The Milk Thief

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Something quite unusual happened last morning. An alarmed neighbour posted on the whatsapp group that someone had made away with one packet of milk, from the three that the milkman had delivered at her doorstep. This was the second time that it had happened. Soon, another concerned neighbour shared a similar, earlier experience. Someone was stealing his/her quota of calcium, protein and other dairy nutrients and leaving no traces behind. No trail of white drops nor the spotting of a visage with a creamy moustache in a nook or corner or in the lift.

There was much speculation about whether the vendor had shortchanged our neighbour. But, most of us wondered why he would axe his long-term prospects of regular supply so foolishly. A phone call to the vendor affirmed that he had delivered the regular number of packets, and the theft had occurred in the hour between the time of the delivery and the pick-up from the bag placed for the milk packet, outside the door, by the neighbour. Strange, considering our building is quite a safe haven. Kids leave their cricket bats, skateboards, basketballs, badminton racquets and even shoes behind in the compound after playing, and find them in exactly the same spot the next day. Wayward clothes swaying on clothes lines dive down, landing flat on their stomachs, and are left undisturbed for days, untouched by human hands, albeit a bit ruffled by the breeze, till the owner locates and claims them.

So, this theft was quite unexpected, and inexplicable.  The suspicion now fell on the hapless delivery boy. Maybe, unknown to the vendor, he was out to make a quick buck, by delivering one packet less and insisting that he had delivered three. Considering that every apartment has a video door camera, whosoever was on the prowl, was either braving being caught on it or unaware of its eyes trained on him/her. Finally, a generous neighbour averred that at least someone was drinking the milk, which prompted smileys from all quarters to flood the chat window. The thief was forgiven, and everyone decided that it was better to instruct the delivery boy to ring the bell, and personally receive the packets of milk, to avoid such untoward incidents in future, and the speculation that followed them.

Now, I have no idea if the milk was cow’s milk or buffalo’s milk. If it was the former, the episode might just take on a political or religious flavour. Lord Krishna, lovingly referred to as maakhanchor, stole butter from neighbouring houses. If at all someone reprimanded him, it was with great affection, and mock anger. Mostly, the women fawned over him for his mischief. With most households buying their quota of salted butter from the local supermarket, and with the process of preparing butter at home becoming almost extinct, the closest a Krishna bhakt can come to emulating the Lord is by stealing milk. And if it comes from a cow, it has extra divine nutritive benefits too. Despite this shining example from our mythological texts, I doubt that if caught, the milk thief will be showered with such unconditional love. He/she is more likely to be left with deep impressions on the back, made by the repeated contact of a rolling-pin with the spine. Milk thieving can be backbreaking.

As I write this, the thief remains elusive. His/her chances have been nixed by the new arrangement of the delivery boy ringing the doorbell to hand over the much coveted milk packets. On an otherwise predictable day, the theft had caused some ripples and much amusement. Much ado about missing milk. The mystery remains.

Today’s quote: “I always know the ending. That’s where I start.” TONI MORRISON

Today, the moon had overstayed. It is in its third quarter. So, there was the sun on my right, and the moon on my left, facing each other. What unfinished business did the moon have to attend to?

Read a sample chapter of Hisham Matar’s book, ‘The Return’. How does anyone cope when separated from a loved one by cruel circumstances? How does one breathe, eat, function, laugh or simply live, knowing that somewhere a loved one is being tortured or is in the throes of pain, held captive in a land which was his own? How does one deal with no closure? This is the book I’ll read next.

It’s the season of the Indian gooseberry: Amla. Pickle or sabzi? Maybe the latter. It’s crazy how just the mention of this sour, astringent, sweet, bitter and pungent fruit, makes the salivary glands go into overdrive :).

 

 

 

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The Missing Koel and a Quiet Dawn

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It was unusually quiet this morning. The koels have abandoned the treetops that encircled our building.  I miss their crazed, relentless cooing, their jugalbandis. I wait for them to return home. But, do they think it is? They are free birds. They have wings. And, the skies beckon them, as much as other climes and new, strange, faraway lands. Who can stop them? The kingfisher, with his striking turquoise feathers, his ever-watchful gaze, his wedge-shaped, eager beak, poised to hunt for the little fish swimming furiously about in the pond beneath the gazebo, is a silent operator. He perches on the wooden fence which encloses the pond, gazes at the water hopefully, and before you know it, flies off with a wriggling fry held firmly in its beak.

With the koel gone missing, the raucous seven sisters have begun to babble even more gregariously. Such attention-seeking birds they are! I greet them as I walk, and as they hop about. Even their boisterousness doesn’t make up for the vacuum the koel’s departure has created. The sun is shy, peeping out hesitantly, its rays warming up my skin, where the morning chill has settled and made it dry. As it rises, slowly, a glowing ball of fire, I’m on my little terrace, reading aloud from a copy of ‘Asvashtha Shatakaachi Kavita’ by Vasant Abaji Dahake. Rich, metaphorical verse, which I have discovered late. Hopefully, not too late. I could read these poems all morning, if I could, but chores beckon.

A new early morning chore is sweeping the inert bodies of scores of tiny black insects, who had come visiting last night, lured by the fluorescence of the night lamps. They have been arriving at dusk, swarms of tiny black specks, drawn magnetically to the luminosity. They offer their all to their passionate interlude with light, giving up their lives, as they make love to the glow, fall to the ground, and are reduced to dust. More arrive, unfazed, night after night, and are deceived by the very light whose seduction holds something irresistible. They find gaps in closed windows, tap their miniscule mouths on the glass, begging to be let in, and squeeze their bodies inside, to hover about the glowing bulbs, to collectively serenade their common lover. In vain. Or perhaps, it is their chosen way to depart. While in the throes of passion. From light to darkness, and towards light again. Who knows?

Today, the temple courtyard is quiet too. The ektari is silent. The chorus–its collective voice–has been hushed. No kirtans. No bhajans. I should welcome the silence. But, strange as it may seem, I actually missed the discordant morning notes. Chaos has its way of making one get used to it. So, when you get some reprieve, that too requires getting used to. Even as I write this, and I know I’m managing it because these words have come out of the peace that has descended, I’m already loving it.

A raven is croaking. Cr-r-ruck, it goes. It’s time this black, mysterious bird got a chance to make itself heard. Tomorrow, the koel may return…

Today’s #writing quote: “You see things; and say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Breakfast: Saboodana Khichdi. Khichdi, yes. Not insipid, convalescent food this. The dish was hot, and soft, and had just the right spice. Seriously yummy. Ginger tea is a great accompaniment.

Today’s alphabet: S: In my encyclopaedia of household things, S stands for Steamer: A three-tier, steel utensil, that has halved my cooking time, as it helps me serve piping hot meals, and retains the crispness and flavour of the vegetables.

On my mind: Marie Kondo and her Kon Mari clean-up method. The wardrobe needs a massive overhaul. Long pending.

Books to read: The racy thriller I’m currently editing, another chapter from: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, a chapter from Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and I so look forward to choosing a new novel from my long wishlist.

Thought: I read the headlines today, as I ate my breakfast. The khichdi is my body now; the headlines–brutal, sad, euphoric–have settled somewhere deep inside. They will germinate someday. Some words bloom late. Or only in a particular season. I’ll wait.

 

 

 

A proud leaf and some eyesores

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It has been drizzling since morning. The normally shy Bharadwaj is calling incessantly, as if it needs to draw attention to something. It is hiding, but its hoo, hoo, hoo is a resonant chant, impossible to ignore.

The outdoor beckons, if only to catch a few raindrops on my open palms, to know that they have descended from the skies, to savour the taste of the universe in them. How simple, yet fascinating it is, this give and take between the earth and the sky, this rising and melting of vapour, this loving exchange, this eternal connection.

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I look into the pond surrounding the gazebo. It is still, but for a sharp-tipped leaf that is circling around itself. Unlike other leaves, withered, dried or fresh, some of which are floating on their backs, and others on their flat, ridged bellies, this one stands upright defying gravity. The defiance eludes explanation till I see an itsy-bitsy translucent fry emerge from behind it. It swims away from the leaf and towards it again, kissing it ever so lightly. I can imagine it giggling joyously as the leaf bobs backward and forward. It advances and retreats several times, nudging the leaf till it starts spiralling and then falls on its back, floats away and settles under a large, supine, brown leaf, which has been a mute spectator all along.

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A kingfisher sits still on the fence. Its wings are a stunning turquoise, its belly white and its beak a pale yellow streaked with a deep red. I stare at it unabashedly, awestruck by its beauty, and the imagination of its creator. It stares back. I don’t lower my gaze. Birds don’t object to this open, brazen admiration. I would never have dared to gawk at a human being so wantonly, out of fear of being hauled up for bad manners, or invasion of privacy, or worse, stalking. I can’t but think that I’m invading what could be its silent moment with itself, but I fail to avert my gaze. Then, I do the forbidden, the crass act of stealthily pulling out my phone from my bag. This is the scourge that has affected almost all of humanity, and while I have largely been immune to this compulsive urge to trap everything in a photograph, there are moments when I slip. This is one such. As I aim, it takes flight.

I start strolling telling myself that I was rightly rebuffed by the bird. A squirrel, its tail pointing skyward, scampers across to join a flock of pigeons pecking at grains scattered in the compound. A mynah dips its yellow beak into a puddle of water formed by the parked cars being washed. It trusts the water and drinks eagerly. I think of the RO water purifier installed in my kitchen. When was the last time I had cupped my palms together and drunk water straight from a natural source or even a tap?  Water has become our enemy. It must go through several processes to become potable. We are sold on this fear. We dread what water will do to our intestines. I envy the mynah. As I walk, I spot a large cluster of bananas on the tree in the compound. A deep purple banana flower blooms at its stem and catches my eye.

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As I walk, someone throws a cigarette butt out of the terrace. In an instant, my reverie is broken. I’m furious. I look up to chide the uncivil resident for the insolent act knowing fully well that my search for the culprit is futile. Such acts are done under cover. Worse, I almost step on a banana skin flung carelessly by yet another vandal. The banana will soon become the eater’s body but perhaps all the vitamins in it are incapable of refining his mind.  I pick up the banana skin and deposit it in the bin. At least, I tell myself, I didn’t slip on it.

I look up at the clouds to mitigate my anger, but some days are designed to test one’s patience. I almost step on a used condom, flicked casually by an impassioned gladiator, perhaps too spent after his amorous adventure to discard the evidence of his virility in a more socially acceptable manner. A black insect, with yellow horizontal ridges on its body, inspects it, as I step aside. The insect, unimpressed by the trampled remains of exhibited manhood, hurries away. So do I.

I try to focus on the bird calls but the images of the cigarette butt, the banana skin and the condom haunt me. Eyesores defacing a pristine landscape–all reminders of the way we plunder our environment. I sit on the bench in the garden trying to wipe out the images. But, what you resist, persists. As I take a few deep breaths, my anger gives way to momentary resignation. The sun is out. It will soon scorch the trash. It illuminates the edges of the trees, which now have fiery silhouettes. Soon, the neighbourhood will be filled with voices and familiar everyday sounds and the frenzied pace of the business of living. No one has the time to pause or even spot the pollutants on the landscape. Why, who has the time to even notice the landscape?

Life goes on…

 

In the Slow Lane, Waiting…

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Today, the seven sisters, saat baaya, the original twitterati, were at their cacophonous best. They babbled away gregariously, unmindful that they had stupefied the koel, albeit momentarily. They settled on a flamboyant yellow flowering tree, whose blossoms freshly bathed by the night rain, allured myriad winged visitors. The plumeria was generous in her offerings. She had strewn the grass with joyous white blooms waiting to be gathered.

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The sky was streaked with gold, the sun yet to come out. These are the mornings when the moment you take an invigorating breath, you feel deeply grateful to be alive. As if in acknowledgement, a flock of squawking parrots flies past, and a wagtail settles on the lush green below, its tail a propeller.

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The weather is salubrious and the mood languorous. Ah! Life in the slow lane… Savouring every moment, taking a minute longer to locate the elusive Bharadwaj, watching the clouds do a slow dance and part to make way for the sun, going into raptures as its rays break through and set every pore of the earth ablaze with infinite possibilities… This life chose me. I can’t stop smiling.

There are the books waiting to be read, the stories begging to be written. Can it get better? I open one of my favourite books: These My Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry Edited by Eunice De Souza & Melanie Silgardo. Randomly I read from a Gujarati Folk Song, by an anonymous poet, titled ‘Rain of The World’. Pour down, O rain of the world, Thou art the rain of four continents. The earth, thy beloved is waiting for thee.

We wait. For someone to arrive, for something to change, for some messiah to save the world, for the tides to turn. Seasons change. Waiting is pregnant with both hope and futility. Eyes glued to the door, someone waits somewhere for the departed to return. A battered soul engulfed by dark thoughts waits for first light. A young girl waits for her dream-lover. We wait for Godot.

Closer home, children, dressed in white and canary yellow, sea green and white and grey and white checked uniforms wait impatiently for their school buses to arrive. A six-year-old holding a lunch box bag swings his arm up and down prompting his mother to admonish him. ‘The food will spill out’, she warns. He stops midway and lowers his arm. A minute later, up goes his arm mindlessly, the restlessness of his age overruling his mother’s warning. His unmindfulness exasperates her and she grabs the bag from his hand, inspects it for spillage and keeps it with her.

The buses arrive one by one, and the little ones pile in, waving out to their parents and minders. As the adults turn to leave, I can see that their strides now have an urgency.

A crow caws, breaking my reverie. Slow gains momentum. My feet tap across to the kitchen. The black-eyed beans I had placed in a sieve near the window have sprouted. They have the sun in their bellies. The tiny spearmint plant my new friends gifted me sways in the breeze.  It looks vulnerable, having taken root in new soil. The sambar balli plant, the latest addition to my family, keeps it company. It adds a pop of soothing green to the terrace. I touch the underside of a leaf and breathe in its oregano-like odour. One day, I will dip some leaves in chickpea batter and enjoy the crunch of piping hot sambar balli bajjos. I water the plants. They drink eagerly.

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The skies have now changed colour. They are a dark grey. It may rain today. Words too, I hope.

The Celibate Peacock, the Bengal Tiger & other things National

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Yesterday, a high court judge, in a state of delirium, perhaps caused by retirement, made two astounding announcements, on the last day of work. In the same breath, he elevated the status of the country’s National Bird, the peacock, to that of a divine feathered creature and declared that the cow was actually the right candidate to be the National Animal.

Unknown to the peacock, he erased its sexuality and its propensity for polygamy and declared it celibate: http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/peacock-dont-have-sex-says-judge-who-recommended-cow-as-national-animal-1706363

It was this virtue of chastity, he suggested, that was responsible for its choice as the avian representative of the country, and for Lord Krishna himself to tuck its feather into his crown.

News reaches the jungle fast. The informer conveyed to the peacock that it need not spread out its plumage or dance wildly anymore, to attract its mate. All it needed to do was cry for no particular reason to enable the peahen to collect its potent teardrops in its beak and impregnate herself. Reproductive science, he said, had taken a giant leap. And, if the peacock wanted to retain his position, he had to abide by the disclosure of this advocate of abstinence, who was himself born out of the very act, from which he had disassociated the peacock. Celibacy was now mandatory to remain the national representative. On hearing this, the peacock started shedding copious tears and the peahen went into mourning for the loss of an active sex life, and refused to wipe the peacock’s tears, forget drinking them. Whatever for should she bear his progeny, when the basic orgiastic pleasure for doing so was no longer hers!

The informer also held a secret meeting with the Bengal Tiger. Asking him whether he had been to the jungle pathologist lately for a routine urine examination, he threw the sinewy animal into a tizzy. When he roared menacingly, the unfazed informer told him that his ferocity was of no consequence. In fact, he was now more endangered than ever. He scoffed further at his qualities of grace, strength, agility and enormous power. They were nothing compared to having traces of a holy river in one’s urine, and the evidence of 33 crore deities residing in one’s stomach. The tiger, he urged, needed a sonography too.

Besides, he was a carnivore and he ate that which should not be eaten, in times when adherence to vegetarianism and subsistence on grass (the green variety, not what you think) were the sterling qualities to be flaunted. He was, in retrospect, such a misfit. What’s more, the new candidate being promoted had miraculous medicinal powers that killed bacteria, enhanced brain and heart power and stopped ageing, while he killed everything in sight and his savagery paralysed the brains and stopped the hearts of those who chanced upon him, and left them with no time to age. Both beast and man were baying for his blood, the former, an involuntary pawn and the latter engaged in a game of thrones. The inevitable coup, he said, was a brilliant moo.

The tiger sat down slowly, extending his paw for the tigress to hold. He was in the middle of a crisis and needed her support. When she slapped it away, he suspected that a certain Melania was responsible for such a blatant rebuttal. The informer had reported that the winds of incipient celibacy were flowing erratically from nation to nation, and influencing even people in high places. But, the tiger mused, he needed sex for both recreation and procreation. His life and that of his yet to be born descendants literally depended upon it. If, thought the tiger, he abstained, his numbers would dwindle further and if he did not, he would perhaps have to abdicate, and nothing could be more humiliating than losing out to a ruminating mammal. He also surmised that the epithet Bengal could prove to be his nemesis considering the growing animosity between the ruling party and its opposing counterparts from the eastern part of the nation, of which it is native.

Last heard, the peacock and the Bengal tiger had joined forces and invited the bald eagle, the red breasted robin, the emu, the lion and the kangaroo, all national symbols, of foreign countries for a conference to take steps to not only guard their sexuality from unfair human predation but to also formulate a joint charter of rights for non-human symbols of national pride. Delirious human beings, they now know, are capable of making strange pronouncements, coining baffling words, and indulging in random public display of rejection.

It is raining in the jungle now. The peacock is dancing unabashedly. The tiger is preparing for the battle to keep his stripes. Both can’t help but be true to their nature. The delirious human being too, as is his wont, has his foot stuck firmly in his mouth.

Petrichor on My Breath

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It’s a petrichor morning. The magical medley of wet earth scents invigorates. I breathe deeply. Even the alluring aroma of freshly brewed ginger tea pales in comparison. It’s a day to step out, to open my arms and gather the tidings of the early rains and hold them close to my heart.

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Strangely, the koel is silent today. Bathed at dawn, her madness has been mitigated. Pacified, she sits benumbed, behind a tapestry of mango leaves, her crimson irises drinking in the wet nakedness around her. The rain has stolen her voice. The squirrels are out though, running up light poles, chasing each other on the boundary wall, scampering across the lawn, and leaping from branch to branch.

A speck appears from nowhere on the page I handwrite this post on, its stillness misleading. If my alert eye had not spotted its almost invisible movement I wouldn’t have known that it was a breathing, living being.  Afraid that my breath will blow it away, I hold it for as long as I can.  It stands, almost lifeless, on invisible legs, unaffected by the flight of my pen on the paper, or the black trails it leaves behind or the smell of ink. Suddenly, it shoots up, a tiny tornado, if there could ever be one, its miniscule wings in rapid motion, making me recoil. I am shocked by the energy in its itsy-bitsy body. Yet, I muse, how gentle must be the fingers that shaped this mite’s wings, how full of love! Gratitude wells up. Such wondrous beings inhabit the Universe.

The sun peeps out, looking to its right and left. The coast is clear for it to emerge. As the rays fall on the mango tree, they wake up the koel from her momentary stupor. Her insane call ruptures the serenity of the nippy morning.  She is unmindful of the discordant note she strikes. She revels in her lunacy.

The cool breeze causes the strands of my hair to streak across my face, creating a trellis, veiling my view. The world starts looking different, striated. The frangipani  tree, under which I sit on an iron bench, sways gently as its blooms drop down one by one, like parachutes, to kiss the earth and perish, as they emit a powerful citrusy fragrance.

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Soon the grass is strewn with white plumeria–some looking up at the sky, their open yellow cores vulnerable to the sorcery of the elements. Some blooms point at the clouds with the tips of their stems, their faces buried in grass, shying away from the sun. Some lie on their sides beside felled leaves, toasted brown by the sun, as if knowing that they will soon merge with the soil and return home.

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There’s the breeze again! It shakes the droplets of water off the leaves of the frangipani tree and I raise my chin to welcome the shower. “Stay!” I implore. “Stay awhile.” I know it won’t. It’s such a vagabond. Its wanderlust won’t permit it to do more than traipse a bit, and twist and turn crazily. And then, the compulsive pilgrim will be on its way, ignoring my pleas. I take a deep breath, and fill myself up with its bohemian spirit.

It’s futile to expect the rains to linger. They’ve arrived a trifle too early, fickle guests, whose bags stay packed, just inside the door, ready to  leave at will. I prepare myself for their departure. The flicker of hope always hides within it the possibility of disappointment.

I could sit on the wet bench forever observing the tremulous dance of the leaves of grass. I could listen till eternity to the ballad of the bulbuls or the ode to the rains composed collectively by the sunbirds, the mynahs, the sparrows, the wagtails, the fan-tailed birds and the Bharadwaj. I could sit here and write till my fingers protest.

But, the mundane waits. It needs to be attended to. In the neighbourhood, someone is frying puris. The sizzle of the oil and the aroma of a spicy curry mingle with the air. My reverie is broken. Petrichor. It had cast a spell on me. I’ve inhaled it.  I am petrichor. I am the speck. I am rain. I am the earth. I’m intoxicated. Words flow.

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Mother Nature and Other Such

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Last night, nature did a tandav. Lightning streaked across the sky, splitting it in the middle, maniacal in its ferocity, flashing and disappearing. The eyes had but a split second to register its dazzling brilliance, before it vanished. The roar of thunder followed it, reverberating, bouncing off the wet earth and the damp, hardened surfaces of concrete structures.

When the winds started blowing, raising the dust off the ground, stirring particles of earth lying in wait, their breath held for months, to embrace the force that would transport them to unknown lands, there was a heaving, an audible sigh, before they surrendered. They let themselves be carried, whirled about and twisted and turned, till they were settled on unfamiliar territory. How the winds wooed them, and how they danced and swayed, with not a care in the world, allowing themselves to be sashayed, making love to their abductor.

Soon, the scent of the earth permeated the air, every particle soaked to its core, emitting the joy of being bathed after months of being scorched by a merciless sun. It was both spectacular and awesome. As nature is. Nurturing and unpredictable. Mother Nature. A woman, who has given birth to millions of offspring, each so different from the other, entities held together by millions of invisible umbilical cords, diverse in character but united by their blood. Mother Nature, ever pregnant, with a fertility that is unmatched, unparalleled. Every day is her day, every moment, her moment. She lives it to the fullest, dressed to her teeth, flaunting her assets unabashedly, even those weathered by time and human abuse.

Red earth and pouring rain leave their unmistakable stamp on the mundane business of living. The house plunged into darkness, as there was a spontaneous outage of power, and the inverter struggled to keep it illuminated through dinner time. It kept the fans running but the refrigerator lost its cool. Slumber is a saviour. So, as Mother Nature unleashed her marvels outside, my pillow comforted me and I woke up to a cool morning, with the rain still lashing at my window, but the skies showing no trace of being sliced up repeatedly by unrelenting frenzied firebolts. Peaceful and whole, the clouds look down with pride.

A new day has dawned. It has infinite possibilities. I sip piping hot ginger tea and stare at nothing in particular, the steam rising to my nostrils gently. Soon, the newspapers will arrive. The chores will begin. A cuckoo calls. ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ I greet her back. She’s an unusual mother. Adventurous. She lays her eggs in another’s nest. A crow caws in the distance. She knows that she has been conned into nurturing another’s child. But, there is love for the alien chicks in her heart. She is a mother, after all. Strange are the ways of mothers, much misunderstood and much blamed as they are. But, warm, giving, loving, nevertheless. It takes all types to make the world that much more interesting.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

 

 

Cool Pune and An Amusing Ride

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We relocated to Pune this week. The moment I announced the shift, my WhatsApp groups saw a deluge of Puneri jokes. The groups had assumed that I had, by virtue of having made the move physically , shed my Mumbai hide overnight and grown prickly skin. They told me I would now be transformed into a benignly edgy, crotchety creature,  (the stereotype immortalised by many a writer), who would shut out the world between 1pm -4 pm, who would not take kindly to gatecrashers or unsolicited advice, put up signboards that act as mood indicators, outside my door, and not balk at calling a spade a spade or whatever I deemed fit. ‘How wonderful’, I thought, grinning from ear to ear, though  I had just about begun to breathe the fresh, cool air of Pune and it had yet to invade my cells and alter my character.

When we considered living in Undri, I was largely fascinated by its name. Undir, in Marathi, means mouse. Undri sounds similar, and in local dialect, means mice. I pictured a place swarming with mice, and needing the services of the Pied Piper. Later, I realised that my neighbouring village was Manjri, meaning ‘cats’, in Marathi. So, the cat and mouse game had probably been played many times over, with the cats from Manjri having chased the mice from Undri round the clock. How  many of the rodents escaped, only time will tell, as I haven’t lived here long enough to know if I’ll have murine visitors scurrying about.

As of now, it’s the birds that wake me up every morning, before the alarm goes off. Flocks of bright green squawking parrots swoop down on trees, black sunbirds rattle off rapidly, their purplish, glistening wings, shiny spots in the foliage, fan-tailed birds dance about, cuckoos  perform a jugalbandi and a gaggle of brownish grey seven sisters breaks the silence of the day with its incessant babble. It’s a concert that deserves an encore. The nip of the retreating winter makes sleeping in so compelling. But, the babblers are unrelenting. They remind you  to seize the day–the earlier, the better.

I was in an auto rickshaw a couple of days ago. The driver, an almost toothless man in his mid 60s, figured out from my phone conversation that I had shifted to Undri from Mumbai. Out of the blue, he said, ‘Tai, now that you are here, you will never even look at Mumbai, leave alone return to the city.’ Not that I had any immediate plans of returning but I felt rather offended by his uncalled for remark. He continued, ‘In the rains,  it’s so beautiful here, you won’t spit on Mumbai.’ Images of the paan-spitting population that has been painting Mumbai red flashed in front of my eyes. What had made the driver think I would join the gang of spit-sprayers, if only to prove my allegiance to and acceptance of my new abode, I have no idea. I was infuriated at his very suggestion but kept mum. Then, turning back, as the autorickshaw swerved dangerously, he asked, ‘Have you been to the temples here?’. I shook my head. ‘You must visit the KanifNath temple. It’s close by.’ I hadn’t heard of KanifNath. How does one keep track of all the 33 crore deities that Hindus worship or the countless spiritual masters they follow?

My ignorance did not go unnoticed. ‘You haven’t heard of KanifNath,’ the driver hissed, his shock evident in the way his body twisted and turned and the auto veered off the road. ‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered, sure that I had retribution waiting in the form of some broken bones, considering that both the driver and his vehicle were totally out of control. Only Lord KanifNath could save me now. He did. The driver regained composure and indicating that he had forgiven me for my crime, began filling me in with more details. ‘To go to the sanctum sanctorum, there is just a small opening, barely a foot wide. You have to creep through it, and creep out again, with your face towards the deity.’ I could feel my claustrophobia acting up.

I took a deep breath. ‘Tai, the opening is designed to ease the entry of even a man weighing one ton.’ I wondered where I would find such a gargantuan human being alive. I smiled. Realising that I wasn’t convinced, he continued, ‘Do you know how? Your thoughts have to be pure. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck.’ I thought of all the random wicked thoughts that invaded my mind at the most unexpected moments. I was sure I would never be able to pass through, especially if the deity was a mind reader too, and would be stuck in the tiny opening for life, fossilised in the most bizarre manner. I said so. He turned around once again, as my heart skipped several beats and a few two-wheelers speeding towards us almost collided with us. ‘You! You can’t go in.’ So, he knew about my inner life, I surmised. My thoughts, weird and wild. ‘Why not?’ I ventured. With the scorn deemed fit for the worthless, he spat, ‘Because you are a woman. Only men can go in, that too bare-chested.’ He was trying to intimidate me by adding the bit about disrobing.

I was about to tell him about Trupti Desai, the gender equality activist and temple gatecrasher. But, here, entry was not facilitated  by just your gender. It was the purity of thought at the moment of entry that mattered too. I couldn’t possibly vouch for Trupti on that count. Thoughts are such mischievous wisps. ‘You may try your best, but you will never be allowed,’ he emphasised. He had sensed my mental revolt. Lord KanifNath had blessed the guy with psychic powers. ‘It’s okay,’ I said, knowing that apart from my thoughts, all the extra pounds I had on my body would anyway bar my entry even if I played feminist. When I reached my destination in one piece, I thanked Lord KanifNath profusely. So what if I never got to meet him in his lair, I had managed to obtain his protection. As I thanked the driver for reasons unknown, he wagged a finger and warned, ‘Remember what I said. You will never return to Mumbai.’ Was it a prophecy? Only time will tell.

Today, I wrote my first signboard and hung it outside my door. ‘Do not deliver milk today’. It worked. I’ve already had my first encounter with a straightforward grocer. After placing an order on the phone and having it delivered home once, when I called again to place another, smaller order, he told me in an ice-cold voice, ‘We do not deliver twice. Call  only once.’ He’s put me in my place. I need to get more organised. Also, I love the 1pm-4pm time out. Puneites really know it all about ‘me time’ and ‘space’. I’m going to claim mine too. I am metamorphosing and loving it too.

But, there’s this one thing. The heart is still where the commotion is.

Books to read and some herbal chai

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December is a month of waking up, of taking stock, of being startled into action by unfinished business, and of silent promises, and vows to do better, rectify and start anew. This morning, I woke up to the realisation that I had distanced myself from my blogs for a period long enough for me to forget my passwords. That I was kidding myself that I’m a blogger. A blogger blogs regularly, posts either every day or every week at least. I had been on a sabbatical so long, that I had to begin afresh to reclaim my identity. I’ve been there before. I struggle with the erratic nature of my writing–periods of silence followed by periods of intense activity. Most of the time, I’m writing in my head with spools running through my mind and I’m so lost in this world that I’m loathe to  abandon it  even if it is to give concrete shape to the ideas that bloom.

“Write something,” I told myself, afraid at the same time, that I would end up posting something inane, inconsequential or insufferable. “It’s better than not writing at all,” I chided myself, reassured by the recollection of the “shitty” stuff, Anne Lamott refers to in her wonderful book ‘Bird by Bird’, which most writers fill their first drafts with. Anyway, this blog is about the ordinary life, the mundane, the banal. In her book, ‘Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life’, Amy Rosenthal gives the truest account of what she saw, felt, learned, loved, and strived for! It’s a book that gave me a new perspective of looking at objects, events, words, nature and the most inconsiderable, in a new way.

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Amy Rosenthal’s amazing book with my favourite bookmark

It inspired me to look for the unfamiliar in the familiar, for the bizarre in the normal, for the terrific in the commonplace. I browsed through it yet again today. I also made a note of the books that I had begun reading but not completed–not because I didn’t want to but because I read at will and tend to flit from book to book, unless it’s fiction, which I read from beginning to end.  I’m currently reading Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Oranges are Not The Only Fruit’, ‘A Million Thoughts’ by Om Swami, ‘Ordering from the Cosmic Kitchen’ by Patricia Crane and ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald. Next on my list is ‘Hot Milk’ by Deborah Levy. However rapidly I read these, I’m still going to fall short of the target I had set for myself, of reading at least 50 books this year. I’ll just about manage 45 and I know of readers who devour a 100 books every year.

Someone forwarded a video to me today about how the body heals itself, how positive thoughts direct and facilitate repair, restoration and wellness. It reiterates what Yogis knew–that we are a mind-body complex, that every emotion has a corresponding physical manifestation in the body and that our biography is our biology. I’m learning to observe my emotions, to detect the signals my body sends me, to focus on my breath, to live more mindfully. It isn’t easy but it’s not impossible. Dare I say, it’s one of my New Year resolutions. Despite my previous record of breaking a majority of  my resolutions, I’m still committed to making new ones. It’s  a ritual that gives me hope, gets  me excited like a child and adds zing to my life. Number one on my list is: Do not romanticise overwork and overexertion. (Most of us do that, as if it’s a medal to flaunt): “Oh, I’m just so  ambushed.” New resolutions demand a new diary:). During my search for one, I rediscovered http://www.chimanlals.com/new-pro.php. Dig these

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Elephant Diaries

I also rediscovered herbal tea. Here’s the recipe a close friend, Pushpa Mani, shared with me:

Herbal Tea

For two glasses of water

Ingredients

Dry coriander (dhania) powder – 1 tsp

Cumin seed (jeera) powder – ½ tsp

Pepper (kali miri) powder – ¼ tsp

Turmeric (haldi) powder – two pinches (optional)

Two inch piece ginger – grated

OR  Dry ginger (soonth) powder – ½ tsp

Tulsi leaves – 10

Jaggery – as per taste

Method: Boil the above ingredients and strain.

Tip: You may add a pinch of elaichi or dalchini powder or any other spice according to your taste.

Note: Have only a quarter glass of herbal tea at a time. You may store it in a thermos and sip it through the day too.

Just what I need, now that I’ve overcome my block. Smells good, tastes divine. Try it.

How About Being Just Human?

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“Muslims Cremate Forsaken Hindus”, I read the headlines in today’s newspaper. It spoke about how a group of Muslim youths had taken the lead and performed the last rites of a 65-year-old Hindu man, whose own flesh and blood refused to show up to do the needful. Not only did they pacify his grieving, incapacitated widow, who was worried that the body would decompose, but they also contacted a Hindu priest, procured the death certificate, obtained the required permission from the cremation ground, prepared the bier and carried the corpse to the grounds. Just as one of them was about to light the pyre, the man’s son walked in, did the needful, and walked away without so much as a by your leave.

How the story warmed the cockles of my heart. This is how it should be. This is what the media should showcase. Brotherhood. Solidarity despite differences. The height of compassion and kindness. All that it sure was, and yes, the Muslim youths were undeniably the epitome of humanity. Then, it struck me. Isn’t this what any human being should do in these circumstances, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, sex? Isn’t it innate to reach out to another in need? Aren’t we hardwired to do so? Isn’t it our nature to spontaneously  offer a kind word, a shoulder to lean on, maybe some money if we can afford it or whatever it is that we can extend at that moment, as succour?

Perhaps, in an inharmonious world, where differences are used as weapons to alienate, create strife and ghettoise, such gestures have become so rare that they need to be held up as examples–reminders of our true nature. We are actually amazed that some individuals can rise above the contrariness, listen to their untainted hearts and allow their humaneness to surface, and that they do so despite professing a different religion. If we feel that religion is such an impediment to being our natural selves, we need to revisit it, look at our interpretations of it and do away with that which warps our minds and hearts and hold on to that which nurtures our indigenous humanitarian core.

I’m in no way undermining what the youths did. They are heroes. I’m only saddened that today, we have to mention that they did what they did despite their religion, as if the act is an oddity, as if our diversity is meant to alienate us, and that acts of natural grace are unexpected and superhuman. To be true to one’s nature is anomalous. In trying to ‘protect’ our uniqueness, we are afraid to embrace this diversity. How much richer we would be if we celebrated it, and instead of trying to be exclusive in a sickening, alienating way, we are accepting and inclusive.

As I ruminated upon this,  I couldn’t help look around and marvel at the wondrous mixed bag that nature is. Despite its multi-hued faces, it exudes harmony through every blade of grass and every drop of rain. It cradles all kinds of seeds in its soil, and allows them to blossom in their own special way, creating a medley of beauty and coexistence. It doesn’t play favourites, doesn’t hold back, and gives judiciously and without discrimination. It is generous and benevolent. Ask, and it gives…

We are nature’s children. How could we be any different? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.