigued my passionate heart. I became a diligent student who never defaulted on assignments, even while on an overseas holiday. To the procrastinator in me, that was a growth beyond any other.

13B2EC60-9D45-465F-AA4E-30CDDB22E550
As the days get longer and hotter, I draw strength from the Gulmohar tree outside my window which flowers abundantly in this season. Like a Japanese baby’s first hanami (cherry blossom viewing), I’ve always taken this season seriously. The Gulmohar brings back memories of a long forgotten childhood when we used to play under its fiery red canopy and wait for its long seed cases to turn brown and hard, so we could rattle them all day. But what really makes the Gulmohar precious to me is an allegory that I have dearly held on to for years: that the flowering of this bountiful tree coincides with my birthday for a reason. I see it as Nature’s gift to me; a reminder that when the summers of life get unbearable, there is always a burst of hope to cling on to. That even as life hurts me, it hands me the idea that I inherently possess the grace to find my own fluorescence.

Despite my polychromatic weaknesses, I have come a long way. I am beholden to all who walk with me and lend a hand to help me execute this sometimes dark, sometimes sparkling life with a poise that can only come from genuine love. Here’s hoping that a decade from now when I revisit this page, I’d be just as grateful.

 

UNPLUGGED DAYS

IMG_0420

A few years ago, we drove deep into the desert of Hatta. The sand dunes there are luminuous and beautifully astral. We had decided to spend the night, so after a  sumptuous Arabic meal, we found ourselves languidly sprawled under the starry sky. A friend was strumming his guitar and time shimmered like a mirage – palpable and truant at the same time. Moments like these call out to me more often now than ever before.

Of late, I’ve begun to get extremely claustrophobic. There’s a constant need to be out in the open, more precisely, in the lap of nature. The rapidity and uproar of the city is almost pandemonic. It could be some sort of seasonal affective disorder and I refrain from mentioning my restlessness to people around me. Instead I try to manipulate excursions on the pretext of this and that. Even then, my neurosis reveals itself by it’s absence as I sizeably open up the minute we approach the countryside. It’s a transformation that’s hard to miss.

A few days ago, my husband and I drove down to a fishing village about 15 kms outside city limits. The lanes were winding and suitably narrow. Brightly painted houses nestled closely in a disorderly manner, women seemed friendly and men bustled around in carelessly wrapped loin cloths. There was a lack of curiosity in their glances that put me at ease, like the warm but understated embrace of family welcoming you home. That evening, as I sat gazing out at the endlessly inspiring sea, I wondered if it was at all possible to feel displaced from a place one has never known.

IMG_0421

When we headed back home two days later, we were met with some disturbing news. Over 3,000 trees were about to face the axe soon to make way for the Metro car shed in my favourite Aarey Milk Colony. The city planners might have their reasons but I was devastated, to say the least. The Aarey area is one of the few green spots left in the otherwise concrete city of Mumbai and a place that’s always balm to my ravaged mind.

IMG_0425

On the supremely wide girth of these tree trunks are stories of storms weathered and solace gathered. I felt compelled to revisit the tales and hold them close one more time. So we made a trip and loitered around. It turned out to be a beautiful and adventurous day. We chatted up a local and milked out gossip, pretended to be film-makers and explored a film location, hugged tree trunks and discovered spots that we never knew existed. I saw the vast stretches of green wilderness and the expansive blue sky in the middle of a bustling city as analogous to the litter of monotonous moments in our usually busy lives. We fail to see that those are the very gaps that allow the sunlight to stream in and that it might do us good to stop trying too hard and just be. My jaunt through those verdant lanes that day made me nostalgic for the spartan picnics of my childhood. What happened to that rudimentary life?

IMG_0427

Our last expedition of the fortnight, turned out to be the Pagoda that I never get tired of. Just taking the ferry across the muddled waters makes me feel like I’m crossing over to another dimension. It was a stifflingly humid day, but nothing could take away the peace that enveloped me as I stretched out on the grass with the Buddha statue looming and chants resonating in the air. We’re always looking for upgrades in life, but sometimes it serves us well to feel the ground and appreciate the poetry in all of it.

IMG_0394

I relish unplugged days like these that vibrate with unadorned, acoustic sounds. They set the tone for a process of remembering and recovering our real selves. The arcadian charm of such idyllic paths and stolen moments prompt me to reevaluate how I spend my time, who and what I commit to and the why of everything.  The answers turn out to be pretty simple. Our life is whatever we make of it, the only thing mandatory is participation. But one thing is abundantly clear. It takes very little for life to be resplendent.

Here’s to nature that inspires us to grow simply and live a life less ostentatious.

 

Image result for green leaf clip art

 

FROM EXASPERATING TO EXEMPLARY

 

20150626_070404

Most nights, the neighbourhood women would gather together after the day’s chores to pour their hearts out to each other. The tales were a jumble of this and that, a tirade so to speak, of the rigmarole that is marriage. There was not one woman in that cluster of huddled heads who would say something hopeful or different. This was a constant feature in the neighbourhood I stayed at while I was inching my way up to adulthood. Compared to this, the fairy tales of my childhood seemed largely phony. The collision of whimsy with reality doused something deep inside me. By the time I turned twenty-two, I was habitually sceptical. That’s the kind of apathy I took into my marriage.

My husband on the other hand, was full of beans. Always buoyant and talkative, he compensated for my lack of words and enthusiasm. The first couple of years were a disaster; a comedy of errors almost. I wondered if the Gods were amused enough with our union because we certainly weren’t. On hindsight, it seems like I was approximating the voices of those women from my past. I had tuned myself to believe the worst. At some point he lost patience and his hot-headedness took over. The dissent and rebellion blurred out the good parts. We were nice people underneath and had similarities too. But much like parallel lines that have a lot in common but never meet, our heads stayed rigidly divided. Even then, there were invisible threads that held us together.

One evening in the middle of some nondescript squabbling, I caught the distraught look on my little daughter’s face. It haunted me deep into the night. Kids are like little sponges, soaking up every little word, emotion and behaviour around them. The next day, my husband and I made a decision: that we would never argue in front of our daughter. It was a quantum leap, one that spurred little changes but ended up having a major impact on our lives. Slowly, but surely the skies cleared and thereafter got dotted only by the occasional cloud.

I gratefully eased into the flow of things and turned my attention to other things; things that were going to eventually change me and bring my distinctiveness forward. One day I came home and announced that my full time day job was no longer interesting to me. Even though we needed the extra income I brought in, my husband did not even blink. His silent support gave me wings and freedom all at once.  With his understated ways, he made me descend into depths of myself that I didn’t know even existed. The words that had eluded me for almost three decades poured out. They gushed out in torrents taking me by surprise and making me feel worthy like nothing else had. Quite suddenly, I was a published writer. I had only ever thought about a pond but he saw that I was capable and worthy of the ocean. That to me was enough heaven right here on earth.

When you start feeling whole and loving yourself, it becomes easy to extend that warmth to all around you. There were instances when my husband made me feel like the best wife on earth. As we mirrored the liking we felt for the other, our best selves started coming forth and compatibility settled in easy and good.

286_ARTICLE02

When we celebrated his 50th birthday, I got him a cake that read: Vintage Dude. Because vintage is not about being old or archaic; vintage is about class, about being first-rate. These words are as much an ode to my husband as it a testimony to what makes a marriage shine and all the years together worth our while.

Ours was neither a classic love marriage nor conventionally arranged. But somehow along the way, we turned it into an exemplary one. The meaning and importance of ‘love’ in life is vast, but when you single out relationships, and one that is as weighty as marriage, then there are other things that can matter more. Like respect, understanding, support and genuine liking for the person you share your whole life with. And the one thing that makes a relationship go from miserly to magnanimous is ‘validation’ from the other. Validation of your freedom to live life on your own terms. Validation for who you are, for what you are worth.

Bonob01

This story was first published on http://www.bonobology.com/ Bonobology is an online magazine that publishes real stories highlighting the various facets of a relationship. The idea is to provide a platform for understanding, discussing and resolving conflicts by encouraging a fresh perspective. Do explore the numerous stories and discussion forums by clicking on the link above and feel free to leave your comments or join in the discussions.

To find the above story on Bonobology, please click here:

http://www.bonobology.com/marriage/the-married-couple/286-from-exasperating-to-exemplary-in-marriage

Image result for red hearts flourish

THE SILENT STRING

 

BOW PIC

In my early twenties, I was introduced to the stimulating music of the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar. If I remember right, the album was called ‘Tana Mana – The Ravi Shankar Project’. It was an experimental work using electronic music fused with the traditional. And yet the sitar stood out. The vibrations of that beautiful instrument were like a poignant ricochet from some forgotten crevice of my soul. So much so, that I went in search of sitar classes in my neighborhood. Much to my disappointment, things did not work out and my aspirations slowly got buried under more pressing concerns. The sitar, however, still lurks somewhere in my subconscious mind.

Even though I never learnt to play the sitar, I remember doing some research on the instrument at the time. One thing that stuck with me was the complexity of it all. A sitar has 6-7 played strings and 18-21 sympathetic strings. The most used is the first string ‘baaj ka taar’. It is imperative to keep all the strings fine tuned for perfect melodies to flow out. The first string though, is the anchor. It is on this string that the creative rendering of the ragas happen. But life is all about collaboration and balance. This is where the second string – the ‘jod ka taar’ gains importance. That’s the support string without which continuity is lost. Without which there can be no pure melody. The reason I’m eulogizing the sitar 20 years later is this.

Two weeks ago, while I was merrily cleaning out the kitchen shelves perched on a chair, I tripped and fractured my ankle. Life came to an excruciating standstill. In my last post, I wrote about meditation and being still; here was an opportunity to indulge in more of that. But there’s a difference between elective and non-elective choices. Soon annoyance and ennui crept in. Advent commenced and Christmas was just around the corner. It irked me that while all of humanity was running around decorating their houses, preparing sweets and shopping, I had morphed into a kind of Hobbit, moping and shuffling around without shoes. So as I counted the similarities – no-shoes, six meals a day and an unadventurous life, I realized that Hobbits are courageous under moral pressure and capable of great feats too. It was time to slingshot the pessimism.

Fed on this last thought, I started an advent gratitude countdown on Instagram and Facebook. I thought of every little thing that warranted thankfulness. Gratitude lists work so well for the simple reason that you can’t feel sorry for yourself and thankful at the same time.  Soon enough I drew myself back into a bubble of appreciation and things fell into place. The amount of people who wrote back to me saying they drew comfort from the words was sweet premium.

IMG-20150621-WA0025

Gratitude to me is the most intense feeling and the only prayer I know of. Soon the frowns eased and I settled into a restorative state. The surest sign of blessings came soon after. Mother and hubby both arrived home simultaneously bringing with them lots of cheer and noise. It was the best dang thing. My husband kept everyone entertained, my daughter clowned around to replace him when he was at work and mum pampered me like I was a baby. There is no better feeling than freshly brewed tea brought to you in bed.

My adorable sister-in-law, Shalini accompanied me on my doctor visits and checked on me from time to time. Then there were friends, the real and honorable kinds. Some came with food and smiles and hope. The one’s who couldn’t visit, kept me occupied and positive by talking to me and texting all day long.

We are fed images of angels in flowing white gowns and halos over their heads. But good-hearted people are the real angels. They are the ones who radiate light and make our lives luminous. They are the ones who walk the talk. The words, laughter, encouragement and love of these people became the crutch that I leaned on. They became my ‘jod ka taar’, the silent support string, without which no pure melody is possible. Appreciation exuded out of my every pore and made the days look like a perpetual sun drenched morning. All that was left to do was luxuriate in it.

So here I am, sitting beneath my twinkling Christmas tree feeling loved and sanctified by life. I sense an encore coming on. The best, as I always say, is yet to come.

IMG-20151216-WA0038

All photos by: Rhea Rego

OHANA

The house looks poured out, empty. For over a week, it was bursting at the seams. Faces radiant, rooms buzzing with words, bodies moving and colliding, bags stacked against walls, chaos everywhere. Strangely enough, in that chaos floated a kind of stillness. There were moments when people were talking all at once, raucous laughter bounced off walls and what I breathed in was serenity. Family from overseas had arrived home to celebrate the 75th birthday of the family matriarch. Some days are just hallowed and we had a week full of them.

It’s a fact that no matter how much you try, distance makes relationships come undone a little, or totally sometimes. You send messages, make calls on special occasions, and try your best to hold everything together. But sharing meals cooked together in large old pots, kitchen gossip over cups of tea, watching the kids huddled up on makeshift beds, nothing can compare to that. That’s pure sensory overload and touchingly beautiful. What started off as a birthday celebration became the glue that bonded us all back together. We manifested magic in those few days.

03

As expected, the birthday party was spectacular. The day shone with epic moments and sparkling tributes. There was singing, dancing and a lot of warm hugs. Mother, whom everyone, young and old, fondly calls ‘Mai’ (which means ‘mother’ in Konkani), was beaming through glistening eyes. Seven kids, their spouses, ten grand kids, extended family, close friends; the vibrations that filled that banquet hall were incredible. These are the memories that fill your heart; these are the ones you talk to posterity about. These are the ones that crack open your existence and help you transcend.

07

05

Everyone has long returned to their homes and I am settled into my world, but yet there are moments when I miss them. The first couple of days, I wandered around in a daze, unsure of how to go back to normalcy. My sister-in-law left behind the kids’ cereal box and bowls and I let them sit just where she left them on my kitchen counter. Little parts of them that made me feel they were still around. When people come into your world, even for a while, they leave remnants. Little smatterings that make everything look different. I don’t know when days like these will return, but there’s hope that what we sowed will bloom time and again. So, now in moments of solitude, I silently send up a prayer to good times – the ones we enjoyed and the ones foreseen. Until then, there’s a fountain of reminiscences to soak in.

There were lots of precious moments, but one memory stands out for me. My nine year old niece, Keira, all dressed to leave for the airport was stirring random chocolaty things that she picked from my larder and refrigerator in a warm bowl. I asked her what she was doing and she replied, “I’m making you a dessert before I leave. This is just for you”. It was so incredibly charming that my heart melted faster than the chocolate in that red bowl. There was so much purity and affection in that little gesture. Keira gave me an intense, beautiful memory to hold for life.

20150329_155046

In Hawaiian culture, ‘ohana’ means family. The term was made famous in the movie, ‘Lilo & Stitch’. There is a scene where Stitch is running away and Lilo in her soft, heartrending voice says: “Ohana means family. Family means ‘no one gets left behind’. But if you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you though”. That’s what I want to say. To Keira, my ‘Stitch’ and the rest of the family as well. That whether we are together or separated by oceans, we must make sure that we do not forget and no one gets left behind.

Here’s to Ohana. To family.

IMG-20150329-WA0032

THE YEAR I MET ‘ME’

 20150214_140503

 “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.

20150214_135821