Archives for category: Prose

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It’s a proud thing for me to be able to say that Mr. Kirubhakaran was my father. Every charitable thought I’ve had, every goodness that I’ve found inspiring in others, profound ideas that I embraced as my own, prayers that have moulded me into the embrace of God, living and present in our ordinary everyday moments, all this I owe to my father and to my mother who helped me examine every new idea that my father brought into our lives. My father as you all know was a very simple man, of few possessions, with a tendency to gift away any income he saw as surplus, to those in need. His final passing was on wings, free to fly and to soar, unburdened by attachment to anything material, and yet, in his presence, we felt the depth of his love for us and we felt so grateful for whatever time was given to us, to spend with him. Rest in peace, my dearest father. We love you more than we can say. It has been a privilege to be your son and for that I am eternally grateful to the one who sent me to you. I speak for every one of us here, when I say that you were an easy man to love and to cherish.

My brother Shankar writes:

Thanks for the

Lifetime of laughter and all the jokes at breakfast time
Magic tricks and pillow games with the grandkids
All the places we visited together and
Teaching us to look and learn in unique ways
Living a simplicity where the driver was mistaken as the officer at work
Helping us develop a love for all religions and
Instilling core values of respect and tolerance
Making every meal we had together feel like a banquet
Celebrating every one of Amma’s recipes
Challenging our minds across unimaginable fields of creativity
Being a pillar of support and encouragement as we muddled through life
Demonstrating the new beginnings over and over again, after Akka and Thatha passing, life after retirement, new discoveries in space or a profound truth realized
Teaching us about gratitude
Always being there for us and
Giving us all your love

I cannot remember the number of times that we have said the Christian prayer “Our Father in Heaven” but now it has a much deeper and personal feeling as now I know the Face of God!

Thank you dearest Appa! All my love!

A rough edged, black iron wok sat hot on the fire. I poured in a little sesame oil and flicked in the sliced carrots and onion strips. Stirring them I thought of how the tall, bare, trees were holding up the dirty-white sky outside my house.  Long flat slices of dark-green zucchini lay sizzling in a pan on the back burner. I knew I had some green moong sprouts left in a plastic bag somewhere in the fridge. Found them and some stalks of spring onions too. I added a jug of cold water, the sprouts and a giant splash of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos into the wok. As the soupy water came up to a boil I added some sesame-garlic-sweet sauce and stirred it. Then one day old, cooked, par-boiled rice and some rice noodles went into that boiling mass. I took out 2 bowls. I spooned some rough chopped, grilled zucchini, and sliced spring onions in each bowl. Then I ladled the steaming soup from the black wok into each bowl. A small spring of fresh cut coriander squished and hand-torn tossed on top of each bowl added to the fragrant steamy goodness. He and I ate, slurping, smelling, sighing and feeling replete.

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I started my walk with the fog in my face. A bird chirped high above and I clicked my first photo. As I looked for a better angle I heard the depressing sound of the phone switching itself off. Oh well, I thought it was for the best. This was my first walk outside without the children and I felt excited. Actually any time the temperature goes above the 50 degree mark I feel excited.

There was a small path next to the road. It made me feel special. It felt like someone cared enough for walking creatures to put it in. It was separated from the road by a grassy patch. The fog rolled through the spaces between houses and patches of wilderness. Sweet, romantic, patches of wild growth on my side of the path that almost made me forget the tar road with cars zipping by every few minutes. A squirrel in profile nibbled at an acorn on a branch close to me. A dark green, crisscross wire fence separated me from the wet, mulch slope and trees. An orange coloured ditch lay at the bottom of the slope. A sleeping stream to be explored in the Spring. I felt the fog on my face, soft and thick, humid but cold. After a few quiet minutes I heard cackling, honking geese flying south, chirping birds i could not see, the rustle of creatures hidden in the mulch and fallen leaves, a battle of the birds in a tree that had seemed lifeless a second ago, a squirrel leaping through entangled branches, then suddenly all was quiet again. There is a messy, wet, grow without a care, grow against all odds air about this wilderness, even as it is boxed in on many sides by subarbia.

Sensations of love and acceptance of my path flooded me. It was not lost on me that i had been living a few minutes from this walk for 3 weeks. My life is unpredictable, messy, surprising, full of odd activities, home made jokes of the kind only someone living in this home would get, spills, requests for yet more food and loud bursts of laughter and questions that range from whether Jesus was a real man to what is a spleen. Ironically my life is exactly like the wilderness.

But i have fought it and tried to tame my life, my children, my husband even. I have tried hard to manicure the wilderness. And like the tree-bark that has successfully wrapped itself around and through the fencing, I feel the creatures in my life fighting back. Quietly they spread their shiny toys and art, their messes and games, until suddenly I realise that this is how it is supposed to be. The walk cannot wait. I will do my walk and not clean up. The dishes called me to clean but the fog outside beckoned harder. So i walked. And now while one child sleeps into the morning and the other is upstairs gaming and laughing with friends on Skype, I will write about my walk and not plan breakfast. I feel wild and untamed, living like a messy bachelor who knows that life is in the moment, the cleaning can wait on this pretty foggy day.

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Let the pain wash over you. Let reality settle upon you like pixie dust. Let it help you fly. I feel a poem coming on. Goodbye.

The sari started it. It was a dark olive green pattern on a darker olive green background, with an intricate black and white border about 18 inches wide running the length of the sari and culminating in a shoulder drape that was entirely black and white. I persuaded her to wear it as she seemed interested in being persuaded. She had originally chosen a white, silk, salwar kameez with a red-gold border that i felt was better suited to the red, plastic hangar it hung on. This evening she was unconcerned with her usual itemised unhappinesses that she carried around. I think that is why she listened to me.

Standing in front of her wardrobe I remembered the many saris she collected over years in varying shades of pink and peach. Despite our jewellery and fabric choices being poles apart, i always admired her when she dressed up. Fair skinned with a touch of pinkness, cheekbones heightened with a touch of rouge, some gloss on her lips, enveloped in a bubble of perfume, wide hips draped tightly inside a heavy saree, her long thin, dark tresses loosely arranged in a braid that hung down almost to her knees, a dark maroon kumkum on her powdered forehead, a long mangalsutra hanging till her navel, she would emerge and leave behind her a trail of varying fragrances from her perfume, soap, face powder and shampoo. Her larger than life, high pitched voice vied only with these trailing cloying fragrances.

Peaches, plums, generic flower patterns, stems, leaves, creepers, branches, japanese cherry blossoms, roses in every hue (including blue), birds, these are some of the recurring motifs from my childhood. Sometimes there were real flower Ikebana arrangements that dotted tables, dressers and even the tops of toilet flush tanks. Other times there would be giant, fake flower arrangements in heavy, glass vases or you would suddenly find a spring of cherry blossoms hanging from a book case. We were already used to the plethora of large and small potted plants that simulated an almost equatorial atmosphere in our centrally air-conditioned, high-rise apartment in a rich, urban city ironically situated in a desert. Just in case the family forgot what wild flowers looked like in that artificially created green city, she would cover the tables and beds in the house with what looked like carpets of jungle creepers. Bedspreads, towels, sheets, table covers, even carpets were selected carefully to create an environment of a lush, springtime meadow everywhere you looked. The walls, thankfully, were mostly plain cream except where she hung, no doubt with parental pride, children’s paintings and their 1000 plus piece puzzles.

For a while she collected fake stuffed birds. Colourful finches, robins, sparrows. They could be found perched on the very real, jungle creepers around the front room. Sometimes a honey coloured plastic rose and a sprig of pink silk buds would be arranged amidst the leaves of a green bush that had not satisfied her by flowering. It was all very kitsch and surreal. One of the many ceiling-high creepers, arranged menacingly around the dining table, had the odd tendency of periodically sprouting long moustache like tendrils. Sitting down to lunch in the filtered green light, you would be forgiven for feeling jumpy when said moustache tapped you on the shoulder as it swayed gently in the draft from the air conditioning vent overhead. Sometimes one of the fake birds would fall from its perch onto the dining table and lie there stiff amongst the hot steel vessels full of rasam, rice and ghee. She stopped collecting birds when the cat vomited chewed bits of a fake bird that had the misfortune of falling to the floor.

The green sari took me down memory lane and I suddenly understand why I never took to the art of surrealists.

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I discovered this Anjaneyulu hidden behind the tulsi plant in the back of the house under the blue sky. The layers of limestone and paint applied on the wall have created a little niche for this carved stone slab. A beautiful soft hollow that has gotten smaller over the years so the corners are buried in the wall. Lest you miss it they have used a red line to encircle it and the Kannada symbol for Shree is painted over it.

Often i feel like that wall. A vast wall with a few tiny niches of pure energy shining through. Lifetimes of limestone, paint and grime, layer upon layer hide the core. I choose to scrub and peel away the layers. Some parts of my life melt and merge while others remain encrusted and resist my efforts. I feel the softness of the wall, the powdery delight of knowing that it will all crumble someday. This strong limestone coated wall is only 200 years old and I am as old as the ages. Little wonder that I resist. Yet I know it is only a matter of time before the wall succumbs.

Pressing his joints deeply into the mattress and trying hard to cover all of his body with the quilt Raghu ribbed Zoya. She yelped “Raghu” automatically and turned the other way while expertly arranging her quilt so all of her body was covered. Raghu’s hair seemed to be warming his face along with most of the quilt. I leaned over and tugged at the quilt and covered his legs which by now had goosebumps on them. I suddenly felt that nagging sensation of a strand of hair on the back of my forearm. I angled my shoulder and craned my neck but could not find any annoying fallen strand.

My hair has grown to my waist, almost. It is thinner than it has ever been but also silkier and lighter. I could never stand having my hair open and wild but having lost most of it, it all just hangs light and easy down my back now with an elastic hairband keeping it off my face. Recently I can see the grey and white more clearly. They add tiny natural shimmers in a way that a highlight job at the saloon never did. Over the years I have often felt uneasy about the amount of time and money i have spent at beauty saloons. And having low pain thresholds meant using up valuable energy towards steeling myself, alerting the saloon lady for the 15 thousandth time that my skin is super sensitive and then promising myself to get over the need to remove what is natural.

Recently a few difficult, energy consuming couple of months helped me on my way. Suddenly for the first time since I started to wax all those years ago as a student in Mumbai, I have not waxed my body hair in several months. My unibrow is taking on a ferocity that i only remember seeing on my grandmother’s brow. Some well wishers openly recommended I get an appointment as soon as i can. They would help me if i needed a recommendation. Just do it soon they urged with concealed wonderment at my lack of body awareness.

However i have never been more bodily aware than i am right now. Every floating strand on my body is waving in the wind. Which is why i keep craning my neck and try to get the errant strand of fallen hair only to find that there is nothing. Its the movement of air thru my hair.

I am exploring how to be responsive to situations without standing firm. About a year ago i expressed my new love for being anti-soap/shampoo. Within a few months the scent of a shampoo i used to love sent me right back into the shower with it. I still go a couple of days of the week without soap. I am no longer holding myself to an ideal, I let it flow. Even as i feel the wind in my arm-hair I remain light heartedly aware that the next time Raghu says with innocent honesty that he thinks my upper-lip needs a shave, i may just make that appointment. Meanwhile i vainly think I am beginning to resemble some of my favourite artists who favour the au natural look, namely Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo. A quick search online reveals that there is a growing positive body-hair awareness among young women. So maybe there is hope for my daughter to grow amongst people who keep or remove hair for reasons of their own comfort and not because beauty cannot be hairy.

This morning i watched a TED podcast of Young-ha Kim speaking of “be an artist right now” in Korean and it blew me away. Tepid coffee did not bother me any more. His example of an art class from his school days strikes close to home. He kept darkening a sheet of paper, covering it with black and nothing else. His teacher pulled him up for it. Kim explained that it was a picture of crows in the dark. Of course the teacher took him to task. Years later Kim saw paintings by Rothko and others hanging in museums that were similar to his early piece! Some were even titled “untitled”!

Art, storytelling and drama is happening right now in Zoya’ play. She enjoys a “learn languages” iPad app that allows her to imitate different accents. She is mighty good at it. Her Chinese sounds like Chinese even without using a single word of Chinese! She often creates elaborate scenes by herself and is heard speaking in American English, Italian and Chinese in the span of a few minutes. She role-plays endlessly and will tell us fantastical things or things that she says is a fact. A fact in her world space may not be a fact in mine or Raghu’s. I like to respect our different experiences of the world and our varied interpretations.

Kim illustrates beautifully via Franz Kafka’s implausible first line in his book ‘the Metamorphosis’ (note to myself: must learn the correct usage of single and double quotation marks and not use them interchangeably) “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature” how one implausible statement was supported by another and another to create a fabulous piece of fiction. I must mention that i smile as i write this.

When Raghu first saw Mrs. Weasley’s famous clock in the Harry Potter movies, he wistfully wished he could own such a clock. I remember thinking it was impossible but said “maybe someday”. But lo and behold cell phones and other mobile devices were beginning to give us live GPS/friend location services. As a non-tech person i still see the magic in simple services like email and downloading a movie or a book.

What is real today is no reflection of what may be real tomorrow. What may sound like an untruth or figment of imagination may lead to novels or playwriting. What sounds like gibberish today may lead to stand-up comedy. What may look like scribbles may lead to museum worthy art. Doing with joy everything we do is what its all about. Real work begins at birth. I want to celebrate our joy filled actions and call it ‘real work’ anytime its considered less than ‘real work.’

The emptiness is not constant. I wonder how to stay with it and yet move past it. This morning my coffee is tepid as i consider what i can do. We will be going to the local Science Center with friends later this morning. At my parent’s home there are always things that remind me of my past. As I write this i see a photo peeking out from behind some plastic boxes. It is a group photo taken during Raghu’s naming ceremony. In an instant I am transported into a house and time when my days were full of activity. After a few minutes when my thoughts are back in the moment, the emptiness returns.

Veena made a tasty vegetarian lasagna last night when we visited her. Earlier we had planned to go to a local park. The evening shower dissuaded us. We walked down her street after the rains stopped. Giant trees hung over my head as i walked. Raghu and Zoya were quibbling over who’s turn it was to ride our old rickety scooter. I held Raghu’s hand. He has a tendency to drift off into thoughts even as he is crossing a road. The erratic driving patterns and helter-skelter driving style here requires a certain inbuilt ability to navigate. I am reminded of the old Seinfeld episode where George is crossing a road with a giant pac-man machine.

The street we wandered into was quiet, tree lined, had bungalows packed together and lovely wind hewn sticks all over the road. Veena and i played with the children. Bits of Mulan action, my niece is immersed in Mulan, bits of Skyrim fighting with Raghu, and a lovely inventive basketball game with Zoya. The wind was calling and there was the hope of Mary Poppins landing soon.

I find immersion and moment to moment existence a funny thing. A long time ago when i was just discovering homeschooling i read a book by David H. Albert, a homeschooling father, writer, storyteller etc., that i found at the West Orange Public Library. From his book i learnt about Mihaly “Chick-sent-me-high” (its spelt differently but David gave this pronunciation) and his book on Flow. Ever since it has stayed with me that when we are happily immersed in something we are in “flow”.

I took Zoya down to the pool for a swim. It was a windy, coolish day. The city was catching a small break in the monsoon. Zoya wore her orange and yellow striped swimsuit. She slowly went down the rails and into the 4 feet deep side that now felt higher because of the wind whipping up the water surface. She seemed cold but was determined to swim. I watched her body flow thru the water, skimming the bottom of the pool, and was reminded of Albert’s book. Flow Hema, Flow. Watching my children swim is hugely restful for me. It is splendid to see their bodies gliding, swishing and turning like fish. Both of them learnt to swim by watching others. They did not want any instruction. And that too was “flow”. They immersed in their love for water and learnt what they wanted from the experience,

Whenever i feel tension rising, usually its a pressure inside my chest, I have made it a habit to release whatever it is i am wishing for. For e.g I was worried about Zoya swimming on that cold day even as we had all just been exposed to family members with ear infections and other nefarious germs. As i felt that fear for her rise, i wished for her health. What is a wish you may ask. Is it like from the Enid Blyton books where little kids went to bed wishing for a miraculous release from some mundane enforced activity like school? No. Its more like i look within and find the root fear and then turn it around. In this case i wished for her health. Releasing the wish helped me get back to my present moment, i was watching Zoya swim. She came out fairly quickly and said it was not cold but she was done. She ran off to change and join her brother on the swings.

This morning as i write this i feel the emptiness giving way to a more joyful space, one where possibilities abound. I had released a wish last night “may each moment be full of possibility and presence”. I know my thoughts are my reality and i am able to enjoy my now. My children will awaken in a few minutes. I hear them stirring. And i feel full of possibility, presence and open to making pancakes.

The bedroom light filtered in thru a crack. I reached out and dragged the heavy curtain towards the wall. The children looked troubled in their sleep. Is it a reflection of me? The air in the room seemed dense. I could not open the window as the trains trying to rid the tracks of people crossing the tracks keep blaring their horns. So i switched on the fan. It whirred into a gentle rhythm. The children seemed more relaxed and heaved deep sighs. It wasn’t me. It was the air.

The moments when the world spins and i become aware of its orbit, i feel lost, minuscule and run for comforting familiarity. The familiarity of coffee, of writing a poem, of hugging the children and kissing their heads that are closer to my own now. I went in to the bathroom. Smearing toothpaste on my toothbrush i started the morning ritual, brush, rinse, lather, repeat, towel dab. I wore my spectacles and the world looked strange. I had worn contacts to bed. Bad girl.

Suddenly a tiny joyous thought struck me. After days of no good coffee, i had procured some decent blend the previous night. Switched the kettle on and boiled the water. Measured coffee into the old fashioned steel percolator. I was ready for my daily scalding. It seems to me that if Louise Hays is to be believed then i have some anger emerging at the rate I have been scalding myself. The kettle did its little dance and i poured the boiling water onto the coffee powder. Shut the lid, did not scald myself and covered the contraption with a towel so the cold air from outside would be a little dissuaded.

A mango peeked out of the giant basket my mom keeps on her counter. Did i mention I’m visiting my folks? They live in a giant metropolis in a large complex in the middle of an old, Brahmin dominated region of the city. I can feel the city, the organisms, human and otherwise, all milling around below my lofty 13th floor apartment. I feel them pouring their energy into each other and especially into the fruit. This mango tasted sweet but also of city and busyness and mushy monsoon streets. Dad said its a bad idea to eat mangoes after the rains. I think he is right.

I have been exploring how my body feels energy wise with a new diet. Trying to increase my raw food content. Its hard. Today after the customary fruit first, i reach out for my coffee. Now i scald my toes with a flying hot water drop as i twist off the top of the percolator. Its only half done. I rested the top cylindrical part in an empty mug and poured myself my first cup. Setting back the contraption and covering it with a towel i realise that i feel quite empty this morning,

This emptiness has become the bane of my existence. I seem to wake up more often to this emptiness. I’m not sure i like it. Its like i have no ambition, no movement, only a quiet absorption of what is. This is happening more since i figured staying in the moment, with my children, allows for flow. Flow of life, flow of energy, so i go with their feelings, loves and am able to meet them where they are. But it has also meant i am sitting with this open maw inside of me.