NO RESOLUTION YEAR

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A dear friend gifted me a set of six tea cups about a year ago. The beautiful array, cradled in soft white silk had taken my breath away. So much so, that I never used those cups lest I stain or break them. It’s a different kind of procrastination, one that I’m done with now. December with its brazen mix of fairy lights, bustling kitchens, incessant merriment and warm hugs encourages indulgence. So amidst all the blatant festivity, I found a quiet afternoon to sunbathe on my couch and pour myself some ginger infused tea. Life felt as exquisite as the dainty cup I held in my hands. It was the perfect moment to transition from one year into the next.

2016 was like an errant child. Most days I quailed and stumbled. I also broke my rule of learning one new thing, but somewhere along the way it struck me that learning is arbitrary. When I was invited to judge an inter-school elocution competition at the beginning of December, and was expected to speak to the participants and the audience at large, my stage-shy self ended up crossing an impediment that had held me captive for years. That opportunity gave me a fresh perspective. It also sent me into a kind of flashback to cold days when as a child, I used to cycle on the playground of that very school. When riding with wind in my hair did nothing to liberate me from the chains that bound my soul. When the starry expanse of sky only reminded me of how confined my world was. It felt like scenes from a movie that I’d watched long ago. Walking those tree-lined streets made me think of all the people I’d known and never saw again. But most importantly, it made me realize of how I’d found myself. Of how free I felt now. You fight and you fight and someday the shackles break loose. The sweetest liberation comes from the hardest struggle.

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This is a time of new resolutions, but I’m not making any. After the endless overwhelm I’ve whipped up for myself the past few years, it’s time to take life with an ease that can only come with awareness and repletion. The first time I made bread, I asked my mother how to determine the consistency of the dough. All she said was, “You will know.” That’s how I feel about life now. There is a sizeable project brewing in my head, but there is no stress. I have ideas but there is no unrelenting hurry. Beau Taplin puts it succinctly, “Don’t stress so much about settling on a path for 2017. The division of time into years is a human invention, and fact is every moment of every day is another opportunity for resolution and growth. So when the fireworks fly, relax and enjoy the moment. The rest will come to you.”  That’s the recipe I’m settling with.

One little pointer in the bread making process is this. The pliability of the dough is directly proportionate to the passion you put into kneading it. You know, the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died. “Did he have passion?” That, to me, is the only resolution worth making.

Here’s wishing all of you a genuine and passionate life. Cheers to the days ahead!

 

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THE SILENCE BETWEEN

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It was the Zen-blue sky that hit me first. As I taxied out into the city, my skin absorbing the chilled breeze like water on parched soil, Bangalore seemed to be welcoming me. For some strange reason, it felt like grandpa’s wrinkled arms and toothless grin beckoning me home. Quite enamoured by the feeling, I walked into my husband’s Marathahalli abode with zero expectations but with an uncanny certainty that the following week was about to change something in me.

The next six days were spent wandering around, exploring the city. No place is, as such, perfect to its residents. Anyone who lives in Bangalore will most certainly complain about the traffic that seems lodged on flyovers and in narrow lanes likes clinging parasites. But as an outsider, I subliminally saw something significant that alleviated the burden of it for me. By the evening of the first day itself I had discounted all the snags in favor of the one thing that stood out in the locals of this ordinary, almost pedestrian city. And that was their unruffled serenity. There was a sense of collective calm despite the bustle. People chatted amicably with strangers in buses and auto-rickshaw drivers grinned charmingly while demanding ridiculous fares. When a car hit our taxi at a signal, the cabbie got out, inspected the damage, shook his head slightly, paused for a second and then waved it off. No anger, no foul language. That is probably the key to composure – the pause. Mozart, the prolific composer of the Classical Era believed that “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between”. If all the music is in the pauses, maybe that is how our mind should function too. I found myself inspecting the connotations, reading the subtext and developing wistful images to carry home.

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On day two, sauntering through the Lalbaug Botanical Gardens, I came across a colorful statue of Nandi. Typically, Nandi being Lord Shiva’s vehicle is always found sitting at the doorway of the temple in a perpetually silent but alert waiting mode. Nandi thus has gained on a symbolism, teaching us the virtue of simply sitting, vigilant but without expectations. The image of Nandi essentially reminds us to pause and pay attention to life. Only in the pauses can the music of the Universe be heard.

The next day, my sister-friend Suzanne, invited us for lunch. After a sumptuous meal, she and I set out for a stroll by the Ulsoor Lake not far from her home. As was wont to happen, we delved into a deep conversation. “There’s a reason we feel so calm and alive being around nature,” she remarked touching the leaves that hung over our bench and gazing at the serene lake. “It’s because nature never pretends to be what it’s not. A leaf is a leaf, content and happy with its true form. That’s why we feel good around people who are like that too”.

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As I mulled over this it became apparent why I had thought of grandpa the day I arrived. Grandpa was like that, content and cheerful, demanding nothing from life and never pretending to be what he’s not. He would gallivant, stop to chat with everyone on the street, lose track of time and come home with the fading sun bringing a sack of fish. Grandma would get livid and hurl the sack in the fire, but grandpa would only laugh. “Why are you so angry, Eliza?” he would ask nudging her playfully. It was the same kind of authenticity that I now saw in the locals of Bangalore.

As my week drew to an end, I found myself feeling grateful for the pauses that presented themselves from time to time. Devoid of distractions, the poignancy and joy of such experiences steadily engages and unfills me at the same time. As I prepared to leave, the sky that I had so fallen in love with became even more luminous as if allowing me one more image to relish my reminiscences with.

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Back home in Mumbai, days eased by in one uninterrupted flow. The rain was pelting down in bursts bringing a refreshed brilliance to the days and the nights were made snug by the warmth of fluffy comforters. Everything seemed revived by the clarity I had acquired from my time away. One afternoon, quite nicely as if on cue, I came across a classic Zen story narrated by Zen master, Fukushima-roshi to acclaimed writer, Pico Iyer. One day, an old man was trying to explain to his grandchild about Jōdo Buddhism, and he said, “In the West — that’s where the Pure Land is!” And the child pointed out that if you go west and west, you go right around the world, and come back round to where you are! In short, paradise is right where we are, if we care enough to pause and look.

MISTY MEADOWS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FROM SHYNESS TO AUDACITY

 

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One minute I was deciphering days and the next minute I wasn’t. Just like that.  It was only then that I took my first real breath of the New Year. The December fatigue was still in my bones. It was imperative to be out and about; let the sun seep through my skin and enter where the light might not have gone before. The weather was beautiful.  It was a time for the outdoor life. The opportunities came aplenty, almost as if I was drawing them to me like a magnet.

It is said that once you start visualizing what you want, the Universe starts manifesting whole heartedly. It’s a little hard to believe until things actually start happening. But belief is important to begin with. For a person whose first reaction has always been to say ‘No’ to opportunities, it took a little effort to undo the patterns and form new ones. New blueprints that have only ‘Yes’ figuring on them. The ones that gently nudge and remind you to espouse life.

So I went on drives and lunch dates. Accepted every invitation. Met up with people and enquired about their lives. Smiled at strangers and formed new ties. Hugged new relationships and polished the old ones to a shine. Heartbeats, apparently, are not heard, but felt and shared. It’s true. Like Sylvia Plath said, “So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them”. You show interest and like a boomerang, what you hurl, comes right back.

There are days still, in-between ones, when unseen, unheard I crawl into my quiet corners. But that’s all right. There is no right or wrong. No need for perfection. Evolution is never perfect. If it was, then there would be no room for growth.

I’m just glad the affability rolls on easy. It just takes an open smile, a tilt of the head, an earnest greeting, a little hello. And people respond. They always do. Then the stories come forth and without realizing you become a part of them. You give but you get so much more. In the unraveling of lives, the course of your life is changed. That’s how shyness turns into audacity. Apathy into empathy. And you go from who you were, to who you are meant to be.

January is about new beginnings and fresh starts. My only resolution for this year is to say ‘yes’ to life. To just being good to myself and the world around. I understand now that we are social beings. The more we let our hearts beat for someone, the more blood it pumps.

As I write, my eyes wander to the snow globe on my window sill.  I give it a shake and watch the flurries swirl and cascade like magic in slow motion. And I realize that’s how we are. Only when we give ourselves a little wiggle and shake our inner snow globe, will the world see our sparkle.

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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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LETTING GO

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Flawed and fabulous. That’s how I see myself now. But I wasn’t always so sure of who I was and it took me a while to clear the fog. Self-reflection never came easy to me. Maybe because I was too busy dusting the furniture. I’ve spent half my life straightening cushions, arranging wardrobes and wiping down kitchen counters. The leftover energy was used up on excessive worrying, pointless thinking and needless deliberations. Until I realised that life couldn’t say ‘hello’ to me if my back was perpetually turned on it. 

Perfection is hard to maintain, trust me; and not really worth it. You won’t let the wind play with your hair, if you’re worried about ruining your blow dry? So I am learning to let go; to let life happen without my endless manipulation. What’s the big deal if the bed isn’t made as soon as I get out of it? Will my family disown me if I skip making dinner one night and order in? Is it a crime if I just want to spend the day listening to music and reading? It’s not and nobody really cares. I just thought they did. These are just metaphors or allegories I’m drawing for the bigger aspects of life. And gradually as I calm down, life comes beckoning to me.

The other day, we were at a dinner party and my young nephew shared with us his amazing philosophy on letting go – ‘ANYTHING IS COOL’. Coming from a 17-year-old, it was pretty deep. He droned on about how life can be easy if we just went along without making a fuss about everything. If you ask him what he’d like for breakfast, he says, ‘anything is cool’. Ask him if he’d like to watch a movie or just hang out and he’ll be like, ‘anything is cool’. This philosophy works well with the day-to-day stuff but when it comes to the serious things, it might not, he clarified. Like you can’t drop out of school or do drugs; that’s not cool. When it comes to choosing your career, you can’t say ‘anything is cool’. And so on. I was suitably impressed by his clarity and wisdom. I suppose it’s all about attitude. Being chilled out about the lesser issues makes room for your mind to deal with the bigger ones effortlessly. What stuck with me though, were those three simple words: ANYTHING IS COOL.

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Somewhere along the way, I thankfully figured that letting go and finding harmony is important. By becoming harmonious, you start attracting positive experiences and positive people into your life. Toxic people, toxic feelings, toxic thoughts will always pop up. But just like in a garden, it’s important to keep pulling out the weeds from your life too. You will always be too much of something for someone. If they can’t handle it, it’s their problem. Just let it go. Apologize if you hurt them, but do not apologize for who you are or what you want to be.

After trying to be in control, when I finally loosened up, it seemed like I had underestimated the pleasures of an unstructured life. Now I wake up every morning and try to effortlessly move from one moment to the next. It’s exciting because I’m always dwelling in possibility. Anything is possible. Anything is cool!

Growing, improving, moving, loving, listening…that’s what life is about. Inspire and be inspired. Show people the sun where they once saw clouds. Let them do the same for you. We are meant to be wonderful. We are here not just to survive, but to thrive. When you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing. And so are you!

PS: As I was writing this, my friend and I were having a discussion on whatsapp. And he said, “I am amazed by God’s world. He made everything, but doesn’t interfere in its governance. If a lion chases a lamb to death, that’s how it’s meant to be. He has set the world in motion and left it at that”. And I thought: If God doesn’t interfere with life, why do we? Think about it. 

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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