Thursday, August 29, 2013

In a blink of an eye.....


There is a powerful word in Sanskrit: Kshunbhangur (K  is silent). It means something that can be destroyed in an instant of a second. Life is perhaps the biggest example of this word. Here now and gone split seconds later. That a flight later the vistas change has never ceased to amaze me. That a second later a life suddenly comes to a grinding halt just makes me wonder at this enigma called death. Yesterday death visited Monk’s family and his octogenarian Uncle passed away to what I like to believe is the Other World. He was comatose for a week and was cutting a caper on the barrier of life. He just crossed over. And left behind many manifestations of grief. A younger brother who is now the last of the preceding generation, two nephews who realised they lost an Uncle who they loved and who loved them and  most importantly a wife of five years and half a century. Today the dead is being bathed and prepared for the funeral. The neighbours and friends are pitching in with food and other requirements. Those who can’t travel from long distances will call. The numbers will dwindle and life will go on. The jolted nephews will have Monday morning meetings and phone calls and projects and the fresh wound will get a scab quickly. The grieving brother will grieve for weeks since the departed was the only living anchor to a family now only comprising of spouse, offspring and soon to come grandchildren but life will catch up there too. In this dice of life the one who is left bereft, disoriented and facing an unspeakable void is the wife, the one who has never stayed a single night alone since she was married. There are no children.


Last night a visibly shaken Monk asked me what must she be going through? What must she be feeling? I think it is incomprehensible for me to even step into her shoes. But very gingerly as  I do I go insane wondering. The body of the departed was kept in the living room. The wife slept in the bed that she shared with a very living spouse a week ago. She has been looking after him for many years now, having broken his hip bone a few years ago while exercising his pass-time to feed stray cats. This rendered him bed ridden. With renal issues and slightly compromised lungs prone to bronchial problems, the old house nestled within it an old couple going through their daily lives. There comes an age where your house and your room becomes your sanctity. The old generation television aired the daily soaps that were an integral part of their lives. The early sun down in the hills suffused quiet and silence. There were no phone calls from a son or a daughter to disturb that silence. There were no frenetic planning to spruce up the house for a visiting child or grandchild. There were no weddings to be planned. No daughter in law to love or hate. No son in law to adore or avoid. Birthdays and Anniversaries came and went. Sometimes when the nephews and later the wives visited  home there were occasional dinners. There were a few social events, a few family weddings, a few religious get together. But there was a marriage. There were two people who cohabited for years. The usual norm of a marriage is that starts with passion and  sublimes into daily business of living involving  an amalgamation of love, adjustments, resentments, annoyance, joint inspiration and individual dreams and deep musings and personal space. The institution helps you grow, experience life and learn to accept each other despite idiosyncrasies and not everything  everyday is peaches and cream.

 

There must be unspeakable pain, anger at being left to face life, guilt for perhaps sometimes being angry at the now departed spouse, fear of facing life alone, trepidation at ploughing through the business of living by yourself. Yes there is help at hand with a surviving brother living in the same compound and a helpful community. But I am sure at the dead of the night, when there will be no one from amongst family or friends to sleep next to her, when the raw pain will sublime into a dull loneliness, she will miss her happier younger days, days when the spouse came home for a well cooked hot lunch from his work and appreciated earnestly her efforts. She will miss planning her day where her husband was the centre of her universe. There were short trips and long postings at various places. She will miss a young man who aged and went before her and all his quirky ways. I am not sure if having a child would have impeded too much of loneliness from creeping in but she like any other woman who kept the home and hearth running she will cry as much as she will suddenly smile recalling the happier times.

I today pray as much for the bereaved as for the gone.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Amy!!

Raven silken long hair falling at the hips and exotic almond eyes. Bearing this hallmark of the North Eastern India, Amy is a young woman from Manipur. Though more voluptuous and curvier than her sisters, Amy scores in the fashion department and wins the crown and title of hipness with her shorts and tight tank top. She manages my hair for me in a slightly upmarket salon in Whitefield to where I can afford a trip just once a month. I have never seen Amy with chipped nails or limp tresses or sans a smile. Her cute dimples and chirpy demeanour makes my day. Behind that life size doll’s smiles lay the common thread of truth that runs through almost every denizen in Manipur.

Separatist insurgency since 1964 is a known calamity in Manipur as in many states of the North East India. Clubbed with general apathy from the Central Government, alleged Army brutality and infighting (Manipur has twelve prominent insurgency outfits and none of them are united in their demands), the victims of home grown war and violence are the aged, the women and the children. Depending on their economic condition most of the youth come away to the Metro Cities to make themselves a life away from despair and zilch. Accoutered in trendy clothes they could be anything from waiters to beauticians to students in good varsities. They are branded “Chinks” and the women are seen as debauched. Unlike the rest of the country most of the North East does not stake a patriarchal claim on female genitalia. Like any other body part, the sexual organs are owned by the person it belongs to, not by the father or family who strives to keep it protected and then give it to another man in an arranged marriage for safekeeping and whatever else the husband may want to do. They discover sexuality as nature has ordained humans to. Society make lay down rules but hormones have their own story to tell and that explains why during Daandia and Garbhaa in Mumbai  gynaecologists cash in on sudden spikes in abortions. It is a well kept secret of Mumbai but a close friend also a gynaecologist told me how the late night dancing in backless cholis with young men leads to car park amours when Mummy and Bhaabi are not watching. However the rest of the country does not understand and respect this concept of “sex when I want not when you need”. A lot of these women are subjected to crass sexual overtures and in some serious cases rapes. They earn a good measure of local ire from those who feel that their jobs are taken away by these “chinks”. Unlike the Northern or Southern populace of this country the people from the North Eastern states don’t have an innate nature to hoard away their money. That explains why they don’t have sustained economic growth and dynastic businesses. What they earn they splurge. Someone from the same economic background from Manipur or other North Eastern states generally would have a better turn out and less squalid living conditions than people from other parts of the country. This factor has led some of the lower to middle class residential areas in Bangalore see a spike in North Eastern youths. They don’t haggle too much and are more open to paying higher rents. They are blessed with good aesthetic sense and they can’t help being sensualists and romantics. Investments is bizarrely lost on the people from thence. They rather eat well, dress well and merry make. Most people will call them irresponsible but they could not care less.

Amy is just 24. She wants to get married and have a family someday. She does not earn a lot because the services industry does not pay very well in India. She supports her aging parents and sends them money through other girls who go home or sometimes through a demand draft. Her two brothers like many men in Manipur have taken to the bottle and rock music and have left the toiling to the industrious women. She shrugged it away saying at least they don’t do drugs. She did call them some colourful names when she explained how they ask her for more money, on which they practically and technically have no right. Against her better advice to her siblings to migrate to Bangalore and make themselves more useful, they decided to stay back and hic away. 

Switching context she told me my hair needs some TLC and talks me in to buying two obscenely priced Kerastase products. I must tell her next time those products don’t seem to be weaving any magic in my hair and that my tresses are far from being as luscious as hers. I am quite sure she is using a regular shampoo. She mentioned she that changes her nail paint every night and that she washes her hair every day. So much for hair pundits booing daily hair cleansing and style Nazis extolling high end French products.

End of March she plans to undertake a seventy two hour train journey to Assam and then take a bus from thence to Manipur to be with her parents. She plans to bring them to Bangalore with her. I asked her what are her plans are once she brings her folks to Bangalore. She smiled and said in her cheerful Manipuri accent “Ma’am I weel take dem to fud court for momos. Mummy loves momos. But it is so expensif”.

I can’t help myself tipping this cheerful young woman handsomely who by the way has managed to work for the last ten years in Bangalore and recently bought herself a second hand gear-less scooter. She gives a rat’s butt to people who may tag her “loose” “available” “Chink”. Our Amy is having fun, working hard and sending home money. She holds her own very firmly. Cheers Amy!!!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

"Nam Unplugged


Vietnam was a destination least in my mind when around August I was planning our December vacation, our annual Haj so to say. Riding the worldwide coma of giddy glee abound, December is a great time to indulge in revelry. Monk was reading Graham Greene, telling me in his characteristic Brown Sahib way of how romantic Greene’s Saigon was. I quickly checked the prices of the flight tickets and voila soon found the whole idea going from germination to execution. So with the help of Trip Advisor, Booking.com and Cleartrip, a 10 day trip was made possible.
We went to three places, Hanoi and Halong Bay at the Northern tip of Vietnam and Saigon at the South. There are many more lovely places like Danang and Hoi An to name a few we could not go to but there is only so much a ten day trip could achieve. So with this mental shrug I sit content and happy reminiscing about the ten perfect days. Well almost.

Our destination 1 was Hanoi. We got there via Kuala Lampur since no direct flights ply between India and Vietnam. We found ourselves quite happily hosted in Conifer Boutique Hotel right at the heart of the French Quarter, walking distance from the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. Next we met Monk’s B school classmate Bhupi. Thus between Bhupi, the Vina mobile 3G SIM card, the GPS on my iPhone (Steve Jobs, RIP) and a copy of Lonely Planet our tryst with Hanoi began. From street food to a chic night club, from introduction to Vietnamese art houses (Bhupi, thanks man) to stumbling upon a street concerto right by our hotel courtesy Luala, we tasted greedily every bit of a new world unfolding every moment and hung on desperately to every experience like Hugh Jackman’s skull t-shirt does to his sexilcious pecs. We met a motley crew of very interesting Diaspora, saw a father and son Jazzing up in Minh’s Jazz Bar, ate food which were generally swept away by my irate mother during monsoons and aptly deemed as creeps, almost felt at home trying to cross crazy busy roads, laughed till our spleens burst on the cheesy poses the locals charter up for pictures, walked till our feet hurt but we very bravely still walked. The beautiful Opera House, imposing and grand is a standing legacy of the French influence in Hanoi. Characteristic ochre coloured sills splashed the white façade and exteriors and the French windows cut such a handsome caper that no amount of sighing took care of my longing to have belonged to an era where parasols and décolletage were a woman’s sole equity. The Military History Museum left Monk quite thrilled and even I dint have to feign excitement. Temple of Literature was fun photographically and historically and an ego boost for Monk, why with nubile young things wanting to take pictures with him.

The next destination was Halong Bay, a 3 hour ride away from Hanoi and a UNESCO world heritage site. We got to HB, got on our junkie and did things I would not have ever done had I not been under the stare of the most fun bunch of people. Kayaking, cycling through remote village islands, eating like there was no tomorrow and meeting some interesting people marked our two nights three days of thrill. The floating villages and the prehistoric caves were awe inspiring. Son (pronounced S”aw”n ), our guide in HB made me realise that if you have knowledge and you take the pain to share it, language barriers is least of the concerns. Just say it and do it and people will appreciate. HB is romantic yet elemental. Not in the “ooh I am swooning hold me sweetheart” way romantic…more like “I need that picture, I deserve this realm and I lived 3 decades for just these vistas “ way. Will I go again? Yes. Will I still shit bricks in my pants because I can’t swim? Of course. I am a creature of habit and I shall want to be thrilled again and again and again. I wish like the magical beings in Harry Potter I could collect my memories in a Penseive. I would happily plunge into these memories should events around me bog me down.

Saigon was the last in our itinerary. It was a bustling city steeped in history. Living in Radio Catinat or Hotel Continental Saigon, one floor below the room Graham Greene stayed in, was the first step towards raising our glasses to nostalgia. Watching a Vietnamese cultural pastiche of a program in the Opera House, now the Municipal Theatre was an interesting hors d' oeuvre. Christmas Eve felt like a carnival sans Dylan. It was as if every person in that city vowed to have fun and Christmas morning saw at 7 a jazz band performing at the Opera House very democratically, with little children patiently watching on and learning that fun is to be had in every single way every single day. I felt as if the whole country is home to fun denizens… of the fun, for the fun and by the fun should be Vietnam’s national slogan. It’s no less than a wonder what this country has achieved since 1975’s Reunification. Yes the poor co-exist but they are cared for. The cherry on the cake was the cooking class. It was as global as possible with people from 6 different nationalities learning how to cook from a Vietnamese chef. We cooked, talked and ate. We parted ways. We dint offer our contacts. We hardly knew each other’s names. We just knew we loved the concept of food irrespective of our skin colour, country and culture. Some one somewhere like me is trying to get hold of some Hoisin Sauce and rice papers.

Paradise but has its serpents. So the next time I shall be wary of pick pockets in cramped areas especially in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. In Saigon, cyclos, the rapidly depleting human cart pullers are desperately poor enough to rob you at broad day light by charging 50 dollars for a ride which is just 2 dollars and so next time I shall hail a cab instead. I shall be gushy and friendly but I am loathe to be had and that is why I am glad I handed the cabbie on my way back to the airport just 10 dollars in Saigon even though he asked for 20 since there was “traffic” on the road. Sorry my friend but I dint spawn those cars and having them on the road does not increase the distances just stretches the travel time and I am on a vacation for Pete’s sake. Finally, Air Asia is a sick airline. Low cost and lowly. I shall never fly them…at least try my best not to fly them since one must never say never. But I will read up the fine prints and follow my instinct.

Finally all those who bark do not always bite. Help comes by when you seek so keep earning those good karma coins because despite not having a transit visa on our way back (thanks to Air Asia’s great customer service) a fine gentleman at the KLIA immigration helped us with a special pass so we could come back home with our rose tinted glasses intact.

Life, I tell you, is worth living. Somehow world over every human being just has a few basic needs: to be loved, to be appreciated and to be useful. The more we stick to this basic reality the more uninhibited we shall feel, the more charmed will be our Eureka moments and the more hungry we shall stay to imbibe what we don’t have but we need for the sake of simple everyday living. Yes and to all those girls out there still looking for “the” man, continue doing so. A good man is necessary to have fun, a man who can soak in everything and transcend age and barriers….

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Of happy feet and heart

Today on Facebook, I saw a picture of a little tot with its little toes all pink and rounded gleefully pointed towards the camera. Peeking out next to it was its mother‘s not very pink and tad tired sole sticking out. Our feet, like our hearts, were soft and un-calloused when we were born. Our mothers gently counted our toes and often kissed them while lovingly cooing over us. They couldn’t have done the same with our hearts without being gruesome. However, they imbued our hearts with love. But as we learnt to walk and then to run and then to trot, our feet hardened and grew calloused. They perhaps even started to look very worn out. However, amongst us are many women and some men who care for their appearances and have kept their feet maintained. Clean and smooth. They kept their nails trimmed and their soles crack free. Some of us adorned our nails with sprightly colours or we left them blissfully bare but we know deep down that they have been pampered and loved. The well loved feet look cared for because they have been, well, cared for. Like everything in this world a thing of beauty is never by fluke. The concept of nature and nurture plays out in mysterious ways.
Such is the matter of the heart too. For it to look loved and cared for it must be given love. And not just along ones childhood but at every stage of our lives. True enough we grow up and our calling beckons. We take up jobs; we marry and have our own kids. We leave jobs, change places and at times even unfortunately get divorced (better that way than being stuck with a jerk). But we still move on and get about the business of living. These practical and at times clinical ways of life leave patinas of cynicism and distrust in our hearts. And soon our entire aura and persona get drenched in a vast cloud burst of negativity.
Often I wonder what helps me from slipping of the edge. My scant tryst with travails of life has shown me what can keep our hearts feeing loved so that we give back and God knows every little love counts.

1) Someone’s gotta give: Yes, that someone has to be us at times and not the other. Giving in to an argument with our spouse, parents, siblings and colleagues can be quite liberating. “I said so, I told you, I am always right” are giddily strong statements but “You may be right, Yeah I botched up” are so much more liberating. This stance manages to knock the ball to the other person’s court. If the person is graceful there is a truce and a feeling of mature bonhomie suffuses us and if the other person is blind with sass and narcissism, still a triumphant feeling of elevation creeps in. You figured a way out. Congratulations!!

2) Equal and fair transaction: How many of us take loans from a bank and are lucky to get a 100% waiver? Next to none. The world is a complex place of more takes than gives. Yet all’s not lost. If you are lucky and smart you will realise there are many who “give” us. Some give us time, some lend us a listening ear, some cook us a good meal, some offer a fun companionship, some a way to have fun, some just offer us peace by their simple way of life and what not. Don’t take all this as an entitlement. These are ways to soul cleansing. Receive such gifts magnanimously and have the good grace to return them in time. We all have received help from unexpected quarter. I honestly feel, without trying to get Biblical, that God works his way through people. So at times we also could be that unexpected quarter for someone.

3) Charity begins at home: So does the lesson of love. Remember all the time, money, effort and dreams your parents expended on you? It is payback time buddy. Your parents are your roots. How can the tree be strong and sturdy if the roots are not? I see around me huge gaps and chasms that get stretched over the years. I do believe it takes two to tango. Our parents need to be loved back, please give them all the love that you can. Most of us earn well. An expensive gift is a nice way to show appreciation. But is it enough? Definitely no! Give them your time. Your voice. Your smile. At times just obey. You lost out on nothing when you listened to them as a child. You for sure will not lose out on much even now. Of course everyone has to be cognizant of basic rationality and in this case both the parents and the said child in question must toe the line of mutual respect. When my parents smile back and sigh in peace because I spent a week with them doing all the crazy nothings, I am charged up and ready to take on any bloody one. As my mother once said “There is no point in crying at your parent’s grave-side. Celebrate them when they are still alive”.

4) Marry well: Take your time and cherry pick your mate. And once that you have picked your partner, celebrate him/her. You may fight. Scream. Cry. Huff off in temper flares. Like Coldplay croons “Nobody said it is easy”. There are bound to be ripples. Two thinking and sentient beings cannot resonate in the same frequency all the time. However, like all stirred up chaos, things will sort out. Just find a way to reconnect. For me food (for the belly and for the brain), books and travel and not always in that order keep me in love with my husband.

5) Treasure your friends: I simply love my best friend. She has helped me in my most trying times. She has laughed with me and cried with me. She may be a wife and a mother yet she has had time for me. And I am glad to say that I have been there for her too. I also happen to be very lucky to have some other god gifted friends, sane and rational. They have come to my rescue more than once and I know I can count on them as they can on me. As one very good friend who I met at my ex-work place said “Girl, if I meet one sane person worth being friends with after meeting a thousand buffoons, it is worth it”. When I lost my little baby,some of my friends flocked down to offer moral and physical support. I cannot thank them enough for being there for me but from them I have learnt to be just there. Just. Be. There.


6) Laugh and cry: Laughing is healthy. Positive. So is crying. I see many people take great pride in declaring “I don’t cry” “Strength lies in not crying”, etc. Bull. Shit. No one is going to give you an Oscar for stopping those tears. I am not telling you to be a tantrum throwing diva or a spoilt sport Steffi Graff who always cried when her game of tennis went kaput. No. But in the face of terrible tragedy or seemingly impossible times a private bout of tears or tears in front of people who love you and understand you shall remind them and you more importantly that you are not a robot after all. You are as infallible and as vulnerable as everyone is. And you too have tear glands and a heart that can bleed. Cry and let someone lovingly wipe those tears for you. It shall bring you close to that someone, be it your partner, friend, sibling, parent or offspring. You may feel goofy but then look at the brighter side… you and that special someone may even have a good laugh at your expense when times get better!!!

7) Learn to receive gracefully: Many of us are afraid of receiving. Advice, help, solace, compliments or gifts (from loved ones not the ones that shall land you in jail). Come-on surely you are not the most capable hence advice will come your way. You are also not omnipotent so you will need help every once in a while. As Buddha said sorrow spares no one so solace will one day knock at your door after you are left bitterly sad. Don’t be too arrogant to think that you shall get the “worst-person” award in your lifetime (have you forgotten about Hitler and Osama?) so compliments in some way will tap on your shoulders. Gifts are a tangible proof of intangibles. People you genuinely love will offer a genuine advice, help, solace, compliment or gift. Please accept all of it gracefully. Please don’t try to share it with the one dishing it out and please know that you get what you deserve. Nothing more or less. Smile and accept. You will learn to give as well.

8) Spend a little on yourself: Why are you earning? Surely not to prove that you are capable and worthy and smart and scored top marks in school. You earn so you can pay your bills. Sometimes those bills can also be the ones that need not be your monthly dues. Sometimes those bills can be something that you bloody well don’t need but you just want them nonetheless. Spend on yourself. You may not need it but if you want, buy it man!!! There are many who find me a spend thrift. I have heard a few say, on my face, hinting at me (can you imagine their temerity all this while sipping tea in MY house?) “Oh!!My wife is very particular on how she spends. She will always weigh out her options and generally shop during sales!! ”Good for you buddy, you may need a kidney transplant at 60 and she is saving it for you so you can live longer and she can get these lovely compliments…. Not suggesting here to be like the stupid grasshopper that never saved for the rainy days at all…but saving every damn dime that you earn, are you crazy? Life’s short. You will never be young again. You may not cruise in a Maserati but if you can upgrade your car and or even so mush as just add a kick-ass music console to your old car, and feel grand about it, do it!


9) Talk with the very old and with very young: The very old have lost their marbles or so we feel. Wrong. They have gone through what we are going through now. They have their idiosyncrasies but they are wise. They can be grouchy or friendly but they can sure open our eyes to things we are blind to. Similarly the very young have a fresh insight to the world. They have still not learnt the trick of the trade and that is why they are naturalists. They can be embarrassingly candid and spleen-damagingly hilarious. They have taught me humility, informality and have refreshed for me the ability to un-abashedly ask 20 questions at a go, much to the chagrin of others. I love talking to the very old and the very young. They are fun.

So there, these are my tried and tested ways of life that have helped me keep my heart feeling loved and pampered. Still at times I despair and frown and rave and rant. After all I am a human being. But I have a few ordinary people around me that dole out extraordinary lessons sans tarder whenever required.

Walk on mate, just remember to pamper your tootsy…. and your heart!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

History and present...all in a name

Recently I got to know that Monk's forefather...Bagh Hazarika...fought the Mughals in the battle of Saraighat for the Ahom king. Bless the soul who actually did all the research. He is related to Monk's Aunt through marriage.

My forefather from my paternal side, Azan Pir Sahab, who hailed from Baghdad, and who I rather romantically hope, had a connection with Bagh Hazarika in the larger canvas of societal intercourse alas only came to Assam in the 17th century.

An interesting thing to note is that the Ahoms came to Assam from Yunan province of China via the Patkai Ranges and first settled in Burma. Then an exodus to Assam's Brahmaputra Valley established their kingdom under King Sukaapha in the 12th Century. The Ahom dynasty established one of the most exemplary administrative services in addition to carrying out an envious task of merging cultures of the settlers and the indigenous people. People were given official titles based on their occupation/designation hence Hazarika or “Commander of 1000 foot soldiers" was once such title (generally hilarity ensues in our circle of friends when my husband defends his station with this quip and frankly speaking I am the most painful bully he has to reckon with). Similarly Saika, Chaliha, Borua, Bez-barua, and others were few other titles conferred to men holding administrative positions under the Ahom kingdom.

A few centuries later the 5 Pirs (one of them Azan Pir Sahab) from Baghdad who settled in Dibrugarh and other upper valley reaches of Assam, now called Upper Assam, married into the Ahom families. Incidentally Azan Pir Sahab was a Sufi Syed. That can perhaps explain why the current day Syed Diaspora is not exactly a hijab wearing, prayer beads flaunting fanatical lots. Literary and cultural discourse and dabble have long been the tradition of the Syed Community. And yes music somehow is embedded in the DNA of the entire community. Almost everyone sings like a canary, literally and figuratively.

Today Assam witnesses a harmonious co-existence of people of various ethnicities and religious beliefs. The beauty lies in the culture of Assam like the women wearing Mekhlas(Assam’s traditional drape and highly coveted at that) for a wedding as a guest or even as a bride and enjoying the distinct taste of Pithas (pan cakes and savouries) and Bora Bhaat (sticky rice).

And when one may ask what’s in a name after all (I being a “Syed” and Monk being a “Hazarika”), I could say well loads of history in our case where some 10-12 generations down monk and I happen to get married. I guess more research is necessary and I so hope I can get down to it.

Adding a little sattire...will I preen around like some displaced half breed princess?...darling I did that anyways with or without history!!! :D

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajan_Fakir
http://www.motijan-hazarika-rahman.com/Lineage-of-Bagh-Hazarika.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahom_Dynasty

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The grief that feels eternal....

The grief of losing a baby is crushing, breath stopping and confusing. I am also convinced that grief becomes more intense as the attachment grows. Sapling versus tree analogy. On days when I least expect sorrow slams down ruthlessly. So does guilt as to how can I even think of moving on.. smiling, even laughing, eating, cooking? I also now know extreme grief can manifest as physical symptoms, something so far I have never experienced. The chest closes up on you, at times it even pains and breathing gets shallow and till I don’t cry it out it feels like a hard piece of apple is stuck at my throat.

However, grief puts in perspective the importance of life. The pettiness of want. The superfluousness of declarations of love. The stupidity of feeling versus thinking. In coping with grief, talking it out is helping. I can’t kick away my loss as if it were an untouchable garbage can. I really can’t pretend it dint happen. Or that it was routine. I do not want to philosophise it or rationalise it. All I want is for it to be real. My loss and my coming to terms with it. Not doing so will be really trivialising the whole event of loss. What I lost is not a diamond brooch or a fast car. It was a life of a being much wanted and very loved. That was my son. Even if people around me tell me "there will be more" ..."you are so young", and I do know they tell me all this because they care, they do love me, but for me it is a loss with which I grapple with every day. Sorrow creeps up on me when I least expect. In solitude and in room full of people.

But life must go on. I have a spouse. Parents. Inlaws. Friends. Colleagues. Eternal mourning is unviable and impossible because we human beings have a rare gift. We forget. Slowly but steadily. It is the norm of nature. Weeds and grass grow over graves. Civilizations grow over civilizations. And so the cycle of life continues.

Never before have I been so acutely aware of life and its tribunals and triumphs. Do I still take it for granted? No. Am I too old? No. Is there a limit to what I can achieve, which so far I just thought of some kind of pipe dream? Yes there are always limits but then that is why I will try. I am not suddenly invincible, not miraculously infallible but I am definitely more trusting in my abilities, more in sync with my inner voice. I am still chicken shit of risks and the unknown but I do have a definitive comeback, something to the tune of "So what? What more or worse? ".

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My little winged magical being


You who grew wings just a little too soon...you who came and gave me hope and joy and so what if for very brief....you who touched me deep where no one else has ever....you who were to be my friend... you who I longed to cherish but for who providence had some other plans...you for who i grieve yet exult...you who cant be replaced but always remembered... you with no name yet my little universe of a few days..... you spanning a spectrum as wide as logic, reasoning and emotions....you who made me discover your father all over again...you who brought my friends to me.... you who made me realise that i can be brave yet i can hurt raw....you who has made me fearless...you my forever talisman...my angel ...my pixie....my son... I love you so

Friday, February 25, 2011

Goodbye is just another word

With the recent demise of my widowed Aunt, a septuagenarian, who never had children, a large wave of guilt and grief has been running through the family. What if siblings and nieces and nephews had asked her to move in with them, what if they were more patient with her idiosyncrasies, what if they contributed more to her rapidly depleting resources, what if they sponsored air tickets for trips here and there and so on and so forth. To this one forth-coming sibling quipped that we don’t live our daily lives and interact with people with the mind-frame that they will die in the future and it will be shameful to face the fact we were less kind, less accommodating and less understanding. When we go about the business of everyday living we do what our intellect and heart tells us to do. Our upbringing and sense of moral well-being has a bearing on our thoughts and posterity alone provides the comfort of judgement.

For the record, everyone in the family was helpful as they deemed “helpful” right. Some in the family kept her with them whenever she visited for medical check-ups, some helped her monetarily, some would call her regularly to keep in touch, some kept vigil in the hospital whenever she took ill and was admitted while some provided her, the vigilante and her litany of well meaning servants with food. But was it possible for anyone to stake claim and offer help like an off-spring? Was it possible for any sibling to show the exact affection to her as they show to their own children and for nieces and nephews to treat her at par with their own parents? Reality check is necessary for everyone, young and old, in order to lead a whole-some life.

What became the end of her, my Aunt, is not the loss of her husband or absence of children. It was the will to live. The will and need to fill her life with activities, hobbies and people that would circumvent the vacuum of having a full-fledged family in her sunset years. I agree that one's own children offers one with a deep sense of security and become a source of support in the face of crisis if not throughout one's old life. The lack of purpose and dependence on others to fill her life led her to become a recluse, and eventually led her to neglect her own health. Mental and physical inactivity led her to waste away. My own Granddad who lived till he was ninety one and my other Aunt, a few years older than the one who just expired, are a great example of people who lived their lives with a purpose. Authors like Dorris Lessing, Kushwant Singh, etc. are wonderful examples again of people with purpose in their lives. Providence has decided how long we shall live. But to fill that life with purpose and zest is our responsibility. Not only was her mind and time not occupied with social activities or hobbies but also any form of physical activity was grossly absent. To add to this woe was a gross negligence of property matters and retirement plans. She is perhaps as much to blame as her late husband. Having had no children, I wish both were a tad prudent to take care of these two very essential aspects while health and resources were in abundance, which in their case were. After all irrespective of having children or not, no one in the family can be expected to play the role of an old age ATM machine, practically and realistically speaking. One spouse is bound to outlive the other.

In the small town of Dhubri in Assam, my Uncle was a well respected attorney who ran a good practice and my Aunt always taught in a school till she retired 3 years ago. They made themselves a huge three level house and also had tenants thrown in. So money was never an issue. Far-sightedness was. A life spent with utter disregard of tomorrow is as dangerous as being neurotically cautious. As every wise man and every religion says “the balance” is necessary. When the going was good, a decadent lifestyle could have been moderated and a neat little sum could have been kept for the future. Well meaning advises from friends and family sometimes may turn out to be very beneficial if heeded to. Alas, no such advises of smart investments were heeded nor was the constant encouragement to stop wallowing in self pity was taken seriously by my Aunt.

Those of us grieving can but use all these rationales to feel less guilty, because almost everyone has the ability to make even a little difference. Perhaps we could have done more to make her feel less lonely. But the biggest difference we make in our lives are we ourselves. To me the biggest lesson her life taught is to be a little more rational, a little more cautious, to be independent, to be a support than to seek support and to profligate less.

That said my Aunt had some great traits. She was very warm, very affectionate, very stylish, very hospitable and very kind. All these traits did stand her in a good stead. She lived life king size till she lived. Her two trusted helps stayed with her till the end thus proving her kind and sweet ways. Her students, who left school eons ago still have great things to tell about her.

As they say none of us are perfect. Sadly her imperfections became a great source of insecurity for her. All I can say is that may she find peace and quiet in the new world that she has moved on to. I will miss her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

and aint no use sit and wonder why babe, it would never do somehow....Bob Dylan

A friend sent me a link which is apparently causing quite an uproar in the blogging world.
Here is it:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

I dont know why should this cause any uproar except in the minds of the bigoted and the rigid...every society has its fabric. The denizens of a society know what they want... If America is about freedom...free from stress, free economy, free from familial baggages and free of hassles.... India like China is about family, about struggling for fewer resources, about wanting the best, about battling subjugation to deficiencies and about trying hard to follow age old "traditions" even if they stand slightly half baked and bastardised. What is perhaps cruel for Americans is "normal" for Indians and Chinese.

Like everything else there are pros and cons of familial choices as well.

I think families make choices of parenting through their own experiences than through borrowed ones. Very driven families, where the Dads and Mums are achievers socially or financially or intellectually, will herd their kids towards achievement oriented life choices. Conversely, for parents with very little/no exposure to certain aspects like career choices or education or excellence due to ignorance or financial wherewithal , their way of bringing up children would be different.


One must know that no society is completely bereft of negatives. Let us face it, unlike the US, India does not entertain dignity of labour. Neither I nor any of my friends associate socially with a janitor or a security guard of an apartment complex just because we share a common interest in maths or aviation or painting. Such is our way of life that only the smart, only the well spoken and only the “actualised” will be in our circle of friends as per our personal benchmark of good and better.

We are of a society which generally looks up to their elders for advice or wants them to concur decisions. We are of a society which is risk averse and non-believers of fatalism and thank god for that. Look what kick-ass-Ivy league educated- air brushed-risk-takers like Lehman Brothers did. We are of a society where we want our elders to come around through gentle perseverance about our ways and decisions and not break ice 20 years later on an Oprah show. A society that pushes its kids to ace exams like in India, the IT bonanza ofcourse or sports like in modern day China, the Olympics effect ofcourse, at any cost and firmly believes in spoon feeding and no question asked philosphy can be called cruel. The pros are that this same facet, if modified constructively, serves us well in terms of having a social support: parents, siblings and even friends, something which is difficult to come by in the West, who have created a successful system wherein fatalism and even debt does not starve its citizens. If one reads about Andre Agassi, a phenomenal player who needs no introduction, one may realize that parental pressure is a singular force if channelized properly will take you to great heights. Because underlining all the pressure is love.

Unfortunately India or China is not yet there in terms of government sponsored social safety nets. If we don’t work hard, if we don’t ace exams, if we don’t clear interviews and if we don’t keep our jobs, matter of time we slip down Maslow’s pyramid of needs. What choices do such parents have in this part of the globe? Can we afford in India not being overtly competitive be it academics, music or cricket? Can we as a race survive not having a "good" education which is slightly better than literacy, a kind of education which is not a wholesome meal but a piss-poor capsule of necessary vitamins but which gets us jobs and helps paying the bills without any social safety net?

My very limited travel to China made me realise one thing. The Chinese may come across as robotic and un-smiling to general population but they battle a very difficult government and the choices made by their leaders since Mao Zedong’s time render them open to ridicule and ethnic side-lining. Succeeding remains the only mantra to survive whether in sports or education or medicine or music and hard work and discipline remains the only way forward. There is not much latitude for slacking. After all no one remembers Nobel nominees, we just remember the Nobel laureates. Look at the animal kingdom. A tigress relentlessly teaches her cubs to hunt and those lessons are repetitive, banal and at times harsh. Wonder what would happen if a tigress suddenly tells a small cub to 'follow his heart" and do its own bidding !!

But the one thing that I would say with a definite stance is that it is easier to let go... it is easier to shoo away difficult children and turn them out of the house at 16 to earn their own money, shut your eyes to teenage tantrums and let them be junkies and juvenile delinquents. It is more difficult to keep haranguing your precocious kids from making idiotic mistakes that may cost him or her/his life than to allow them “freedom” to do what they please so the parents can sleep more peacefully or continue their social butterflying. So just for the difficult 20 years or so that most Indian and Chinese parents spend putting their own life at hold to allow their kids “excel and do well” through means not appreciated but that yield result, my heart goes out to them. As Gandhi said "must we perpetrate all sins to realise the horror of it?".

Unfortunately just like our skin colour and genetic make-up we can’t choose our parents .... and ironically what you get is what you give...so for those of us who come from secure and well meaning families, we could pass those values on and we could “customise” the home rules to accommodate the new generation a bit, just as each generation before us did for the next, to be fair!! And well I cant recall having friends shooting kids up in my school because their Mommy made them do more Mathematics!!!

Gotta go. Have guests over for dinner. BTW all the cooking that I have learnt and all that food that people smack up was taught by my mother since I was nine :D and I dint need no shrink just because Mum made sure that the chicken bloody well come out tasty. We Indians dont throw or waste food. Too much poverty around you see!!!! GROWL

Friday, November 26, 2010

The small stream of sunlight

Like every morning, this morning too Mom and I carried on with our early morning prattle. I call her for an hour most days, which could become two some days. Generally we talk of the maladies that life poses like how our very kind husbands are taken for a ride by this utterly base world because both my Dad and my husband happen to be such simple hearted folks and how we (my Mom and I) have to valiantly defend these hapless men from the cruel and mean world. Amidst all the talks of us poor Vikings having to save our men, she mentioned that her everyday house help Jahaanara did not come to work. Jahaanara is a very diligent and loyal lady; one of those rare house help who don’t think that help rendered by their employers is the employee's entitlement. She is honest and cheerful. She is also very poor. She quite reminds me of Friday in Robinson Crusoe.

Jahaanara , a mother of two, is in her early forties. I hate to call her a maid because as I said before she is a very ethical human being, very clean and she is unthinkably fit thanks to the everyday hill climbing to get to work from home; her waist line and abs can put true blue health freaks and celebrities to shame. She also proves very eloquently the point that most of eat us 100% more than what we need for sustenance. Jahaanara survives on two plates of rice with occasional meat and lentil, lots of tea and few slices of breads. I don’t endorse this less than 1000 calories diet. She has no other way because she is poor. But if you are reading this maybe cutting 400 or 500 calories from your diet will not be impossible. (By the way, you can easily cut 500 calories from your daily intake by drinking 10 cups of black tea with no sugar and not drinking any other beverage other than black or green tea, eating no sweets and dumping colas, eating three chapattis less or two helpings of rice less, avoiding fried stuff and walking for 40 minutes briskly. Clichéd but tried and tested by yours truly). Jahaanara works at two houses. At my Mom’s she gets her mid day vegetables, carb and taffeine fix. She has a late breakfast sitting next to Mom as Mom indulges in her elevenses. Her husband a daily wager these days is of no help to the family. Some heavy work has hurt his elbow and has rendered him temporarily incapacitated. So bearing the expenses of the house is now Jahaanara’s sole responsibility. She has so far managed to educate her son as an electrician. Her daughter unfortunately this year had to repeat her metric exams.

This year due to incessant rains in Guwahati one beetle nut tree near Jahaanara’s house lost soil due to erosion and in matter of time collapsed, caving in one of the walls in her house. Given that her house is a typical rural thatched and mud house, one of those many houses that dot Assam’s hill tops and valleys, it was not a very conducive living condition for her and her family. With incomes low and only her salary of less than 3000 Indian Rupees to bank on, getting an advance of ten thousand from a bank is an impossible feat. But don’t they say for every one door shut some windows just yank open. Jahaanara and her neighbours, one of the poorest of Assamese denizens are nonetheless a cohesive and a surprisingly smart lot. For years now her neighbourhood has a community micro-finance facility where everyone deposits some money and depending on someone’s pressing needs a micro loan of about 5000 to 10000 thousand rupee is doled out. The interest is very minimal of just 1 rupee a month. Jahaanara with this scheme could borrow a sum of 7000 rupees to rebuild her house. She would be repaying her loan at the rate of rupees 601 per month. Every few months a few non-profit NGOs supply her and her neighbours with spools of white and red threads for free which they spin into fabrics called “gamoosa”, an Assamese cotton towel, best suited for a very rain prone region like Assam where terry towels take ages to dry. Jahaanara earns some money through this. She also makes brooms which my Mom and likewise buy from her. Very recently she has started growing papayas in her back yard, which are organically grown and ripened. She supplies them too. So Jahaanara a very poor but ethical lady is doing every bit that she can to keep her family eating and living decently. It would have been easy for her to join a factional terrorist group and gun down people and extort money. But better sense prevails and she is leading life with courage and dignity. There are occasional gifts during festivals and my Dad generally gives her "pocket" money more than once a week which he misses giving me and my brother now that we are all grown and away. She appreciates the help my Mom and her other employers give her but like any self respecting human being she does not consider these help as her right and always over delivers through her very good house work. She also, despite being illiterate, unlike lots of urban house helps I have experienced and am currently employing, is cognizant of the fact that charity can only assist till a point. From that point on your own hard work, ethics and a pleasant disposition can get things rolling.

You rock Jahaanara. I just love your ways. You reiterate oft searched but seldom found perspective of humility, a sense of humour and hugely help to endorse that hope is a very strong prop. I am glad I got to know you and I am sure brave that you are, life will see you through