Sunday, 27 November 2016

Aaro Aakash…….A Memologue of Leisure - Guest Post - Sunetra Lahiri

Dokka, the cottage for two where we stayed
I met Uday Hazra at a photography exhibition where he was one of the exhibitors. Till date I do not know exactly what he does for a living except that he is a writer, graphic artist, and photographer, has a philanthropic bent of mind and owns ‘Aaro Aakash’ which is neither a hotel nor a resort but rather a property having one big and one small cottage that he kindly allows his friends and relatives to stay in. Adjacent and older than ‘Aaro Aakash’ is ‘Anek Aakash’ but that property is for his personal use. He has been asking me to visit 'Aaro Aakash' before it becomes another concrete jungle and the sky becomes just a figment of imagination….. So this February before the summer heat became too much we, myself and my friend Lily, decided we would take up his offer.

We board an early morning train from Sealdah for Bolpur, Shantiniketan. It’s a grey day, cool; we refresh ourselves with paper cups of hot lemon tea from a passing vendor on the train.  It takes about three hours to reach our destination.

'Aaro Aakash'….10kilometre from Bolpur station is in a village – Kamarpara. The property is looked after by Basuda, the manager and Lalda, the cook and odd job man. They both live in the same village within shouting distance of the property. Basuda drives the brand new white Maruti 'Omni' and picks us up from Bolpur Station. When we reach 'Aaro Aakash' we find it picture perfect - rustic, organic, basic; the charm lies in its simplicity. Dokka, the cottage for two, lies at the end of the property separated from a bigger cottage beside a pond and amidst abundant greenery. Dokka has an open front porch. It has a swing, an old armchair and a charpoy. I stake claim to the charpoy much to my friend’s amusement. Lying on the charpoy watching a sun bleached February sky as sharp little neem leaves float down soundlessly to the ground is cathartic. The breeze, still cool with barely a hint of the coming summer, making gentle music as it passes through the trees. It is a moment of unmitigated bliss.

Ekka - the first cottage in Aaro Aakash

I look at my companion – who has quite recently finished her PhD in Philosophy. For four years while she was writing her thesis we did not travel much because of her commitments. We are kindred souls and need to dive deep into quiet to rejuvenate. This trip was her birthday gift to me. Sitting on the swing engrossed in a book she had carried all the way from home, content, peaceful and silent, she is the perfect travel companion – unobtrusive and non-invasive. It has always been like this…..the treasured company of someone in perfect tandem with your rhythm.
The door separating Ekka from Dokka

Lalda comes ambling down the narrow path…. Lunch is ready. Food is simple, fresh and hot, served with love on huge steel plates with matching glasses on reed mats laid on the raised table in a little thatched hut with mud walls. Rice is heaped on our plates. There are dishes of dal, vegetable curry, fried eggplant, and fresh water fish curry. We protest because we cannot eat so much. Lalda is disappointed to find how little we eat; he says the water is good, it will make us hungry and we should eat more. We smile, trustingly drink the water and soon are too full to think about evening tea.

There is nothing much to do and that suits us fine. We lie down on the porch furniture like languid overfed lizards of which there are too many and varied to notice. When I return and tell him about the burgeoning lizard population, Uday-da, who is rather passionate about the environment, ecology and all things that have life, says, “it’s their home too.” 
An abandoned abode on way to Lakhi Sayar
Towards evening, before the twilight slips into deep dusk we venture out to explore Lakkhi Sayar - a large water body. Much before coming here we have avidly followed Uday-da’s Facebook page which was full of photographs of the village, 'Aaro Aakash' and Lakkhi Sayar. It’s just round a bend in the road hidden by a little ridge about 500 yards from the gate. We climb easily, nimbly like the black goats grazing about. It’s a beautiful sight….a solitary boat at the edge of the bank, the sun reflected in broken ripples, birds wheeling and settling among dark trees on the far bank while darkness descended slowly. Like true amateurs, we try our best to capture the mood but must be content with the image etched on our mind. Along the winding path back to 'Aaro Aakash', we meet some village women returning from a day’s work in the field - colourfully attired, their sweat soaked vital faces glowing in the rays of the setting sun. 
The lone boatman  of Lakhi Sayar - the waterbody near Aaro Aakash

We return back and Lalda serves tea with biscuits. We refuse his offer of “telebhaja with muri” (deep fried pakoras with puffed rice). Lily sits on a weather beaten wooden bench in front of the other cottage sipping her piping hot beverage while I amble about busily taking pictures of the surrounding. The previous guests had left that morning so we were the only people on the property.

We spend the evening on the porch surrounded by Mortein coils. The place is mosquito heaven, surrounded by trees and water bodies. My friend reads articles and stories she has collected for just such an occasion. She is a good story teller, her voice smooth with the correct intonation. It’s a moment of … nirmal anand….. We are quite unaware of time till Lalda comes hurrying down the path carrying a hurricane lamp and announces that dinner is ready. The hurricane lamp brings back memories of a bygone time in Calcutta when whole portions of the city would be shrouded in darkness due to load shedding, lighted only by these glass lamps. They would get sooty every night and cleaning them out every day was a ritual. Somehow exams and homework and my childhood evenings will always be linked with these lamps – the smoky smell of kerosene and the acridity of singed hair when we leaned too close to the glass, our eyes full of sleep from the torpid heat and humidity.

After dinner we wander back to our porch and feel that it’s too early to turn in. But there’s not much else we can do. We call home and report that all’s well, finish our nightly rituals in silence, climb inside the mosquito net that Lalda has so thoughtfully hung for us over the bed, a low wooden chouki without headrest pushed against the wall near the window which looks out on the porch. We try to sleep but end up chatting instead, our body clock attuned to a more urban routine. We talk late into the night. What did we talk about? I cannot remember. Inconsequential nothings, I guess.

I wake up early, take out my camera and go out onto the porch. It’s eerily silent. The sun is a mystery – it’s there but I cannot see it. Fog lies thick and deep among the trees.  I sit down on the armchair and try to be one with the silence. After a while I take a walk, feeling the cool gritty soil underfoot. There is dew on the straggly grass that glistens like pearl. Faraway through the cotton-wool silence I hear the tinkling of cow bells. I do not know what hour it is, only becoming aware of time when   I see Lalda emerging through the fog, as if by magic, from some other dimension, carrying tea in a thick glass, asking when we would require hot water for our baths.
Subarnarekha - the bookstore everybody goes to

After breakfast Basuda drives us to Shantiniketan. We have been here before so we do not waste time doing the usual touristy things. We visit 'Subarnarekha', the bookstore near Viswa Bharati University, where one can find anything from the downright crowd pleasers to the esoteric to vintage to rare moth eaten books and out-of-print journals. It’s not very organised. Books weigh down overburdened shelves and are also stacked   on the floor standing in precarious piles and in every nook and corner. It is difficult to walk about in the narrow spaces. There are a few people in the shop and it is an intricate ballet negotiating the narrow spaces between books without knocking each other over. I let my friend spend a happy hour in the proximity of books without trying to venture in much myself for I’m clumsy and quite capable of causing an accidental book avalanche. The owners are laid back, “sukhi” people, who do not seem very interested in selling anything. In fact we waited a good while before the shop was opened, a little after 11 am. But the shop survives, I guess, because of the passion of a select clientele – those people who have such love for books that they are willing to rummage through dust and countless volumes stocked ad hoc, hoping to find one gem to add to their ever increasing library. 'Subarnarekha' is something of an institution. It’s been there for more than 30 years. Everyone’s been here from prominent Bengali writers, academicians and students – it’s a popular haunt of the intelligentsia.

We look at roadside shops selling myriad things from jewellery to clothes to saris to trinkets, leather bags, accessories and souvenirs but nothing catches our eye. We head to Alcha, the store in Ratan Pally whose owner Keya Sarkar is a friend. Alcha has a good collection of bags, saris and scarves, all locally sourced and manufactured. There is also a restaurant of the same name nearby, run by Keya’s husband Satish who makes lovely Spanish omelettes, slated to reopen soon with a revamped menu.

Fourteen years ago, I and Lily had been to Shantiniketan. We were young and broke. We had been to all the usual places in a cycle rickshaw which is now being slowly replaced by Totos, the Indian version of the Tuktuk. We head for Konkalitala because my friend Lily is a temple hound. I look around trying to find the familiar road that wound through the pristine countryside, stretched to the horizon on both sides. We had been there in monsoon and there had been an eerie calm before the storm, the sunlight falling through golden edged clouds making everything glitter. Now the road and the surrounding area around the temple have changed dramatically. Development has come to Shantiniketan. The horizon is no longer visible. All we see are ugly structures on either side. It’s no longer picturesque or pristine but we go nevertheless. After my friend offers puja to Goddess Kali, we get back to Shantiniketan, hungry.
We find a place to eat. We are sceptical about the food, being quite put off by the strange décor and not very clean washrooms. With much reluctance, we order Chinese. The place is understaffed and the few waiters are busy running about. Almost all tables are taken. We infer that it must be a popular joint. When our orders arrive, we find food is surprisingly good and non-greasy. We take our time over lunch and linger a while, finishing our fresh lime sodas. Then it is time to return.
Village road near Aaro Aakash

Basuda drives us back to 'Aaro Aakash'. It takes about half an hour. The silence embraces us like a cloak. It’s a little hot but not very. The late afternoon is spent lazing about on the porch. We fall asleep in the gentle heat. When I wake up it is nearing twilight. We must have napped for the better part of an hour. I wake up my friend and decide that we would like to explore the other side of Kamarpara. Cameras in hand, we walked down unpaved village roads clicking photos of whatever catches our fancy... The porous laterite soil sticks to our sandals. Though there is teeming life in every house for we can hear the low hum and chatter, babies crying, radios and we can smell the smokiness of coal fire in preparation for the evening meal. The roads are deserted except for stray dogs, an occasional cat, an old woman sitting at the entrance of her hut…..a young man returning home on his bicycle….. I’m delighted to find tortuous, gnarled trees which look as if they have been there since the beginning of time. We wander farther than desired, almost two kilometres from 'Aaro Aakash' and then decide that it would be prudent to return as it would get quite dark. Without streetlights -- we were not carrying a torch-- it would be difficult to negotiate these unknown roads.

We returned soaked in sweat to hot tea and village gossip. Lalda is voluble, talking about Uday-da’s generosity and philanthropic work and all that he has done for the village people. The evening rolls into night…. It’s been just two days that we have been here but we feel that we have been here longer than that. This place is timeless…in the sense that every day is much like the previous day so if one were not very careful it would be easy to forget mundane things like time, one’s spatial existence, the virtual reality of things….We do much the same thing as the previous evening. We speak of this and that….n’importe quoi….yet it makes us happy. Both of us, in our city avatars, are busy people - she with her academics and I with designing collections.

When I met Lily she was working in a school in another state and we only got to meet during vacations. I was once an avid letter writer and our friendship began through letters. We are bound by our love of travel, books and music… She is partial to Hindustani Classical Music particularly Ustad Rashid Khan and Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty while I have a more wide ranging interest but am drawn towards instrumentals and jazz. I have a modest library of books and I have shared the best ones with her. Her own stock of books is different – related to her studies though she does read Bengali journals and magazines voraciously. Both of us have enormous respect for the written word.

When she moved back to the city, we met more often. Lily is a good listener and, in the beginning, I had much to tell her but familiarity of all these years of being together has made words superfluous. Much like the art of writing letters, the art of conversation was dying. Sitting in that quiet place we were trying to resurrect it. We were surrounded by darkness, the sound of crickets, an occasional firefly flitting about. We consciously avoided using our mobile phones and realised that it was not very difficult. I was going through a very personal upheaval and Lily’s presence was calming.

Life like a many armed octopus, each arm leading outward to a whole universe of new worlds and returning back to a single source.....thoughts begin and move into an eternal, unfinished journey winding and weaving through a myriad of other worlds…...

In a world full of little moments –
Tucked in a fragrance, a feeling, a phrase......
Weaving a rich tapestry –
Of everything;
And sometimes nothing at all,
You bring me closer to my Earth.

We had forgotten what pleasure it was to have these kinds of rambling conversations amid unending silences without having the guilt that time was running out and things had to be done.

But time did run out in the virtual real world and the next day Basuda drives us back to Bolpur station where the waiting iron monster inexorably take us to the city and to our separate routine lives.

Sunetra describer herself as is eccentric; a philogalist, librocubicultarist, amateur author and artist who is brilliant in unimportant things. She trained at NIFT to become a designer while life had other plans. She is happy to be pottering about her workshop finding fault and complicating the lives of people who work for her.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Discovering the Extraordinary in an Ordinary Day


Housekeeping has become the focus of my life, for a while now. Its taken precedence over almost everything else. I did manage to make it to Couture Week and also do research and write a couple of articles. And I'm currently engrossed in discovering the story of Muslin, whenever I get time after the housekeeping chores. But work isn't happening in quite the same way as I've been used to. The mundane act of drinking tea, which inspired an enormous body of textile art, has now been overtaken by much more mundane tasks necessary for everyday living. The ordinary is demanding my attention.  I am finding creative ways to tackle this facet of being, but not without my fair share of griping and bitching, yelling and crying too. But it's got to be done, there's no-one else, so I've got to do it and relegate needle and thread to another life-time, it seems.
What I find the hardest to handle, is the staff. The thing I've discovered is that no-one listens. If you give instructions, the attention is clearly someplace else and things never get done as specified, which is soooo annoying!  It’s not really a workable solution, but I now insist they look at me while I speak and then make them repeat my instructions back to me. In doing so, whenever I remember to do it this way, I have found some reprieve. I'm reassured that I've been understood and black will be black and white, white.  I've been used to writing down what needed doing but at this point none of my staff are literate and it is getting very difficult. But, having said that, there are also some fun moments in the midst of all the frustration. 
This evening, I needed to get some packing tape. I was expecting someone to come see my work, which had recently returned from my exhibition in Kolkata. I would need the tape to repack the art-works, once I had shown them. I'm not a frequent visitor to the local market, so I wasn't sure where to go to get this. There is a Vyapar Kendra close by but it  is very strangely built and on the odd occasion that I have gone and discovered a shop that's useful, I've not been able to locate it on my next trip. And, I almost always get lost on my way out. Not wanting to go on a wild goose chase when my energy is not quite up to speed, I looked up Google for a shop I'd been to with a neighbour and knew that they stocked stationery items. There was a number to call, which I did. Thankfully, they had what I needed and kindly said they'd send someone to the outer gate once I got to Palam Vyapar Kendra. My neck and shoulder had been playing up and daily physio was helping but I was advised to cut down the swimming. I hadn't felt like swimming this evening, in any case, so I decided to cycle to PVK, as the market is commonly called. It's about a 12 - 15 minute walk, so it didn't take me any time at all cycling there.
When I called the shop, as planned, the call wasn't answered. I tried four times and eventually got a female voice who said it was the wrong number. Strange, I thought abhi toh meri baat issi number se toh hui thi. I walked into the only shop I know in this market and asked for directions for Memory Point, the stationery store. They very kindly sent someone to escort me there, which was gratifying.
I got my tape, clarified the phone conundrum, got their card for future reference and was heading out, when I spied a fruit and veg store. I didn't have my wallet with me, but there was some change left over from paying for the tape. It was enough to get 6 peaches, 1 kg Mussambi's for juice, a large beetroot to make a cold soup, some inspiringly aromatic pudina, ½  Kg pumpkin to make a delicious roast pumpkin salad with, some kundru for lunch tomorrow and drumsticks for sambhar. I just love drumsticks and the rest of the sambhar is incidental. I picked up an ample bunch, paid my bill and headed out with my bhajji shopping to my cycle which was parked outside Suraj Store where I generally buy the electronic stuff I need. I stuffed up the painted pink basket that my cycle has upfront, it was packed tight. The long drumsticks sticking out quite awkwardly.
As I hopped on the seat and began to pedal, I giggled to myself, imaging what I probably looked like to passersby. I mean it isn't exactly your everyday sight is it, to see a curly grey-haired  woman in culottes, cycling down the streets of Gurgaon, her pink cycle-basket stuffed to the brim with veggies, is it?
It was dark but even though the white culottes must have been clearly visible, sleepy Palam Vihar didn't seem to blink an eye. Or if they did, I didn't notice.
I've been feeling quite frustrated at having to give so much attention to things I hadn't done for over a decade. In order to function with some measure of equanimity, I've been telling myself : " I love housekeeping!" Repeating it over and over, allowing myself to feel a sense of pleasure doing the chores as I meditate each morning. Sometimes, like this evening, I surprise myself by doing things I haven't done for decades - and bhajji shopping is one such, where I've either ordered over the phone since the 1990's or someone's been around to do it. Today, I picked each peach myself, making sure they were just right to eat. I savoured the aroma of the mint leaves as I lifted a bunch off the shelf and realised that in telling oneself that you enjoy doing things you don't relish in the normal course of living, and you do end up doing just that! I had enjoyed the veggie shopping and loved cycling back home with my basket, full to the brim.
An ordinary became extraordinary, not just because I've not done bhajji shopping for a while and thus savoured it. But for being reminded just how one can work successfully towards mastering the mind in small but significant ways. It was this which made an otherwise uneventful, ordinary day, into a memorable one.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Does Every Cloud Have A Silver Lining?

I enjoy the monsoon sky, at the best of times, but more so when I’m tied down by household chores and drained by housekeeping woes. Then its nature and keeping company with her that lightens my heart. The best part of my day is 5.00 pm when I go down to the pool for my swim. It's usually after I've done sixty laps that I walk around the garden and reflect on the birds and ants and other little things that catch my attention. They refresh the mind, allowing it to go beyond the mundane - finding something of beauty, something to cheer about, in an otherwise ordinary and often frustrating day.
But today, as I was showering before entering the pool, I found myself staring right up at a grey cloud which had a delicate, silver lining. In that moment, I forgot that I was in a swimsuit in the central courtyard of the condominium where three towers overlooked the pool, and almost every domestic staffer or labourer and driver or resident had a ringside view. I dashed towards my swimming bag in my wet costume and water dripping of my limbs. I quickly wiped my hands on the towel hanging off the back of the chair, and took out my phone. I just had to capture that delicate, silver line behind the grey cloud. And I spent a good five to seven minutes, attired in a wet swimming costume, craning my neck this way and that, angling my phone and head to get just the right view. And with the sun in front of me, no matter that there was cloud cover, getting that silver lining to look as ethereal as it was to the naked eye, was a complex affair. Besides, clouds do not hang around, so the formation changed, the silver lining became even more fascinating and me and my phone-camera were enchanted and fully engaged. It was only later that I realised that it may well have been quite a spectacle for any onlooker. I was too absorbed to have noticed anyone around and hoped that it didn’t look too crazy. But alas, even if it did what could I do about it now?
I'd had an annoying day. I've been struggling to run my home and also do some creative work, without my home cum studio support of twenty-four years. In a huff, he'd called it quits and I'd had enough of his threats so I duly accepted without demur. But it's been tough. Today, Laxmi, my maid whose been with me for about three years and is the only one aside from me now, who knows the drill, pulled one stunt after the other and I was all but tearing my hair out. She has this terrible attitude of never really listening when I tell her things. We'd had a good start to the day, because I'd made her repeat the instructions as they were numerous. She handled that part well. It was silly things that she was getting wrong and instead of asking or informing was taking decisions she had no business to. I was right there, just a knock on the door, away, for her to ask, but it's anybody's guess why she didn't. I was thinking about this on my way down and thought that she's terrified at the best of times, it's just the way she is, and in the bargain she's always tense and therefore doesn't seem to get things right.
As I did my laps, and stroke after stroke in free-style, as my palms sliced into the water sending bubbles towards my face, I thought about the silver lining behind that dark cloud. I have heard the phrase 'every cloud has a silver lining' for the better part of my life - the implication being that there's always light, or wisdom, behind the darker moments of being. But more often than not, in those moments, it's hard to see the lighter side. Revisiting the cloud-view that I had seen as I’d showered, a realization dawned that the cloud itself can't see the lining, but an observer, someone standing a distance away, can. It gives us a better perspective to view things. In that guise, as an observer, I thought to myself, that maybe if Laxmi would just let herself feel her fear, maybe she'd find her way through life in a more constructive way, allowing her innate intelligence to come into play.
I swam a few more lengths with this thought, my head bobbing up and down, limbs splayed frog-like as I did a length of the pool using the breaststroke, moving northwest, in the direction of  the silvered-clouds, which had predictably moved on. As the cloud-cover darkened, and grey pigeons hovered around the pool dipping their beaks, the mood turned grey and even the aquamarine waves now carried a greyish tinge.  And in that sombre moment, submerged in an otherwise empty pool – I was the only one swimming at this hour, I voiced out loud “but how many of us really do that” - letting ourselves feel fully every moment, every experience and every feeling. And is it possible to live that way and also lead a productive and meaningful life?
I know that I don't always let myself 'feel' things fully enough. As a child, I'd retreat into my inner space to allow myself to wallow in whatever feelings came up. I would just wallow and the feeling would pass but it was said that I was sulking and too intense, and the implication was derogatory. As I grew up and started voicing feelings, I'd be told, let it be or get over it and more in that vein. So, in many ways, I've trained myself to get past the feelings as quick as I can, using positive affirmations or expressing them through my art or whatever. But what I have discovered, of late, is that it only works temporarily; the feelings do not get resolved in any substantial way. I find the silver lining or think that I have found one or something distracts my attention. But I have realised that trying to find a positive outcome, to a situation that one feels negative about presently, is not always the best way forward. The mood may be raised philosophically but the feeling hasn’t really had its say, so it comes back to haunt me. Actually it never really leaves, just transfers from the mind onto the body in some way. So, I have been wondering if there is a more efficient way, such as sulking – allowing oneself to wallow in the feeling, swim in it for a while, till it passes of its own accord?
I lay on my back, doing a back-stroke this time around, as I contemplated this idea, looking up at the large expanse of sky now turning quite dark. There were patches of white in between but the clouds were much darker than the cloud that I had spied earlier on, the one with the silver lining. These clouds just merged into each other and there was no silver lining to them. It may have something to do with the fact that I was now looking South-East and the sun was behind me, but it made me realise something: that it may well be best to just let the feelings be, because not every cloud does have that silver lining.
Not every story ends like a fairy tale, happily ever after or with some positive outcome arising from a negative situation. We cannot always find some wisdom to draw on from unpleasant experiences and while it is useful to think positively and try and find that silver lining, it does not always work, does it?  New age ideology is full of positive thinking and I’ve seen the benefits of it too, but the truth is that not all clouds have a silver lining.
The promise of rain was thwarted and the dark clouds pulled away and it seemed as though a vortex of white was churning, within the circle they formed around the lighter coloured clouds. Gradually, they too moved apart and an untarnished, unfazed, bright azure shone through. I took that as a sign to say that whether or not we could find that silver lining wasn’t relevant, what is significant is that moments pass, moods change, feelings alter and life goes on. Finding meaning in everything may not always be the most efficient way.
I sat on my favourite bench in the park and thought to myself:  As humans we have many feelings, there is sorrow and pain and there is fear and anger and this is the story we need to focus on, for the narrative to move forward in any evocative way. Our feelings carry meaning for our lives, they tell us how we feel in any given situation and acknowledging them, allowing them to tell us what is wrong takes a lot of courage and requires us to spend time, with the feeling without judging it. I wonder how I could convey this to Laxmi, but in the meanwhile I decided it was worthwhile exploring this for myself. Could I step back from the business of things, the world and connectivity and all that keeps my mind distracted and allow myself to be that child again, and sulk for a while?

Weeding Them Out, Again and Again

Walking barefoot on the grass, even after the meagre monsoon we've had thus far, is so much fun. I've got to be careful of the geckos that jump out of nowhere but, other than that the grass is moist, it's lush and cushiony and adding to this are weeds aplenty. They're quite decorative even though they do detract from the evenness of the lawn.

 I've seen Anup, the Maali, spend a whole morning uprooting a portion of them in the garden. In the middle of hot summer days, he crouches, moving patch by patch, uprooting the weeds one by one - in an endeavour to remove them all. And he does it too. For a day or so there are no weeds to be seen, but then suddenly, like an underground army that's strategized to reclaim lost ground, it emerges as if by sleuth. They're all over the garden again and he gets down to removing them all over again - it's a never ending process. I once asked if it irks him to have to do this day in and day out, for it seemed like a thankless task. He said it did, but with the gravity of one rooted in the wisdom of the soil, he added "ab kissi ko toh karna hai, toh kar leta hu!"

Each day as I enjoy the grass underfoot and see the weeds sprawling across the lawn, or don't see them, I remember this conversation. It's so profound that I think it would be foolish to forget. We each have our chores in this world. Some we've chosen consciously and some we've inherited karmically. As Anup the Maali would advise it's got to be done, it's fallen in your lot, so may as well do it with grace. Easier said than done, isn't it?

For me, the most tedious of chores is not that different to what Anup the Maali does. I'm referring to weeding out the mind with its needless thoughts. Unlike his process where he tugs at a clump and uproots the offending weed, dealing with the mind is quite a bit different. But not unlike the weeds that stubbornly return, so do these thoughts, that doubt, that chide, that worry and more in the same vein. What I find most annoying is, having to deal with them, in some situation or other, or even with the same person, again and again. It never seems to end. But,as always, nature has her ways of reassuring. For today, I despair less of the relentless thoughts in this mind, knowing that weeds are persistent things and there's no point cursing them or one-self. I just need to do what's needed - weed them out, again and again.

Thinking about this, I passed by the Champa trees and took a long-long breath, with my nostrils deeply immersed, reaching towards the aromatic yellow centre of her sensual, creamy-white petals. It's such a sweet fragrance that one whiff just isn't enough. I've created a sort of ritual where I stop by, any, one group of flowers and take three long breaths. After each, sweet and aromatic breath, an almost involuntary thank you is voiced out loud.  It’s just automatic, as if my soul is utterly grateful for this divine fragrance. And it is unquestionably divine, filling me so totally, in that moment with a sublime sense of being y- where regardless of how the day has unfolded, I feel so totally in love with life.

I want to hold onto this beautiful moment. I sit down on the bench a few yards away, facing the Champa trees and begin to write my thoughts on my iphone. I know that I'm trying to prolong a moment that's passed and can't be reclaimed. But writing has this way of indulging the senses in reliving the moment in memory. Recreating the scene or essence of, through words is akin to meditation, where my mind is totally focussed upon what I've seen, felt and experienced. It's not the same moment, but it's equally sublime.

I've countless things to tend to upstairs. The evening is passing, I don't really want to leave but soon a couple of flies come and sit on my arm, shoulder, legs, nose - just about everywhere - irritating me. I try swatting them away, and continue enjoying the summer evening pregnant with the promise of rain, but it's no good. Ants begin crawling up my legs and more flies flit around and sit all over me. I'm swamped with these creatures, as if nudging me to get up and get down to working again. I'd like to linger, but head upstairs instead, to tackle my share of thankless chores.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Have you ever looked a Pigeon in The Eye?

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a pigeon?

I was just settling down for some meditation this evening when two pigeons outside my window, caught my attention. It's just past half past six and each day at this hour, many pigeons congregate on the railing of an absentee neighbours's apartment. They line up on the rail, in between the curves and lines of the wrought-iron balustrade to sleep or rest at night. It's a crowded railing dormitory, where I can see more pigeons than iron. Feathers in shades of grey and the pigeons' creepy pinkish claws, overtake the otherwise green, painted grill.

However, these two pigeons were sitting aside from the congregation. They'd chosen the pipes outside the bathroom shaft on my floor and each was seated on the circular joints  of the wide, rainwater pipe which is fixed alongside the bathroom wall. The two pigeons were seated about a foot apart, one below the other. What caught my attention was the vacant look in their eyes. Since the pipes are not visible from where I sat, and are probably placed well into the walled area, all I could see of each pigeon were the beak and it's left eye. One small orb, the colour of which is sort-of raw sienna infused with golden yellow, is pierced at its dead central point, with a tiny black dot.

The human eye is so expressive and all the four dogs that I've lived and grown up with, their eyes were always so filled with expressiveness. Labradors, especially, have such emotive eyes. So, I was quite taken aback to see these dull-expressionless eyes, staring vacantly into space. Both were doing exactly the same thing and give or take a glance, the look was ditto.

I see pigeons everyday. I don't really want to see them because they make such an unholy mess, but they abound in such large numbers that I can't help but see them virtually every moment, every hour, everyday.  In the monsoons, their presence is particularly irksome because, the wetness of rain on their accumulated poo, emits a really foul odour. But, ten years of living with them, I've realised that ignoring them isn't going to help, so I've learned to deal with the mess. There's an elaborate cleaning system in place, but each morning the verandah is covered with their crap and fallen feathers. It never ceases to amaze me just how many feathers they shed each night or how much they can poop.

Because I didn't really want to acknowledge their presence, I guess I hadn't ever looked them in the eye. I feed them every morning and have written about their feeding antics, but looking into their eyes was something I'd never done before. It was an entirely new and surprisingly revealing experience.

Every once in a while, one of the two pigeons within my view, sitting outside my window, would tuck its face - lower it into itself, almost like cowering - but maybe that's the way they cuddle themselves to sleep? Anyway, the strangely vacant eye would close and all I could see was a light grey indent where the yellow and black orb had been. They don't have eyelids but a kind of veil covers up the eye with a sheath of feathers - well, I don't know this, but it looks as if the texture of the cover that eclipsed the orb is akin to that of its feathers.

I considered the possibility that the vacant stare was a process of winding down before a nap. But the other pigeon was actively looking here and there. It's posture was quite expressive - especially the neck region but the eye still had this petrified look. I wondered if they were in a state of 'terror alert' because they felt threatened in the cemented towers that had risen where once there had been trees. It's habitat, at least here in Gurgaon, had changed considerably from lush green farmland to painted green cemented facades and wrought-iron grills. No-one accustomed to the languid landscape of a delicately billowing green and yellow mustard crop or lush wheat fields could really feel comfortable in the urban clatter that is our life here today. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we adjust, I'm not sure that it's ever a comforting space to be uprooted thus, is it?

And  then I noted that the napping one, didn't nap for more than a couple of minutes at a time. It would retreat the light grey cover, into some pocket behind the eye, to reveal its petrified yellow and black retina again. Then it would lower its chin so that the feathers on the neck were ruffled by the posture. No long, elegant neck here, it was shortened and in pushing it into its body the feathers gathered, opening out in what didn't seem comforting, but a ruffled or agitated state. It was peculiar to observe how it appeared to cocoon itself - at least the neck, in a not so comforting state. But who knows, maybe it was comforting to have a part of its body thus enveloped by itself - like giving yourself a hug? It too doesn't look particularly elegant but it does work, right?

I kept my vigil, I wanted to look into those eyes again. I wanted to understand this apparent lack of expression. Unlike the human eye where the eye-ball moves and we can soften the gaze in love, roll our eyes in distaste and squint to see without one's spectacles, the pigeon's orb was stationary. It just didn't move. And through all the shenanigans of its companion a foot below, its eyes, and of this one I could see both left and right, remained petrified - and totally unchanging in their glance.

In our human state, at the core of one's being, is an unchanging space which is often called the Self. This is changeless and unperturbed regardless of what unfolds in our lives. The mind may rave and rant, throw tantrums or fall hopelessly in love,  but in this space it's all acceptable without demur.  This non-being space is not seen. It can only be felt. Somehow, the pigeon too seems to have been imbued with this facility -  to view the world with an unmoving stare. Albeit one that was petrified - almost implying that it had internalised its fear to such an extent that it's manifestation had become genetic and now applicable to the entire species.

Are we heading in the same direction?

With an increasing frequency of terrorist attacks, rape, murder and suicides, along with curtailed freedom of dress and expression, topping the long list of woes that plague the human life, is the fabric of our presence and its essence of love, moving towards an over-dye of fear?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Bird-Signs in the sky

This evening in the pool, looking up into the skies, grey and cloudy. I chanced upon the flight of birds, up, up, up and up, flying really high. Black silhouettes against a darkening sky, I couldn't tell which specie of birds they were. They could have been pigeons and more than likely they were. The height at which they flew, however did make made me question the possibility that it was a flock of pigeons. I'm no ornithologist, nor avid bird watcher so, I really couldn't tell and besides, what the species was, wasn't relevant. 

What caught my attention and momentarily stemmed the flow of my breath, making me gasp with delight, was the perfect formation they flew in. It was like the ones we have heard of and seen in videos and photographs of migrating birds. I'd never seen anything like it before - not been a witness to an actual flight. 

The pigeon abounds in the crevices and eaves of my apartment building in Gurgaon and I've often seen them flying around. It's a lovely sight to see birds soaring high into the limitless sky. And very inspiring too! But, I'd never seen them fly in such a perfect formation and one which was sustained, by the flock of birds that drew it in the sky, for a considerable distance and length of time. Like a choreographed and well rehearsed performance, their movements were perfectly aligned and timed to perfection. 

One bird, in the centre, was pointing the way as others panned out on either side, a little lag behind each bird, followed another and another and many more - at least ten on each side. They flew in a near perfect 'V' formation that never quivered in their flight, nor was it disturbed by cloud or breeze. It was a flawless 'V'

I lay on my back, in the cooling aquamarine water of the pool below, watching them intently, without moving a limb. I was mesmerized by this unusual sight, so minuscule to my vision, on the earth, miles below their soaring height. They flew from South-West to North-East and as I delighted in the spectacle, I said to myself: yeah! It's a 'V' for vict.....stopping short of finishing the sentence. Remembering the recent spate of terror acts, adding to the atrocities that are enacted each day, somewhere or other, on some animal, place, person or thing, how could any creature living on this planet signal to alien beings, angels  or spirits that reside in universes parallel to and beyond ours, any sign of victory? 

What has anyone inhabiting this earth got to be victorious about? So, they must have been sending out a warning to everyone out there, above, below and around them. To anyone who was tuned into their frequency, it could well have been a signal to say that it was time to take flight; for this world, or the region of the universe they were leaving, was a dangerous place to live in. Not one where nature in all its munificence was resplendent in victory, but one where her beings were filled with the venomous 'V' of violence.

But, the more I thought about it, reflecting upon what I'd seen and how I'd gasped in delight. I couldn't equate this response as one that had read a signal of distress. Maybe, what the birds were telling us, was that if we rose high, transcending the baser tendencies of our being - that therein lay our victory.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

मैंने तो इसे use ही नहीं किया

Laxmi is pint sized, not even four feet tall and is thin as a stick. She barely speaks. She's very shy and nervous and yet, paradoxically, she works in a quietly self-assured sort of way.  She came to work for me about two years ago and I wasn't sure she was old enough to be working but was told that she was 18 years old and that everyone in her family was extra petite. The man who brought her to me was her cousin brother-in-law and he said she'd done a stint at the Ansal's club, here, in Palam Vihar. I figured they must have got their paper work in order to put her on their rolls, so it was all right to take her on. Not having been to school there was no way to verify and I don’t think that in the villages they bother with things like a birth certificate, so I had no choice but to just take his word for it. .She was raw from the point of experience of working in a home. Training her was Mahipal's job because she was really green and I couldn't have done it. She basically cleans the apartment and other chores like washing clothes and dishes that don't really require her to be educated.

For the better part of two years, I have really had very little to say to her and vice versa. Gradually, I noted, every time Mahipal was on leave, she had really picked up quite a lot of other chores and was doing them quite adequately. She's learned to make the beds, dust and even lay the table for lunch. She doesn't speak much, not even in response to questions. She has this terrified posture all the time that I've often wanted to (but I don't) take hold of her tiny frame and shake her up - everything is so tightly held within that she just can't speak.

She's a decent enough worker. Although sometimes a bit of a shirker, quite unpredictable and she does things is a maddening way without using her brain. A shelf was wobbling in my meditation room so the music player had been left on the bed. A carpenter willing to undo and re-install the shelf took a while to find as Ansal's, the builders, have built very kaccha walls. So it sat on the bed for over a year. Last month the shelf was repaired and I put the music player back on it. For a week, I found that when she went to clean the room each morning, she'd remove it from the shelf to put it back on the bed. I'd put it on the shelf in the evening and she'd do it again the next day. It went on for a full week because each day I'd forget until I saw it removed from the shelf in the eveing, and by then she had left for the day. I had to make special note tell her that its rightful place was on the shelf and not on the bed! It's something I took for granted that she'd have understood, since the shelf was repaired in her presence; common sense? But she didn't figure that out.  That's how limited is her capacity to think. And adding to this, her lack of communication skills also really irks. She's totally illiterate. She cannot read numbers or even count change accurately.

These past two months Mahipal has been away so I have been very short staffed and had to do a lot of housekeeping chores I would not otherwise deal with. The persistent doorbells with delivery of stores and supplies are very disturbing, not to mention the numerous phone calls that I have to make to order them. So, each day I make an effort to teach her to a to tell the vendors who do the deliveries at home that she cannot read and ask them to show her what they have brought - “क्या लाये हो”  and where is the item mentioned in the bill and how much do they have to be paid – “बिल में कहाँ लिखा है और  कितने पैसे देने है” and somehow we've come to a point that she has understood the merit of doing this and tells them she's अन्पड़ [illiterate] so please do the needful. They don't really have a choice, so when she does ask, they take her through each item in the bag and thankfully we've figured it out such that I don't have to open the front door with every doorbell and she's now learning to take on this responsibility - more relevant is that in talking to the vendors, she's more confident about dealing with them. It's quite sweet how they oblige and show her. I actually watched the sabziwala [vegetable vendor] do it the other day, taking out one thing at a time and pointing it out to her on the bill. Today, she actually came with a vitamin I normally take, to check if it was the right one, because the packaging was different and she didn’t recognise it.  So, it works. I am not certain that she does follow this process of checking all the time, but at least some of the time I have proof of her conscientiousness in this regard.

But, despite all the strides we've taken, the lack of language skills and her innate reservation about speaking is intimidating. I'm scared to leave her alone in the apartment because if there's a mishap she cannot even call the guard on the intercom as she doesn't know how to use the phone and can't read numbers. And I don't like her leaving the front door open when no-one else's around because however safe the condominium may be, she's still a young girl who just can't stand up for herself well enough.

However, there are times when this near-mute, unlettered, intense, well-intentioned girl surprises me. She'll remember to make my tea on time every afternoon and bring it on the dot at 4 pm sharp, on a tray that's perfectly laid.  She'll show the new staff the ropes even when I'm not reassured that she knows them herself. And yesterday was the icing on the cake.

I like my morning tea light and it needs precisely four minutes to brew. When she looks at the clock in the kitchen, each day, it ends up an approximation of the necessary 4 minutes, so it's a different shade of brew with too much flavour or too little. So, I got her, what I thought would be, a foolproof kitchen timer. You had to turn it anti-clockwise to wind it up and then clockwise to 4, and it would ring an alarm in 4 minutes. On Sunday, I'd taken to using it myself. A pale blue, plastic teddy bear shape with a nice round tummy it was a cute toy in the kitchen and I always smiled when I set it up. This Sunday, the one just gone by, I found something was not quite right with the timer. The alarm didn't go off.  The next day I asked Laxmi what had happened why the timer wasn't working. Had she broken it? She said something in her usual muffled incomprehensible nothingness. I got a bit stern and repeated myself. Sometimes that's the only way to get her to open her mouth and get the words out coherently. What I heard stopped me in my tracks.

This unlettered, village girl, who frustrated me with her unfathomable ways, confounded me with her irrational fear and more said to me: “मैंने तो इसे use ही नहीं कियाI” I was stunned. I wasn't sure I'd heard right, so I asked her to repeat what she had said. And she said it again: “मैंने तो इसे use ही नहीं कियाI” [I haven’t even used it] Uneducated as she was she’d somehow picked up and used an English word, constructing a sentence using two languages, perfectly. How was that possible?  I was flabbergasted. It really made me think about the idea of intelligence versus education.

How does it work that someone so unlettered, who didn’t know the meaning of words could use them with such accuracy?  And then, what causes her to feel so much fear despite this innate intelligence that enables language skills in the absence of any formal education? It says a lot for our capacity to be present and channel the flow of our natural intelligence. Of how, when we want to learn things we pick them up with ease and when the same things become a chore, then we plod and make the stupidest of mistakes. I’ve observed this even with myself that when something comes from the heart, where there is passion, it not only flows but comes forth in the most brilliant ways, which I know that I could not have managed had I used my mind and its limited knowing.

I do realise the value of education in whatever field one pursues for this engenders confidence to enable the higher intelligence to come into play, especially in challenging scenarios. I find it particularly true with spiritual principles which most of us do not study and where most of it is innate. But when you hear people talk about it, because you may not have analysed it for yourself in quite the same way, confusion reigns and the urge to study and figure it out through observation of oneself and correlation with what the masters say becomes a must, just to enable a conscious understanding of what actually comes very naturally to all us. There are other benefits, but this facility to correlate is crucial to one’s confidence levels, even though the actual process is innate. And illiterate Laxmi with her competent usage of language in saying “मैंने तो इसे use ही नहीं किया”, provides a perfect example of how the absence of formal learning does not preclude intelligent comprehension and use of complex dual language skills through observation and application.

How she learned to use this word in this way, where and when, is something that I will probably never know because asking her would be expecting the impossible – because even if, even if she understood my question, which was highly unlikely, but even if she did understand, she would, more than likely, silently walk away because articulating was always such an effort.Soon after she'd joined, I found she that was an अँगूठा छाप। So I asked her if she'd like to learn to sign/write her name. In her predictably unpredictable way, she'd hesitated and then agreed and so I requested Mahipal to teach her. The next month, when it came to pay day, instead of the stamp pad to put her thumbprint on the receipt, Laxmi came with a ballpoint pen in her hand. I was impressed. I waited patiently - she took aeons to sign. I finally left her alone to do it as she was shaking with nervousness. When I got back to my desk, I found that she'd signed LAXMI in bold capitals, in English, across the page. Trembling letters that didn't stand up straight in a line. And, some two years later, they shake and wobble as much, even though she's more confident about signing and does it as quick or slow as anyone else.

But “मैंने तो इसे use ही नहीं किया” is something else, isn't it? I still cannot fathom how she manages to get some things right and sometimes does the craziest things that defy the possibility that she can use her mind intelligently. Not unlike the rest of us who may be highly educated and lettered, this seems a perfect reminder that education does not necessarily facilitate intelligence and neither is a degree in any subject a prerequisite for intelligent enquiry into it. It’s innate; if only we have the confidence to channel it.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Naive Life

I'm not a happy winter person. I don't like the heat either but I'd rather be hot and dress light than bundle up. I've spent a fair amount of my life in the hills - more particularly at a boarding school perched on the top of a mountain in the Himalayas. And then, of course, I've also battled the English winters where the sun hardly shone, but the cold was more bearable and more fashionable than the winters of Delhi and Gurgaon.

These cities are not built to endure the cold. We are all geared up for 45 degrees Celsius but have no planning to combat 4 degrees or colder. I realise that we'd possibly have less legroom if we had radiators along the walls, as well as air-conditioners. But when I think about it, since I end up wrapped up and not moving anyway, I'd be much happier with the radiators hissing on the walls. It would be warm and  far better than being dressed in layers and layers of clothing, padding the limbs such that I never get a sense of how much weight I've actually put on - gorging on my favourite winter snack which is peanut brittle - more fondly called chikki. Oh, how I love my chikki - it trumps chocolate. And that's saying a lot.

It was early December and the cold hadn’t really hit us but, every day, one more room heater was taken out in anticipation. And the light Rajasthani quilt or what we grew up calling tullaies was packed away and the heavier Duvet graced the bed instead. Yes, winter was knocking and the mornings so hard to get up to. Usually, I love waking up to sunrise, but when days run into each other where fog has eclipsed any illusions of sunrise, there’s nothing to inspire an early morning rising on my part. I mean there's nothing poetic about the sun grappling with the polluted winter air in Gurgaon, is there?  

Honestly, I'd much rather have the hot sun than wake up to grey skies, which just send me right back under the covers and then I'm so late starting out every day. And that's not good, especially when whatever light there is during the day begins to diminish by 5 pm, so then I’m upset about the cold and miffed with myself too! Yes, yes, I know that it's better than the sun setting at 3 pm as I remember it during my college days, in London. But the point is that then I was living closer to the Arctic Circle and not the Equator.

I've tried telling myself that the change in temperatures is refreshing. I get it intellectually but I never feel it. There's no sense of wonder and charm in airing out the sweaters, shawls, jackets, gloves, scarves and woolly hats. It's a necessity and they take up so much cupboard space too. Not to mention how much space is needed to store them for half the year, when they're not in use. Woollens are so bulky!

If there is anything that I do I like about winters, it is sitting in the sun. But my apartment doesn't get enough sun in the right doses, at the right time, in the appropriate space so that I can enjoy it all day long. But, on the days that it does manage to get the better of the city's pollution and shine warm and bright, I do manage to soak in a little. Perhaps not enough to top up my Vitamin D quotas but it's better than nothing.

This December, there were many flats being repaired or renovated and the cacophony of drills, hammers and screeching marble cutters resounded. In winter there’s no white noise of the fan or air-conditioners to mask these noises during the day but it's a much worse situation at night. I hear my neighbours' telephone conversations. I can hear them pull the flush, draw water from the taps and their music too. And to hear their children scampering above and below in the silence of the night, when I’m all bundled up in my duvet, is almost as torturous as the hammering three floors below and to my right or left, during the day. For some reason, everyone seems to speak louder during winter and each morning when the building's cleaners arrive, I feel as if I'm in a fish market - the racket they make is unbearable. I've no idea what they get so animated about and, nine winters on, they haven't altered the natter that grows louder as the floors rise higher.   On more than a few occasions, I've also been woken up in the dead of night, alarmed by dheenchak music. The guards that man the adjoining E and F towers were found enjoying some Bollywood music with their radios or phones blaring as if the night was theirs to do anything, just to stay awake. Even if it meant that residents, who are light sleepers like me, were compelled, against their will and desire, to keep vigil with them.

And on the subject of noise, the preferred season for noisy Indian weddings is also the winter months. So, most evenings, my redial number is the local Police Chowki where the munshi and I go through the same ritual every evening. The phone rings and a male voice says: “Namashkar, police  thaana Palam Vihar.” And I respond, “Namashkar, mein Celebrity Homes se bol rahi hu" Someone somewhere is playing very loud music. “It's too loud, apne ghar mein chaen se baith nahin sakti, could you please send someone” and more in that vein. Sometimes, they fail to identify where the music is coming from and I get calls from the riders on their beat. My phone is perpetually on silent mode, so they get voicemail.

These days Vodafone sends a message for each call that goes to voicemail so I know which number has left a message and can choose to check or not. And with these calls from the riders, I opt not to because I haven’t a clue where the music is coming from in any case and it’s a pointless conversation that adds to my angst.  At some point, the next day, when I need to retrieve a message from a known source, I listen to numerous such messages they have left that never go beyond hello. "Hello!" And then a few more aggressive and exasperated "hullo, hullo, hullo" and then on an aside - "koi nahin baat kar raha hai" - and then something unintelligible that fades into silence. And it never changes. Voice mail is a funny thing; even my driver can't bring himself to leave me a message on it. I know that my friends too complain about leaving a message because they refuse to talk to a machine. And many have stopped calling me altogether - which pretty much means that I'm the one that has to do the calling. Especially since almost all now have adopted the stance of uff! It’s impossible to get you on the phone, so we've given up calling.

And in the bleakness of low-light winters and the cold, that I'm not really too fond of, I now miss the warmth of many conversations too. But, my latest accomplishment has been heartening. And riding my pink cycle I pedal around, within the perimeter of the condominium, enjoying the freedom of wheels, being out in fresh air and more - more so when the wind doesn't catch my ears and freeze them. But thankfully this winter it was not quite cold enough for that – at least not for long, so I enjoyed my 10Km cycling run each evening with a light jacket, which doesn’t qualify as heavy clothing, so I didn’t feel like a plumped up chicken all ready to be baked. Well, there was that one week, or was it two, when the winds howled and it did get quite chilly. But addicted to my cycling, I just had to get out, so I bundled up with gloves and hat and scarf and sweater and jacket and sometimes even two pairs of socks!

 I found myself droning on and on, albeit silently within myself, about my winter grouses, before winter actually hit us and then more so when one was swathed in woollens. At this point the droning really began wearing me down, more so than the woollens. I hate that uncomfortable voice in my head, complaining and complaining and complaining about the cold, but more than the cold, the noises that grow louder in the cold weather. And the noise in my head was about to explode, when on one of my cycling rounds, it was around my 3rd or 4th round, when the noise abated enough for me to 'think' and hear that voice inside my head. A voice, unheard but heeded, which silently bade me look at the flowers.

In that instant, I felt chided for being such an ungrateful whine-bag, remembering that one of the blessings of winters here, were the flowers. But, having said that, our hot, summer season does sport radiant Gulmohur, drooping sunshine-yellow Amaltas and my favourite, fragrant Frangipani. And, as I pedalled on, treading the yellow dribbles of shedding Gulmohur trees, I was reminded of how bald they looked in colder climes - like skeletons in the park. But yes, at the right angle of viewing and when the street lamps are lit at night, they do cast interesting shadows on the circular building at the far end of the complex, popularly known as the 'Gol' building, even though it is named Celebrity Suites.

It's horrid to be chided, especially by one’s own soul, for not being grateful enough. It’s even worse than the complaints one drones on about. It’s horrid to see, how not in control of my mind I am prone to be. It's horrid, horrid and horrid, to be chanting complaints but I just can't pretend to be grateful and delight in wonder at the marvels of the world when the noise of discontent fills my head. And, to top it all, deride myself for allowing them to go on and on and on and eventually create the life I have - that noisy cacophonic existence instead of the peace and quiet I desire. I mean it's horrid because, at night, I can sit for a while listening to the peaceful hiss of silence and am ready for slumber, when my youthful neighbours will stomp into their home at 11pm and begin to party. And that is when I've just about appeased most of my stress to settle down for the night.

I’ve been working with the idea of subconscious patterns trying to fathom this whole concept, so I do ask myself, what is it that I think, what thoughts are creating such a cacophonic life? Is it really a reflection of the noise inside my head? I mean, I know that the spiritual masters say I must take responsibility for my life because it's what I think most of the time that's creating it. That it is not what I want but that unconscious chant inside my head that is manifesting this life as it unfolds. The philosophy being that what you focus upon is what you get, so if we are obsessing over something, afraid of its impending doom, it is said that we are more likely to get that instead of what we would prefer instead. But, then I think: what about between 2-4 pm every day and all day Sunday, when the labour isn't permitted to work? Or when the Police do manage to track the wedding or party and persuade them to tone it down? Or when my neighbours do pay heed to the guards carrying my complaint. Does it mean that it's time-bound? And this too is created by me, because I have been vocal about these guidelines? But it's the norm for all buildings in Gurgaon. So does that mean that everyone living in condominiums carry the same unconscious chant inside their heads?

But the thing is that I have learned that I can't control the complaining chant by snubbing or suppressing it. The only way I can still the mind is to allow it expression. Anything else is nothing short of anarchy. But, when I can speak to my heart's content and be heard, it's peaceful. It's blissful and the world seems a much more charming place. 

That day, as I cycled around the block one more time, I cribbed about the fact that I couldn't control the misery chant anymore and said out loud, to convince no-one but myself, that I didn't need to control it. And that’s  when the shy blooms of white chrysanthemums beckoned me stop, get off my pink ‘Miss India Gold’ bike and take a long and hard look at these flowers that exult and bloom in the season I dread the most.

I took out my phone and zoomed into those talon-like petals that were opened wide, the sunshine yellow centre of pollen-filled stamens, inviting the birds and bees. Defenceless in their vulnerability, they remained motionless, a mere flicker in the occasional whiff from the breeze. I zoomed in close and then moved my lens around and my attention was caught by the young buds. The full blooms were daring and bold in their approach, knowing they competed with each other and that there were hundreds of pots around - all white, all perfectly formed, all awaiting a visitation- the moment they were born for. The moment they unfolded for, that moment of bonding to diminish the divide - that sense of separation. But it was the buds, each curled sepal, uncurling, unfolding, stretching - one by one, slowly opening up, that were more sensuous than the emboldened flowers on display. 

I zoomed in with my phone camera, and closer still, until all I could see were blurred hues of yellowish green merging into white. Moving out, the camera selected the buds again and this time when I looked, I saw the petals as if they were claws reaching out to life, clinging to each moment. And I wondered why, when all that was in store was the cold and the noises of being, undisguised in the chill.

Which, we were incidentally spared this year…..