THE PLACE TO BE

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When I was about five, mum wanted to sign me up for dance lessons. Too inhibited by the suggestion, I said I’d go only if my friend, Sheryll went with me. The matter ended right there. For a good many years after that, the pleasure of grooving to music remained alien to me. During my final year of college, my friends coerced me to participate in a group dance and it occurred to me that dancing was indeed fun. Even then, it was only after I married an amazing dancer that I actually discovered my own rhythm. Living abroad as a young couple, we hosted and attended a lot of dance parties. It was a carefree, fun phase and we made the most of it.

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Over a decade later, we moved back home and our social life plummeted. The focus was more on family and readjusting to life in Mumbai. We settled into an unremarkable routine of Sunday lunches and the occasional dinner and movie outing. I sorely missed the night life we had previously enjoyed; the thrill of live music, the unrestrained boogieing and the light-hearted friendships forged across bar counters and dance floors. Suburban Mumbai did not have that kind of zing for me.

One night, about a year ago, we walked into a new bar in the neighborhood. It looked fine, the food was decent and the DJ was playing some good tunes. At least, there is music to my liking, I thought. A few weeks later, they introduced weekend live shows and boy was it music to my ears! Wish they had a dance floor, I whined. Around 10.30 PM, we could hold ourselves no longer and stood up to dance in the gaps between tables. Like a miracle, the staff pushed around some furniture and a dance floor appeared! Soon the other diners joined in and we had a blast! That night B-103 climbed to the top of my weekend list. Their tag line: ‘The place to be’ seemed perfect to me.

I’ve been to a lot of bars and restaurants, but nothing beats B-103 for me. It’s not just the music and dancing; that might be available elsewhere too. I believe it’s always the warmth and mood of a place that touches hearts, be it a home or a restaurant. The owners with due support from their staff have weaved a magical web that draws people in. The affability with which we are greeted by everyone (not just the owners and managers, but even the servers who are assigned to other tables), the sincere passion with which we are served, the fact that the musical tastes of patrons are mindfully catered to, the generosity of spirit and the family-like ambiance cannot be contained in words. The only way is to reciprocate.

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It is imperative to mention here that this was a time when I was hitting rock bottom. Personal challenges had left me feeling vertiginous. But each time I stepped into B-103, I forgot everything and life flowed through me, leaving me energized. Soon we made friends, some of whom are now like family. Just being with them, banging tables to the beat and dancing with abandon has become my therapy. Dancing, without being self-conscious, is the best moving meditation for anyone who finds it difficult to sit still. It is a natural and universal way to express our joy. Just watch a child dance and you’ll agree.

There is a term in Sanskrit ‘Rasasvada’, which loosely translated means ‘the taste of bliss in the absence of all thoughts.’ Most of us are living life in a blur, chasing things that don’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things. At some point, we must stop and find our own ‘Rasasvada’.  As I go from one day to the next, I realize the importance of a hearty social life and wholesome relationships that allow me to be myself. I discover the irreplaceability of laughter and joy. Like Sadhguru says, “If you are at all concerned about the world, the first thing you need to do is transform yourself into a joyful being.”

 

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THE SILVER OAK

 

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The minute I stepped out of Cochin International Airport, I intuitively knew this was a place that will speak to my soul. Mr. Sudhan, our driver and guide promptly arrived with a wide smile, his appearance as immaculate as the silver sedan he drove. Little did I know then that this man would rule our hearts for the next six days. A walking encyclopedia of not just the history and geography of Kerala, he could discuss any topic under the sun. By the time we reached Munnar five hours later, he had become my Sudhan ‘cheta’, meaning brother in Malayalam.

On the way, he pointed out Adi Shankaracharya’s Keerthi stambha, Kalady, the Periyar river and briefly let us out at the Cheeyapara waterfalls. After stretching my tired back as I got into the car, he handed me a small lime and said, “Madam, scratch the skin and inhale. Zig-zag road ahead. Good for nausea.” When it was time for lunch, we were desperate for the famous roasted beef and Malabar parotas, but cheta politely pointed out that we must stick to light, vegetarian food as our bodies were tired and the road ahead was bad. I was charmed.

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The next morning, we headed for the Devikulam tea gardens. The small village of Devikulam nestles amidst verdant green slopes, the clouds hanging low on the colorful houses and a lovely chill enveloping the entire hill station. On the way, Sudhan cheta started playing some Hindi music to which I strongly protested. “Only Malayalam and Tamil music please, cheta,” I requested. His face lit up and from there on, all the way to the Flower Garden and later the Lockhart Tea Museum, the discussion turned to our favourite music maestros, Illayaraja, Yesudas, SPB, Janaki, etc.  He knew so much about music and movies that it stumped me. At the Lockhart Museum, we learnt a lot about tea, but for me, music remained the highlight of that afternoon.

Later, walking down the Mattupetty bridge in the light drizzle, I met an old woman selling peanuts and fruits. She kept urging me to buy something. “My wallet is in the car, Amma,” I said. She smiled fondly, forced a pack of peanuts in my hand and replied in halting English, “You eat.  Money later.”

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On the first day, Sudhan cheta had told us that Kerala produces 20 varieties of bananas and that every day he would make us taste a couple of them. As he dropped us back to the hotel, he handed us a packet and grinned, “Today, special red bananas.”

The most scenic and beautiful sight was to unfold the following day. Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed the light drizzle on the way to the Ernavikulam National Park. Munnar is full of tea plantations, but the ride through this one, on the way to Rajamala Hills was the most dramatic. As we stepped out at the foot of the hills, the rain stopped as if on cue. The uphill ramble, with the mountain towering on one side and the valley on the other was the most beautiful walk I’ve ever been on. When we stopped mid-way, the view took my breath away. This is what paradise must look like, I thought.

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The fourth day we drove into a dream called, Thekkady. With the quaint Periyar river, the sleepy beauty of the savanna grasslands, the thick deciduous forests and the abundant wildlife, it was the perfect place for a nature lover like me. It is also a heaven for natural spices.

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After wafting for a couple of hours on the glassy river, we went on a spice trail. Our guide, Ms. Sheeba instantly won us over with her knowledge, heavily-accented Hindi and a beautiful smile. By the end of the hour-long tour, we had more information about spices and herbs than our little brains could possibly hold. As we said our goodbyes to Sheeba, she scribbled her name on the brochure and said, “I wrote my name so you’ll always remember me. I enjoyed talking to you because very few people show genuine interest like you did. Come back soon”.  At our resort, there was another spice whiz called Leeba. She took me around the huge estate, pointing at shrubs and trees, rattling off information and generally making a quick entry into my heart. Leeba means love and it is a perfect name for her.

There was more to unassuming Thekkady. That evening we found ourselves in a small, modest theatre watching Kathakali, one of the oldest theatre forms in the world. The performers were excellent with their expressions, mudras and a short mythological presentation. That was followed by Kalaripayattu, a 3000-year old martial arts form, the oldest in the world. We had been tired that day and had meant to skip these shows, but Sudhan cheta insisted on taking us there. Any other man would have enjoyed the free evening, but he was clearly different.  That night I ate little for I was too full of nature, art and love.

With much reluctance, we left Thekkady two days later, to spend the last day in Alleppy. “Cheta, I am in the land of coconuts, and you haven’t treated me to coconut water yet”, I playfully chided. He grinned and nodded. Driving past several tender coconut stalls, he stopped at one. “Only Kerala coconut for you, madam. Best coconut. You’ll know when you taste it”, he boasted. True to his word, the sweet taste of that water was an elixir to my parched throat.

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The main attraction of Alleppy is, of course, the boat ride on the backwaters. I enjoyed the ride, but the real highlight was meeting my Ayurvedic doctor, who I’d only communicated with on phone for the past four years. The graciousness and love he and his family bestowed on us was heart-warming. On the way back, we asked Sudhan cheta how he knew even the by-lanes so well without once using GPS. “GPS in my head, madam,” he giggled.

“One last gift from me pending, madam,” Cheta crooned on the way to the airport. As he made a quick left turn from the highway, the magnificence of St. George’s church left me gaping! It was by far the most beautiful church I have seen in India. Going down on my knees, I offered my gratitude for all the beauty and love that had come my way in that past week. Among all the information Sudhan cheta had shared, one thing came back to me in that moment. Driving through the tree plantations, he had pointed to the tall trees that stood out awkwardly among the neatly trimmed tea plants. “Those silver oaks are planted on purpose, madam. Their roots go deep, hold the soil together and help maintain moisture and nutrients. They also provide necessary shade for the tea plants. Basically, the tea plants flourish thanks to the silver oak.”

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Kerala is called ‘God’s Own Country’ and every place we went to was bathed in pristine beauty and a natural sanctity that made it feel more like a pilgrimage than a holiday. But what has stayed with me is the memory of some wonderful people who like silver oaks held my ground with the warmth of their love, compassion and humor.

 

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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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THE WAY WILDFLOWERS GROW

wildflowers02It seems like another lifetime when I was standing barefoot in cool spring water, marveling at exotic, virgin wildflowers. They fascinated and inspired me. The way they grew indiscriminately, in random places. The way their beauty shone. And all of a sudden, I wanted to be like that; to grow unforeseen, in ways no one expected. It gave me a vision and I brooded on it for days. As the year comes to a close, I’m revisiting that moment and sharing it with you. Because letting yourself grow is the best New Year’s gift you can give yourself.

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The last post was supposed to be my final one for 2014. But I couldn’t resist another one; a little something to end the year with. It’s just that I’m so full right now. There’s pure joy, genuine appreciation and indefinable eagerness. When you’re so filled to the brim, it’s bound to spill a bit. And, why not?

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Christmas was beautiful as usual. The home was speckled with sounds and smells. My overworked little oven emitted tantalizing buttery aromas that wafted out windows and into corridors. Flour was everywhere, over kitchen counters, under my nails, in my hair. Lights twinkled and magic flowed into every empty space. And then there were the neighbourhood kids. They thronged my living room every evening, essentially for carol practice. But honestly speaking they sang less, jabbered more, squabbled even more. I feigned annoyance and made threats but the truth is they were the balm to my tired soul.

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I love that Christmas comes at the end of the year. The exultation that this season brings just washes away all the tears and pain and disappointments of the months gone by. It’s impossible to feel anything but triumphant and joyous. That’s the kind of sentiment you need to embark upon a brand new year.

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At the end of every year, I like to separate the red, blue, green and yellow blocks, take stock and make plans. But this isn’t a perfect Lego life. And perfect it shouldn’t be. Like my little nephew, Ethan, I just want to fix the pieces together intuitively without thinking too much. Logic can take you from A to B. But intuition can take you anywhere. I read that somewhere. That’s how I want to go forward.

I shall continue to share my victories and failures with you. As I go along, gingerly testing new paths or merrily treading familiar ones, you’re welcome to join me all the way, drop out mid-way or come and go as you please. Together or alone, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: That like those wildflowers we stay true to our identity. That we grow freely in beauty and joy. That we celebrate ourselves.

Here’s wishing you all a brilliant 2015! Believe fiercely that the best is yet to come.

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CLOSURE

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The weather is too beautiful not to be missing her. When a cool orange glow lights up the evening sky and bounces off window panes, I find myself sipping on tea and lost in thoughts of her. Tea-drinking was ceremonious to Marie. Even on her busiest day, she would always make time for a leisurely cup of tea. Sitting on her couch, squinting at nothing in particular, lining up the thoughts in her head…that’s how I remember her. There was so much she wanted from life and so much she wanted to give back. Marie was my mirror, my reflection; a strong, warm soul with a highly raucous laugh. Now there are only memories, empty spaces and echoes.

People come and go. But soul-sisters are a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Marie and I met as most people do, in accordance with destiny’s plans. It seemed like an ordinary friendship at first. But when we started completing each other’s thoughts and understanding the in-between silences, that’s when it got eerie. That’s when we realised that our connection ran deep.

There was this one time, when I needed to travel on my own. I was young and naïve. I tried putting it off because I had never travelled alone or lived apart from my husband. She just said one thing to me: “You need to do this, Ren; not because you have to go, but because you choose to”. That was my one way trip to emotional independence. She was always trying to pull me through.

When I lost Marie to a terminal illness, the tears did not come as expected. They came a good two years later. Out of nowhere and without any warning. It was late evening; the lights were dimmed, there was music playing and I was nestling a drink. That was how we rolled back in those days too. That was how we defined leisure and camaraderie. And just like that, I broke in half. The sobs came hard and left me exhausted. But strangely enough, they healed me too.

That night, it was as if Marie came and gently removed the bookmark from our chapter and urged me to move on. She was big on finishing what you started. Like always, even though a hallucination, she took my hand and led me to myself.

At about that time, I wrote a few lines but never dared to share it. I’m doing it now because someone somewhere might need a connection. Someone might need hope and courage; because losing a loved one can mess up your mind in a big way.

They say there are six stages of grief – denial, anger, fear, guilt, depression and lastly, acceptance. Different people might deal with it in different ways. But closure is important. And acceptance is key.

 

STAGES OF GRIEF

 

I ain’t devout, prayed very rare

Went to church once, found my angel there

She left too soon, I wasn’t ready

It left me hurt and all unsteady

I refused to believe that it was final

What it was, is pure DENIAL

Saw her lifeless, no smile no more

My tears were dried, my heart was sore

Her daughter stood by, just a teenager

All I could feel was rage and ANGER

Then they put her six feet under

The candles were lit, it seemed like a blunder

How could I live without you dear?

My heart was gripped with chilling FEAR

I brooded for months over what went wrong

Could have supported more, could have been strong

My mind was boggled with a lot of filth

What I felt was searing GUILT

The skies got cloudy, the birds didn’t sing

My moods were morose, I’d lost my wings

Got all worked up, felt frustration

Sank into pits of dark DEPRESSION

One night then, I dreamt of her

She smiled at me, and smiled some more

Are you fine love, I asked her then

She nodded her head and held out her hand

I hugged her close, she wasn’t in pain

Her heart was strong, her face radiant

She made me promise, I’ll move on then

Finally there came ACCEPTANCE

 © Renica Rego

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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