This past week I made an escape from the new normal with a wonderful friend. We drove to a little red cabin nestled in the mountains around Asheville. Far away from the mundane, the routine and the to do lists that filled our daily lives, our only plan for the coming days was to live without a plan. All we yearned to do was relish the pristine mountain air and cherish the here and the now. So, with a song on our lips. hope in our hearts, and a dream to relinquish the ubiquitous desire to control our lives we set off.
As our sedan, loaded with the bare essentials, chugged through winding roads leading to the cabin we let our worries fade. As the colors of the landscape changed, so did our moods. This was the first time I had not checked the weather app for the daily and hourly forecast. Neither had my friend. We’ll see… we had said. This was the first time neither of us had googled what to do in and around a place before a trip. We’ll see once we get there… we had thought. After all, the heart of adventure lies in exploration and the essence of exploration is the willingness to step into the unknown.
So for the next few days we idled on whim in an idyllic setting. When the sun shone we trekked in the trails nearby; when it rained we sat on the covered porch sipping hot Darjeeling tea and listening to the swish of the rain and the gush of the stream flowing below. At other times we streamed movies and podcasts. When it was time for lunch or dinner we whipped up wholesome hearty and deliciously simple meals with whatever ingredients we had. And all the while we talked- as we trudged up the hill and down, as we strolled around the lake, as the mist from the waterfalls chilled our faces, we talked -of our childhood memories, of our experiences as wives and mothers and daughters and sisters and friends, of our failures and learnings in life that made us who we were, of authors and spiritual gurus who influenced our beliefs and views.
And then one of those mornings as we sat on the porch watching the fog lift from the mountain peaks, there was a sudden sensation that filled my heart. I felt a deep sense of connection to my friend; as if she were not a separate person but simply an extension of me. Everything around me – the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the lakes, the waterfalls, her – we were all one. Maybe, this is what the feeling of ‘coming home’ referred to?
We lived in a world with mounting chaos; in the days before a dirty election chasms of divisiveness separated us all. Yet, there was so much untapped goodness in the world that we were blind to. At any given moment in time, there were a myriad forces at work, forces much bigger than ourselves that were at play and if we just allowed ourselves to go with the flow, focus on what makes us one rather than divide us, the magic in life would unfold right before our eyes.
One thing is for sure. I now know wherever life takes me, whatever situation it presents me with, I will always return to that feeling of inexplicable bliss that I experienced on that porch of the little red cabin; a knowing that we are all part of a perfect whole and everything is just as it should be.
And I will be forever indebted to my beautiful friend Animita for initiating the trip and being an integral part of my spiritual journey.
“Sumi, enough beta. I’ve already read the book to you thrice. It’s 10:30 – go to sleep.”
“Last time, Papa, pleeeeease… just one more time. I promise.”
Sumi’s big brown eyes pleaded with invincible intent as she stared directly into Prakash’s loving gaze. They lay in her bed for the nightly ritual of a bedtime story, the five-year-old’s head resting on her father’s strong left arm and her body nestled cosily into the arch that his body created as he enveloped his lanky limbs around his precocious and precious child. Those eyes innocent, playful yet defiant melted Prakash’s heart, as always. The child had a way with him and she knew it.
Prakash put down the book he had held, over her head , with his right hand, his arm tired from holding it up. He had read this story countless times before, every word, every pause, every verse forming an unforgettable alliance with the core of his body.
“Ok. Last time. You have to sleep after this.”
He yawned and taking in a deep breath began in his inimitable throaty voice…
“One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue Fish
Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish….”
The fluid prose and lyrical nature of Dr. Seuss’s book only made it easy for Prakash to render the narration effortlessly from memory, albeit half asleep.
Towards the end of the lengthy narration, Prakash started to pause intermittently as his mind drifted in and out of sleep. Exhaustion from a hard day’s work caught up with him and his voice faltered.
“Papa, papa, papa … you forgot a verse, my favorite one. Papa, Papa… wake up. You didn’t finish the story! “ Sumi tugged her dad’s ear, a gesture that was bound to annoy him she knew but also wake him up.
“Huh?” Groggy, and in a state of bewilderment Prakash muttered.
“My favorite verse – papa- the ish wish dish one.”
Continuing to tug his ear Sumi continued,
“Who am I? My name is Ish
On my hand I have a dish.
I have this dish to help me wish.
When I wish to make a wish
I wave my hand with a big swish swish.
Then I say, “I wish for fish!”
And I get fish right on my dish.
If you wish to make a wish,
you may swish for fish with my Ish wish dish
Papa, papa … you need to finish it. Wake up.”
Who am I? My name is Ish….”
Prakash turtled his way to the end of the poem.
“Done. Now sleep beta Puh-lease”
Unfortunately for him, the little munchkin didn’t look any sleepier than she had prior to the 4 sessions of storytelling. Meanwhile, Prakash could barely keep himself awake.
“Papa, papa – you know why it is my favorite verse?”
“Tomorrow, beta… tomorrow we can talk. So ja abhi.”
His words fell on deaf ears.
“Because I like to imagine I’m an ish and I can make anything happen in the world with a swish. Which is your favorite verse Papa?”
As the room reverberated with Prakash’s snores, Sumi fiercely fought sleep and happily wandered into the rich land of imagination conjured up in her mind by the delightful images in the Dr. Seuss book.
30 years later.
It was around 3:00 am in New York when Sumi’s phone rang. Years of being a gynecologist had trained her mind to be alert at the slightest instance. She reached for her phone hoping it was a patient in labor, and not a patient in distress. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw her older brother’s no. flash across the screen. Why was he calling her at this time? Was everything ok in India?
“Hello. Hello, Sumi, Papa had a fall. We’ve just admitted him to the hospital.”
“What? Is he hurt ?What happened? How bad is it?”
“He fractured his hip when he fell but he also bumped his head on the floor so lost consciousness. I don’t want you to worry. Doctors say he is critical but the chances of him getting back on his feet are high. So, don’t worry. He will be ok. I’m here and will take care of him. “
“I want to see him a Ravi, I’ll take the first flight out tomorrow.”
As she boarded the flight, all Sumi could think of was the last conversation she had had with Prakash two days ago.
“Papa, I’m busy. I’ll call you tomorrow. It’s a crazy time for us doctors with the pandemic and everything going on. You don’t have to call me twice a day to check. I’m doing well, being careful and taking all precautions.”
“I know beta. Bas, man ko tassali hoti hai when I hear your voice. Teek hai, badme wakth mile toh call karna.”
And Sumi never did. Guilt gripped her heart as she let the tears flow freely. Papa had called her last night and she had not picked up. She had figured she would on her day off. If only she had known, what was to unfold, she would have dropped everything to take that call.
‘Sorry Papa, please be ok. I promise never again will I not pick up. I’m so sorry Papa. Please be ok.’
Sumi looked up at the stewardess.
“Ma’am- your dinner. Would you like fish or chicken for the main course.”
“No, thank you. I’ll pass.”
Sumi went back to her ruminations. To those memories of her childhood days when she had spent so many moments with Papa. Their bond as firm as the hold the calyx sepals had on a blossoming rose. She had also been Daddy’s girl as Ravi had been Mama’s boy. Of late though, Sumi was too warped in her own world. Papa had become an afterthought after she had fulfilled the ever pressing demands of her children and her job. How could she have let that happen? How selfish she has been!
As the aroma of fish wafted from the trays of the passengers in her aisle, thoughts of her favorite book resurfaced and brought her momentary solace. “One fish, Two fish” she began to recite the poem in her mind. Oh- how she had pestered Papa to narrate that over and over again. When she reached the verse of the Ish Wish Fish Dish – she smiled. She let the magic of those words revive the child in her and lead her to the land of imagination where she was the Ish with the dish who this time wished not just for a fish, but for Papa to be well with a swish.
2 days later …
Sumi sat beside Prakash in the hospital room thankful for his prognosis of a complete recovery. She held his hand as she fervently apologized to him for not taking his calls of late. She spoke of the fear that had clasped her being at the thought of not being able to see him again.
In the only way a Dad could, Prakash tenderly caressed her head.
“You know something beta. I had this strange vision when I was unconscious. There was a bright light that surrounded me. I was just wondering where I was when I heard your voice calling out to me. And funnily of all the things you could say to me, you recited the One Fish, Two Fish poem but when you reached your favorite verse, it was different, You said I wish for Papa to be well. Suddenly, the light vanished and when I opened my eyes Ravi and Mom let me know you were arriving soon. Funny, nah?”
Sumi smiled. Dr. Seuss did indeed weave magic with his words. He had brought her Papa back to her. There was immense power in a child’s imagination. ******
This story was written to the word prompt ‘Fish’ in the FB group Did You Write Today?.
This story was written to the word prompt – Awake. A big thanks to Did You Write Today for the nudge and opportunity to create and write a story each week.
“Twenty years we’ve been married, Amit! Twenty years! And you are still clueless about what I would like for my birthday. So pathetic!“
“Don’t start again Shalu…please… I’ve told you many times I cannot read your mind! Why can’t you just tell me what you want?”
“I have! I do… you are so daft ya! I am constantly dropping hints, You just don’t pay attention. Where is the element of romance, of fun, of surprise if I spell out exactly what I want? And, if that is the case I might as well go buy my own gift. If you cared enough to listen, you wouldn’t have to struggle. “
“I’m not daft! Your clues are cryptic! Last year you said you would love to gaze at the stars on a clear night!”
“So you bought me a telescope! What I wanted was to go for a long drive with you and gaze at the stars with you by my side. Where is the time between the kids, my job, your mom and Rocky to peer into a telescope?
And that time when I said I want to spend more time reading…..you know I admire Michelle Obama and I even discussed that I’d read rave reviews of her book- why was it so difficult to put two and two together and buy me a copy of ‘Becoming’? Instead, you bought me a reading light?”
“Hey! In my defense you get plenty of books from the library. You always complain that you can’t read in bed because I can’t sleep with the light on. That’s why I got you a reading light – and such a cool one at that- that way you could continue to read even after I sleep. I still think it’s a good gift – useful and long lasting.”
“Not everything is about practicality Amit, especially the little moments in life. They need to be spontaneous. It’s not about it being expensive or grand.. I’m not expecting diamonds from you. I just want you to care enough to know the small things that bring me joy.”
Tears well up in my eyes.
“Hey…hey.. hey… I’m sorry. Don’t cry. I care.. I really do. I love you Shalu, and you know that. I would do anything for you.”
“You know, I’m secretly glad that we are still in lockdown. Five years ago I ended up planning my own 40th surprise party or else it would have been a disaster. You had asked Aruna to organize it! I don’t even like Aruna! It’s a good thing Neeta found out and told me about it so I could take over.”
“ I thought Aruna was one of your best friends! She was so insistent on taking charge. I didn’t know how to say no.”
“See, that’s what I mean. Taruna is one of my best friends, not Aruna. You don’t listen.”
“ I do. You have so many friends, you are part of so many WhatsApp groups, and on top of that you women have so many levels of friendship. I don’t understand it. Anyways, what’s over is over. I’ll be more attentive I promise. Cheer up dudette!
What can I do to make your day special tomorrow?”
“I’ll make it easy for you. Nothing cryptic here. I need a break from the kitchen Amit. I’m exhausted. Between Nandhu’s gluten allergies and Shruthi turning vegan and Amma’s no onion, no garlic, no spice diet I’m fed up just trying to figure out what to cook each day. Can you take over one day without me having to make any decisions about what to feed whom. I just want to lounge in bed, read and not worry about cooking and cleaning.”
“Done. Go to bed, Shalu and when you wake up tomorrow I promise the most lavish spread will be ready. “
So saying, Amit gently kissed me on my forehead. “Good night, Jaan”*
The next morning when I awoke, my family rushed into the bedroom to give me a hug, Sounds of “Happy Birthday” filled the air. The kids held my hand and led me to the dining room. It was indeed the most lavish spread I had ever laid her eyes on. There was pongal and chutney for me, idli for Amma, vegan pancakes for Shruthi, paneer 65 for Nandhu, a bowl of fruit salad, and a jar of green smoothie for all.”
“How did I do, Jaan? “ Amit whispered in my ear. “Happy?”
This time, tears of happiness rolled down my cheeks as I nodded vigorously.
“ And this is just the beginning, aage, aage dekho hota hai kya!” he announced. *
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my gown. I turned to see if it was little Nandhu pulling me but there was nobody.
It was strange but I was so overjoyed with what was in front of me that I did not pay much heed to it.
“Come, sit and let us serve you,” Amit said as the family took their places around the table.
I couldn’t wait to dig into all the delish food.
“Here, try some steaming Pongal and chutney first, Shalu”
I was just about to eat the first spoonful when I felt the tug again. I brushed it off, probably it was Rocky begging for table food. I didn’t want to indulge him. But the tugs got stronger and stronger until I felt like i was being shaken.
“Shalu, Shalu… are you awake? Emergency Shalu… wake up. Rocky ate a whole bunch of grapes. I have to take him to ER.”
I opened my eyes with a jolt but was still groggy, and I was desperate to go back to the world I was abruptly snatched from. “What happened, Amit?”
“Nandhu was setting the table for you and she kept the bowl of grapes on the floor while changing the tablecloth and before she knew it, Rocky had gobbled it up. Don’t worry, I’m on it and will take him to the vet right away but could you call the clinic and let them know I’m on the way?
Amma’s gone for a walk. The rice and dal for the Pongal are in the cooker. All you have to do is give Tadka* in ghee. ( As if I didn’t know). The girls said they would eat cereal so no need to make anything for them.
Just order lunch and once I’m back, I’ll take care of dinner I promise.
And, Happy Birthday, Jaan.”
By now, I was wide awake.
* Aage Aage Dekho Hota Hai Kya – just wait and watch what’s unfolding ahead. * Tadka – seasoning
I curl up in my favorite spot, a low ledge by the bay window in the living room of bungalow no. 57, a two storied house in a suburb of Mumbai. Beams of the mid day sun stream in; they pattern my luscious fur into streaks of sparkling white and gold. Mom sits by me, a book in one hand and strokes my back with the other, much tenderness in every stroke as I lazily watch the busyness outside, Ah! This is the life.
I am Leo – a three-year-old Shih-Tzu and currently the reigning king of the Singh household. Mama, Papa, Dadu and Samar adore me. I spend most my time like Sunita bai says, lounging around the house doing nothing.
Sunita bai, the new maid, is envious of my royalty status. “Kya jindagi hai Baba! Jevon karne ka, potty karne ka, sone ka… mast!” She swabs the floor, pauses to look at me. “Ekdum maharajah hai”
Jevan! Food? That’s all I understand from her ramble…. the rest is jargon. I perk up, sniff the air around. All I smell is the scent of the liquid Sunita bai lathers the floors with. Disappointed, I let out a low whine and plop down.
“Kitna samajtha hai, dekho? Khane ke liye kuch bhi Karega!” she shrieks.
Khana! Food? – I sit up eagerly, only to be let down once more.
Mom and Sunita bai share a laugh. I moan softly to express my displeasure.
It’s not funny you know, it’s not nice to tempt me with empty promises of my first love, food, and not follow through. Sunita bai revels in such mockery.
She’s a little tricky to predict – this Sunita Bai. She’s constantly chiding me yet I sense that she means well. Why is it hard for her to be straight with her feelings? That’s why humans get into trouble with each other.
Mom is different though. Her every heart beat, every feeling, every thought I understand. For instance, even though she has a book in her hand, one with a bright cover, I know her mind is far far away. With the people she loves whom she cannot meet in a new world where everyone covers their face with a cloth. She talks to them often on that instrument that rings and chimes and buzzes. (Everything my humans lay their hands on beeps these days! )
I snuggle up closer to mom, nudge her with my paw and roll over slightly for a belly rub. It works. Mom puts the book down, stops thinking and rubs my belly. Asking for a belly rub never fails to bring her back to the present moment. Why do humans worry so much?
When Mama first brought me home as a wee pup, I was quite the rascal – always up to some mischief. Dad and Dadu weren’t pleased. Samar was a toddler then and maybe they fretted that I would harm him. Also, it didn’t help that chewing their shoes was my favorite thing to do. They were my humans and their footwear was so abundant with the fragrance of their essence. It was hard to resist.
Dad took a while to warm up to me, He is stern, a man of few words. That, I love about him. Too many words are what make a human’s life complex. If only they were like us…Bark, Growl, Howl …that’s it.
Initially, Dad barely played with me. He watched me from afar, a little unsure if I was the right addition to the family.
But Mom always knew that I was the best companion her son could ask for. And from the minute Samar held me, we were two hearts beating as one. An inseparable duo.
Samar was much taller than me but hadn’t walked yet. He would just sit wherever mom put him down and observe the happenings around. Yet, as he watched me frolic and roll, fumble and stumble my way through the huge house he slowly began to move. At first to keep pace and eventually to keep me company. That is when Dad was charmed. Now Dad is the one who makes sure I’ve had my boiled egg every day and that my water bowl is clean and full.
Dadu came around quickly though. Every evening when he watched TV, I would perch on top of the couch behind him and lick his round bald head. Tickled, he would shout, “Bas, Bas, bas” and laugh out loud. Laughter is the best antidote to loneliness.
Dadu and I share a little secret too. I am the only one who knows he has a stash of yummy biscuits in his room. I promptly follow him after lunch and dinner, so he can give me those treats. I don’t have to beg or do tricks for him. I just sit in front of him and stare longingly at the food he has in his hand and he parts with it. He has always been the easiest one to please. These days I accompany him on his daily rounds to pluck flowers. His hands are shaky so I grip the little basket for him in my mouth. He always rewards me with a treat after. Dadus are the best. Sometimes, I sit by feet and slurp my gratitude for him.
From where I lie, the world is upside down, so I tilt my head backwards and let it hang over the ledge to scrutinize Sunita Bai’s next move. Soon, she will be done with swabbing the floor and dump the bucket of water. She will have to step into the bathroom- that airy space with a huge bowl of water that makes a fun sound every time someone presses the shiny handle. I wait eagerly with the hope that she will leave the door slightly ajar so I can run in…
“Who’s my best boy? Leo is my best boy!” Mom continues to indulge me.
Best Boy – that is in my vocabulary.
But wait, something’s not right! I sense a sudden strange movement. It carries an air of threat. Oh no! Sunita bai!! She has to be warned. I shove mom’s hand aside, jump up, rush past Sunita bai, spilling her bucket of water in the process and bark incessantly outside the bathroom door.
Dad, Mom, Dadu and Samar rush to my side.
“What happened Leo?” Mom runs her hand up and down my back trying to calm me down. I am relentless in my barking. I cannot rest when danger is lurking around. Samar holds me tight as Dad slowly creaks the door open. There in the corner lies a creature, coiled smugly with its head raised. He does not belong here.
Sunita bai, as is her habit, shrieks. “Devaaaaa!!!” I sniff the fear in her heart.
Dad quickly shuts the door, bolts it and runs outside. Maybe he has gone to fetch Dutta, the guard. Dadu holds my collar and tries to lure me away from the door with a treat but I refuse to budge. Mom carries Samar who is crying, he’s upset seeing me distressed but how can I stop?
Soon, Dad returns home with Dutta and another man. They carry sticks and a huge sack. The man wastes no time to swoop the creature by its tail, swiftly hold the sides of its head and shove into the sack.
Now I can relax. My humans are safe, I go back to my favorite spot by the window.
For the first time, Sunita bai comes to me and holds me tight. She kisses my head. Tears stream down her cheeks “Devacha den aahe tu pillu…Devacha den”
( Devacha den – God’s gift. Pillu – young one)
She has a big slice of apple in her hand which I lap up.
I am Leo – a three-year-old Shih-Tzu and most days I just sit around the house doing nothing.
This post is written to the word prompt “Complete” in a weekly contest organized by DYWT (Did You Write Today?) FB group. Though I do not know much Sanskrit, when I read the prompt, the shloka “Poornamadah Poornamidah” was all I could think of. I could hear the words reverbrating in my core. Poornam stands for “Complete” or “Whole” in Sanskrit and for a deeper understanding of this powerful verse from the Ishavasya Upanishad, please see the attached link to its meaning at the bottom of the post.
POORNAM – COMPLETE.
Our presentation for today’s art and creative writing summer workshop for elementary school kids is titled “The Emotional Arc Of Storytelling.” Through the theme of roller coasters, my colleague, Pavani, and I plan to bring to light how good storytelling needs to have ups and downs, twists and turns, and loop-de-loops in the plot for a more complete experience. As I begin to chart my lesson plan, the innocent faces of some of the younger students in our class comes to mind. Would they be able to grapple the concept of infusing emotion into their narration? Maybe, ‘Emotion’ is too strong of a word for them. Would it be easier to use the words ‘Feelings’ instead?
Then a doubt creeps into my ever curious mind. Are emotions and feelings synonymous?
As is the norm these days I google the difference between emotions and feelings and I find my answer in a study from Wake Forest University.
Feelings arise in the conscious mind while emotions manifest in the subconscious mind. They are not interchangeable terms. Emotions are universal bodily sensations while feelings are personal interpretations of emotions. Love, hunger, pain are feelings while anger, happiness and disgust are emotions. The article is complex and even before I finish reading the article, my minds sucks me into an ever turbulent black hole of questions. What then is depression?
Is it an emotion or is it a feeling – a personal interpretation of sadness, of unworthiness? And naturally, another question pops up.
Why did Sushant Singh Rajput end his life?
Every day articles about the young actor’s battle with depression and his dying make their rounds on social media. They reflect the shock impact his suicide left on the people and they bring up the same queries. Why did someone so handsome, so talented, and so successful find his life unworthy? His life so seemingly complete and brilliant to us yet to him felt incomplete.
Did the current state of the pandemic stricken world with its chaos and uncertainty have something to do with it? Will life ever return to normal again?
A ping on my phone brings me out of the everlasting loop of thought.
“We closed on the house! Finally!!!” texts my friend.
“Congratulations!” I reply back, genuinely happy for her. She has worked hard to make this happen, managing two jobs and a family. She’s moving to a house bigger than the current one. Selfishly, my happiness stems not just from friendship but also from relief. People buying bigger homes, moving up the socio-economic ladder gives a semblance of returning normalcy to the present situation. Isn’t that what we all strive towards? Bigger dreams that encompass an abundance of health, wealth and happiness.
Four months ago, when the world began to shut down, fear prevailed. I was grateful to have a roof over my head, two square meals a day and people I loved safe. I listened to spiritual greats every day and meditated without fail. Nothing else mattered. I was content to be alive with what little I had. From that gratitude stemmed the realization that I do not need much to be happy, that sitting in stillness and being in touch with that deeper part of myself makes my life complete.
Yet, here I am now, with the fear of the virus slowly dissolving. I have returned to my pre-pandemic definitions of success and happiness – bigger home, vacations in exotic locales and a great looking body. The lessons learned in the pandemic have been transient. Why else would SSR’s suicide shock me? And why else would a friend’s increased purchasing power make me happy? After all in the interim I had learned that material wealth and fame does not guarantee fulfillment. Yet, just as quickly as I have learned, I seem to have also forgotten that untainted joy stems from within.
“Om Poornamadah, Om Poornamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate,
Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavashishyate.”
(That (the source) is complete, this (creation) is complete as well. After completeness is taken away from completeness, only completeness remains. )
In essence, the divine source is within me and by my very nature I AM COMPLETE.
The phone rings.
“Hey, How’s the lesson plan coming along?” Pavani asks.
Ah- It’s time to get back to The Emotional Arc of Storytelling.
“Just starting, I’ll ping you once I’m done,” I say.
As I go back to my lesson plan, Pavani’s words in the document bring a smile to my face – “Roller Coasters are a great metaphor for life. We go up, we go down, but we don’t have to crash. We can learn to enjoy the ride.”
In a few moments prior I have like a roller coaster gone all around the twists and turns in my mind, from emotions and feelings to depression to joy and completion. I am yet unsure of whether depression is an emotion or a feeling or why it is so rampant and if life will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. But, what I do know is I do not need anyone or anything to complete me and the knowing that the power is within is the anchor will steady me during the turbulence.
Thank you team DYWT. The prompt gave a realized completion to my thoughts. And of course, Thank You readers. I am grateful to you all for journeying along with me in my musings.
Mesmerized, my son and I watch the television screen. Somewhere in the vast plains of the Savannah, a leopard lies in ambush to capture his prey. In the dimming light of the late evening, his spotted coat blends in with the surroundings. Crouched low, he inches forward in stealth towards a herd of gazelles, who oblivious to the imminent danger, quench their thirst at the watering hole.
We lean forward in our seats as the leopard nears his quarry. Quiet, lithe, brutal hunger in his eyes, he prepares to pounce. Just then, a faint rustle alerts the herd. They take off. Gazelles of all ages. Terror in their hearts, swift in their stride and with a deep desire to live. But can they outrun the leopard?
A fierce chase ensues as the savage beast bounds across my screen flying like the wind determined to kill. I feel my pulse quicken. Which one of the group will he target?
I watch helplessly as a calf, confused and frightened separates from the herd. Deftly, the leopard swoops in on his prey. The calf struggles, fights back but is pinned down in a moment. It is no match for the predator’s prowess. A quick bite on the calf’s neck ensures its life is slowly sucked away. Breath by breath. A tender life short lived.
The leopard famished, victorious stands majestically with a paw on its vanquished kill. This poignant visual of the hunter and the hunted so reflective of Lord Tennyson’s sentiments in his words “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”
I cannot help but feel the pain of the mother who has lost her fawn that night.
I hold my son close and I know all across our country mamas of color, young and old, hold on tightly to to their sons as their television screens replay the merciless murder of George Floyd, pinned helplessly down by a white officer, his knee on the victim’s neck. Their hearts bleed as they watch the life ebb out of him breath by breath. The hunter and the hunted. Could it be their son next?
Indeed, nature is savage in her ways. The leopard kills to sustain, yet, what justification can the police officer offer for killing the vulnerable? Where do you go if the very ones you trust to protect you turn against you? Why was George Floyd killed?
This has to end.
Our country is hurting deeply as the disease of prejudice is preying upon us. Riots and vandalism may not be the solution, but staying silent isn’t either. Mamas of the world, we need to unite and fight this together. We need to speak up now for those who cannot and as we awaken from the slumber of the lock down and an epoch of indifference, each and every one of us needs to question and examine our own biases and beliefs so we can begin to heal together. We need to first believe and then inculcate the value in our children that every life is significant.
The morning dawns, stormy and wet. It is yet another morning this spring when I wake up to the wail of gusty winds and the clamor of thunderous rain. Another morning when the paucity of sunshine reflects the gloom of the pandemic that hangs over our world. Another morning when the blossoming rose bushes, the swaying stalks of daffodils and cherry blossom trees in full bloom do not transcend to hope. This year, along with her innate unpredictability, spring has also brought upon us inclement times. Today, the torrential downpour only amplifies the dread and worry in my heart.
I yearn for the steaming warmth of a cup of coffee and walk into the kitchen. One glance at the kitchen sink and an instant feeling of overwhelm clings to my heart. The sink overflows with dirty dishes.
‘I should have taken care of this last night,’ I admonish myself in a tone filled with remorse. ‘But didn’t I run a load of the dishwasher after dinner? There were just a few ice cream bowls to be done. Did they multiply? I’m so tired of this.’
A couple of baking tins and a whisk stick out from the pile of dirty dishes. A lingering aroma of cinnamon and banana wafts in the air. I do not need Sherlock to deduce what has transpired last night. The kids have been baking again, at midnight. Mug cakes, banana bread and definitely Dalgona coffee.
‘Be careful what you wish for,’ I say to myself.
Dec. 31st, 2019, 11:55 pm.
The family is sprawled on the floor in the family room of our home, nestled under blankets. We have just returned from a fun filled trip to Universal Studios, Orlando. Our eyes are tired and glued to the television as we wait and watch for the ball to drop.
“Are you excited about the New Year?” I ask the kids.
My daughter sits up. “I am! Graduation, a new job, moving to California…I am looking forward to it” she gleams.
“I am too. It’s going to be so cool if I get into Governor’s school, Mom. My friends say it is an opportunity of a lifetime. My Calculus teacher thinks my chances are good. If I get in, it will be a fun summer!” my son, a junior in high school says as he nuzzles the puppy.
“I’m pretty sure you’ll get in too, genius. But come spend some time with me in Palo Alto, before you head off to Gov. school?” she suggests.
“Yes!!!” He perks up at the thought of spending time with his sister.
“Are you going to get a puppy when you move?” he asks her.
“Maybe, once I settle. I think I’ll adopt one.”
As they continue to dream and converse, I find myself mulling over the duality of emotions that arise within. I am a seasoned golf widow but an inexperienced empty nester. Next summer will be my first in twenty years without the kids. I am proud that my fledglings are ready to soar yet am unable to take my mind off the gnawing, growing loneliness their absence will create.
Ten, nine, eight, seven…the countdown begins. Cries of ‘Happy New Year’ fill the air.
Unaware that the joyous shouts are to herald in a new year, our dog zooms around excited. I hold my family tight and there’s only one thing I wish for in the coming year – moments of togetherness, which I know will be hard to come by in the next few years. I want to go on long walks, bake together, have endless discussions, and play board games. That’s all. I let my wish drift into the Universe with the faith that it will manifest.
20th March -2020
We are in the living room playing a game of Catan. The family has been home together, socially distanced from our extended family and friends for almost a week now. Our daughter is home for spring break and in all probability will be here for at least a month. Our son has been accepted to Governor’s school. Our niece who moved to the city for a training just prior to the lockdown is with us too. Life is good. Our pantry is stocked, and we have enough hand soap and toilet paper.
“Mom, do you have any wheat? Could you trade wheat for a log?” my son asks after he rolls his dice on his turn.
“I could trade wheat for ore” I reply.
“I could give you an ore and a log for a wheat and a sheep,” he negotiates.
I look around the board. I need the ore to build a city. It’s a good deal.
We continue to trade sheep, wheat, bricks, wood and ore with zest to build roads, settlements, and cities in an imaginary world. As we live vicariously through the game, it brings us hope and helps us believe that soon we will flatten the curve and tide over this strange time to build a new world.
“Let’s bake a carrot cake after the game,” my niece suggests.
“And we can whip up some Dalgona coffee too” my daughter adds.
Yum! The mere mention of the food and I feel the pounds add up at the waist.
The kids are honing their culinary skills. We’ve had chef style meals almost every day for the past week. This time has been a gift and is exactly what I had wished for at the birth of the new year.
Today May 10th 2020.
I stand in front of the loaded kitchen sink, fighting back tears.
We’ve been together for weeks. Just as I wanted. There have been endless sessions of baking, playing Catan and taking long walks. We’ve transitioned easily to zoom meetings and online classes. On the face of it, inside of our home -our bubble – life is as I had envisioned.
Yet, much has changed. Even though my daughter will graduate, there will be no graduation ceremony. No farewells to friends, no memorable closure to a wondrous phase of her life that has just ended and no move in the immediate future. Governor’s school has been cancelled for this year and my son doesn’t know how all of this will affect his college applications. Our niece may never get a chance to meet her colleagues in the city or see her workplace.
The nest will certainly not be empty for sure this summer, but the dreams of our children have been disbanded.
As I stand in my kitchen that rainy morning, tears begin to flow. I grieve not just for our children but also for my dear uncle who is battling cancer alone at this time. I grieve for the doctor in New York who survived the virus but succumbed to the sadness and devastation she witnessed on the front lines. I grieve for the battered victims of domestic violence, and for the waitress who has served so many but struggles to put food on her own table. As the death toll escalates, the turmoil and sorrow in the world mount.
Just like the dishes in the kitchen sink do. It all piles up.
The tears flow, and I cannot stop them. When will this end? How will it end?
I brew the coffee and head to my favorite couch by the window. The storm has passed and like a typical spring morning, the sun now peeks through the clouds. Raindrops glisten on the branches of the cherry blossom tree in front of the window. A little birdie is perched on a branch there. With her brown and red plumage, and her bright red beak, she is a sight to behold. She holds a twig in her beak. I wonder if the storm has destroyed her nest. Our eyes meet. Hers sparkle with resolve, mine brim with disillusion. She looks at me tenderly and says, “Storms come and go, but mamas need to continue to build our nests, nestle them with warmth and fill them with new dreams.”
Stunned, I ask,” What? How…where do I begin?”
“Baby steps, mama” she smiles and winks at me, “I’ll start with a twig. You can start with the dishes.”
Imagine you are the lead character in a game of “Dungeons and Snipers.” A game where you must surpass many different levels as you roam the world to collect treasure and earn points.
You begin with three lives on hand.
On your exciting adventure, you scale the peaks of rugged mountains, dive deep into abysmal oceans and explore dense jungles infested with dangerous beasts to find diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls. You lose two lives in the process. Once, when you fall off the treacherous slope of the highest peak and another time, while battling a five-headed fire breathing monster in the jungle. What a bummer!
But you rally on… and manage to gather all the jewels and score points. Well played! You are now in the penultimate level and have to find your way through a mystifying maze of tunnels. You do. But the tunnel leads into a dungeon and you find yourself holed in with all this amassed preciousness and one life to spare.
Now, there is but one hurdle in between you and a win – a vast desert outside that has to be crossed. You are free to leave the dungeon anytime but at the risk of being shot down as the desert is teaming with deadly snipers. They are impossible to avoid, and they never miss their mark. Such a waste of your efforts if they get to you.
Hold on! You just find out that there is another way out. You can hide and wait it out. If the snipers don’t spot you for a period of time, they will disappear. You will lose all points if you choose to do this but at least you can cross the expanse of barren land with your collected treasure once the field is clear. What would you do?
Would you rather lose points or give up your life?
At this moment, isn’t this the predicament all of mankind finds itself in? A majority of us are living in lockdown conditions isolated from the rest of the world. We’ve navigated through life’s many ups and downs to reach here. Except we are nestled within the four walls of our homes, not dungeons, and with the people who matter to us, our treasure. We have, in the game of life, chosen to wait it out. To save not just ourselves but others too. Yet, there are many to whom the lockdown feels akin to being in a dungeon. They choose to take a risk and step out. We are at war, yet they refuse to follow the norms of social distancing. They would rather give up their lives.
Yesterday, I left the safe confines of my neighborhood for the first time in three weeks. Before leaving, I had wondered if it would be surreal to drive down empty roads, pass by malls that were just empty shells, whether I would find myself in the remains of a city once alive. Would I feel just like Old Man Brooks did in ‘Shawshank Redemption’ when he struggled to adjust to a life outside prison, after having spent most of his adult life in jail? Maybe, I was being dramatic, but the point is I wondered how strange it would be to venture out into a transformed world.
To my astonishment though, the roads were busy, soccer fields were filled with players and groups of people chatted – not six feet away from each other but closer – while their dogs frolicked. Nothing much had changed. It hurt. Was this fair to those who had put their lives on hold and to my dear ones on the frontline, who were putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk for the likes of those who did not care?
This virus is deadlier than any sniper. It doesn’t care if you are black or brown, rich or poor, an atheist or a person of faith. It just kills. Yet, some falter and choose not to stay home. Maybe, because it is hard for the human mind to fathom an invisible enemy. What if for a minute, we imagine that the virus has magnified itself a hundredfold, put on a black hooded suit? What if it holds an armed rifle in each hand and shoots on sight? Would people still be on the soccer field? I think not.
In the words of Gordon Brown, the ex-Prime Minister of UK, “This is not the time to say I’m doing all I can but to say we will do everything that it takes to beat this thing.” Each and every one us has to do our part to overcome the pandemic. As a meme that went viral reads, “This is the one chance you have to stay at home, watch TV and still be a superhero. Don’t mess up!”
On a blustery
winter morning, I shuffle my booted feet and rub my gloved palms together as I
wait at the light rail station in uptown Charlotte. The wisp of heat the
friction generates does not appease my body, which yearns for warmth. Even
under layers of warm apparel, I feel the frosty air seep in.
arrives and I jump into the carriage to find a seat furthest from the door. I
am returning from a job interview that did not go well. Normally, the half hour
train ride to and from uptown to my house is when I catch up on my reading.
Today though, my body and mind need to thaw first before I can focus on the
words of a page. After yet another failed attempt at procuring a job, my sunken
spirit matches the low, dense air outside.
around, at the sea of people who enter the carriage after me and scramble to
find spots. The huge tidal wave of scurrying humans subsides as most of them seat
themselves, relief writ large on their faces. Those that don’t find seats are
grateful just to be in a space away from the frigid temperatures and bone
chilling winds. Through a clearing in the crowd I see an oversized woman on a
wheelchair, not too far away from the door. She must be cold. All she uses to cover up is a thin yellow
sweater that she wears over a gaudy, floral blouse and purple pants. Her
sneakers look worn. She clutches a black drawstring bag in her bare hands that
appear wrinkled and dry. She’s probably homeless. How does she get by on days
like today? As if she senses my prying eyes, she turns to look at me, her
expression stiff. Embarrassed, I force a smile and quickly look away.
rides are often frequented by vagabonds. Maybe, that is why I immerse myself in
books. To avoid making eye contact with them. There is always an uncomfortable
tussle in my heart when I happen to glance their way. A tussle that swings
between wariness and compassion. There are some to whom life metes out an
unfair hand. They deserve our empathy. But what if a few seek the easy route? What
if the dollar I hand out to the disheveled man at the traffic signal is used to
buy drugs? In that case, does a gesture of momentary kindness on my part serve
him or cripple him? I do not know.
I pull out
my book, ‘The Life-Changing Magic of
Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, but my mind is drawn to the stranger in the
wheelchair. I look up from the page at her as she bends down to her side and
pets her dog, a pit bull that sits beside her. A creature I did not notice
earlier as I was busy trying to look away. The pit bull has on a thick olive-
green jacket with faux fur around the hood. The buttoned- up jacket, that is clearly
made for women, stifles his movements. He shakes with trepidation, like a crinkly
leaf on a blustery day. He is bitterly cold and maybe anxious from the ruckus
around him. The lady strokes his head with great tenderness and whispers words
that I cannot grasp amidst the noise in the train. “It’s ok darling…it’s all
going to be fine” are what my heart says she utters. I watch their interaction, spellbound.
up in my eyes. In all probability, the jacket is her most prized possession.
The rest of her treasure is in the drawstring bag. She loves her dog so deeply
that she is ready to forfeit her own comfort for his. I understand. I have a dog
of my own, Leo. He is the child I’ve come to rely on to make me feel significant.
On days like today when I feel inept, inadequate, Leo’s vehement licks and
vigorous wags tell me I mean the world to him. I matter.
The stranger is wise. She senses my penetrant
gaze and looks at me again. Our eyes meet and our souls connect. We have both
experienced unconditional love in this lifetime. I smile, a wholehearted smile that acknowledges
her presence. She grins wide. Her mouth is missing a few teeth. Her eyes dance
with warmth. The twinkle in them convey
the message that this is all she wants. An acknowledgement from a fellow
traveler that says, “I see you. You matter.”
I gazed into
the mirror, at my reflection, and let the vision from the eye that was open
fall upon the kohl lined one that was shut. The blue grey shades of the eye
shadow shimmered lightly on the canvas of my eyelid, bordered by the thick
black line of the eyeliner. ‘Nice. Someday, I will learn the art of creating
the smoky eye effect but for today, this will do.’ With both eyes
now open, I let my gaze wander over the rest of my face. Features had been
accentuated, blemishes hidden. The array of make-up products I had used had
done their job. All I needed to do was fill in the luscious matte shade of
burgundy on my lips. ‘Diva’ – an apt title for the lipstick I had chosen. As I
looked into the mirror for one last time, I certainly felt like one. Though I
must admit, I did not always embody this essence of being a diva. Discovering
this essence has been a journey.
The art of
make-up was one I had begun to dabble in only recently, until then I had been
defiant to the idea of it. The wisdom of the forties had illumined to me the
fact that the rebellious attitude towards make-up and fashion that I had harbored
earlier was a defense mechanism I had come up with to protect myself. Let me
tell you the story of how that happened.
You see, I am
dark skinned and very short and there was a time in the crazy teenage years when
I stopped seeing myself as the bubbly loving spirit that I was and instead wondered
if someone with a flawed complexion and as scrawny as me could be considered
attractive. It seemed unfair that while my growth spurt lasted a mere inch,
everyone else towered around me. And in a country where fair skin is considered
an epitome of beauty, it hurt to be dark. My family and friends loved me
unconditionally and cherished my presence. Not once made me feel less worthy
yet the conventional idea of beauty laid out by society had wiggled its way
into my mind. While MJ crooned “It don’t matter if you are black or white”, to
a young naïve teenager trying to fit in, it certainly did.
On one of
those days, in a desperate attempt to change at least a tad bit of my
appearance, I walked into a salon, also known as a ‘beauty parlor’ in my
country. I had never been to one before. Now I would say the name is a
misnomer. There is so much more to beauty than looks. But at that point in
time, to me, it resonated that it is the external fixing that is done to a
person’s appearance that miraculously enhances beauty. The ‘beauty parlor’ was
a home run salon owned by a matronly heavyset woman who had a couple of giggly
and chirpy girls to help her. It is a norm in my country, where every grown-up
person in your life is referred to as aunty or uncle and many a young girl as
baby. Aunty was perched in a cushioned chair with her feet resting on a little
black stool reading a magazine while one of the helper girls was massaging her
head. Her raspy voice boomed as she peered above her wide rimmed spectacles at
What can I do for you?”
I looked around the dinghy, rectangular room
with a makeshift changing area in the corner, a huge mirror and three rotating
chairs in front of it. There was a massage table against the wall at the far
end of the room. A waxy aroma that wafted across its span. A little cauldron
shaped pot rested on a ledge by the table. J K Rowling had not invented
Hogwarts yet – or else the scenario would be akin to a young Harry Potter
walking into Dumbledore’s office wishing to learn a spell that magically
transformed one’s appearance.
I replied meekly.
Come. First time doing facial?”
replied and proceeded to do as she said. I changed into a jaded cotton gown she
provided and lay down on the table, shutting my eyes tight. As she scurried
around for the next few moments getting products ready to apply on my face, I
waited agitated and uneasy.
her glasses and scrutinized my face closely.
“Tsk tsk… so
many blackheads… you need the gold facial. Expensive but you need it.”
I shut my
eyes, clenched my fists and held on. If I wanted to feel beautiful, I would
have to endure these experiences. While her stooges watched, she deftly massaged
my skin with what seemed to be layers of masks, rubbing them in, letting them
dry and peeling them out. Next, I was asked to hover my face steady, over a pot
of steaming water with a cloth covering my head so as not to let the steam
escape. It felt like my face was on fire. As the droplets condensed and dripped
down my face, I soothed myself. ‘Didn’t things
always seem bad before they get better. The sting from the steam would open up
my pores and rejuvenate my skin and I would glow just like those models in TV
ads.’ As the steaming ordeal ended, aunty asked me to lay back
down and brought a couple of sharp needle-like instruments. Terrified, I asked
her what she was about to do next.
worry. I must take out the blackheads no?”
pinched and tugged away at the blackheads on my nose, I felt excruciating pain.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I’m not sure if I had felt such animosity towards
anyone before but in that moment, I did and as she brought the tweezer to my
nose once more, I gathered every ounce of fierceness in my body and raised my
hand to slap her. I just wanted the pain to stop. She was quick to react and with
her large, jiggly arms, she firmly caught my hand and pinned me down. The
“Arre! Baby, this
much also you cannot bear? You want to be pretty or not? Then these blackheads
I have to take out. It does not look nice, no?”
I lay there, stark naked in my vulnerability,
desperate to wedge my way into the land of the glamorous, my mind spinning, It does not look
nice? To whom? To another who was looking at me? I had to go through all this
pain so that when someone else saw me, it would be a pleasing sight for them? So
unfair! Were there not enough puppies, daffodils and roses for the world to
feast their eyes on if they wanted to see something nice?
have to come back next month to remove the blackheads, ok? Otherwise no use, it
will come back.”
‘Huh? Whaaaat? I would have to go through this again? And again?’
I looked at myself for a few minutes every
morning and night and though the image was not perfect, there were certainly
less painful things I could do with my time, like reading a book. It was true
that I had wanted to fit into a mold that society had carved yet even after the
facial, even after the coaxing and cajoling of the skin, I didn’t feel any
different. Maybe my skin glowed, and there were fewer blackheads but otherwise
I was the same person as I was before this experience. That’s when the rebel
was born. There was a quiet defiance, a current of seething anger in my heart
for rules that defined beauty in society. I decided that I would stay away from
everything that changed my appearance externally, that the beauty industry was
an ostensible one. Looking good did not always translate to feeling good. I had
experienced that though I could not fathom what I must do to find my inner glow.
Fortunately for me, my husband cherished a sense of humor more than a sense of
style and I did not care to change. I was most comfortable in slacks and to his
chagrin – his t-shirts and he just let me be. When the kids came along, for the
longest time, I wore their presence as my accessory. Their spirit was an extension
of mine and I basked in it. I felt radiant. I was wrong to think that
motherhood is what makes one beautiful. I did not own our children and a time comes,
as it did for me, for them to leave your space and find their own. Being a
mother is just a role I played.
As I began to
fill in the void the kids left with questions – Who am I, why am I here, what
does taking care of oneself truly mean? There were other burning questions too
about faith, culture, values etc. The search led me to meditation and though
none of the answers appeared magically, there was a subtle change in the way I
responded to life. It took months, and nothing changed externally but I was
happy, for no particular reason. My heart felt warm and fuzzy, most of the
One night, as I brushed my teeth, I looked in
the mirror. I was still short, still dark and to add to it the aging effect of
mid-life hormones were conspicuous – streaks of grey, thinning hair and the
battle of the mid-riff bulge. Yet, I was ecstatic. That warm fuzzy feeling had eclipsed
all insecurities. I had brushed away layers of inadequacy just as valiantly as
I had brushed away the plaque. I was in my forties now and I loved, lived and
wrote from the heart. Nothing else mattered. Maybe, this is what it felt to be
a diva. To be fearlessly you.
And that, in
short, is my journey to finding true beauty.
awakening hasn’t broadened my sense of style. I still lounge around in my
sweatpants and hubby’s Superman t-shirt, but I am no longer averse to the idea
of dolling up on occasions. Today I was
getting dressed to do an author event. The excitement of doing something that I
loved combined with a dash of make- up made me feel yummy.
As I turned
around to step out of the room, my faithful little puppy wagged his furry tail
at me. Ah, he approved. He knew under the mask of the skin toner, primer, foundation,
highlighter and blush was the warm and funny spirit he loved.
I now know it
too. I have finally learned to embrace myself just as I am. I am a quirky woman
who graciously bore the pain of childbirth but is terrified of a pair of tweezers.
I am a diva!
This post was first published in Life Positive in Aug 2019. Republished with the permission of the editor.