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.