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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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 realized 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? 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 words: ANYTHING IS COOL.

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Somewhere along the way, I 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.

 

© Renica Rego

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

WHEN IT RAINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© Renica Rego

LIFE WITHOUT LOVE

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do

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

It won’t be a stylish marriage

I can’t afford a carriage

But you’ll look sweet

Upon the seat

Of a bicycle made for two

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

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

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

© Renica Rego

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

 

AMMA’S CHARMING STORIES

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On balmy summer nights, when there is a rare and empty silence, I look up at the moonlit sky and miss Amma.  My childhood ruminations can never be complete without a mention of her. Those were the days of ‘no agenda in life’, no right or wrong, just living in the moment.   Most nights after dinner, the neighbourhood kids would gather around Amma. We would spread out mats under the drumstick tree and make ourselves comfortable, our eyes lustrous with expectation. Amma was an avid storyteller. Her stories were alluring, laced with drama and intrigue. We hung on to her every word, totally enraptured. Our mothers usually huddled around in a separate group, but at times a hush would fall on their gossip and we knew they were as drawn to the tales as we were.

Amma was an elderly woman who lived with her grandson.  They were poor and occupied a shabby, ramshackle house in the quarter. At one time, she had been nanny to a now famous Bollywood actress. But she never bragged about it.  What defined her was her incredible storytelling, her simplicity and her warmth.

The other night, at about 1.30 a.m., we were awakened by a power cut. It was unbearably hot.  For the first one hour, we tried to cover our discomfort with jokes and conversation.  I fanned myself with a newspaper until my arm threatened to fall off. When we could take it no more, we went down and sat in our car with the air-conditioner on. In the eerie silence of that night, dotted just by the hum of the air-conditioner and an owl screeching in the distance, I closed my eyes and imagined I was back under the spangled skies of my simple childhood. I could hear Amma’s lulling voice and the camaraderie of the neighbourhood, and like a serenade, it soothed my soul.

Life was never meant to be a struggle.  It was meant to be simple; to unfold effortlessly.  Like Amma’s charming stories.