Thursday, September 07, 2017

Meeting Strangers in the Night























The night.
Silently walks in,
Like an intriguing stranger, whose face you never get to see.
As he sits and watches you,
The dam that held back thoughts is pulled away.
And so they flow, sometimes like a gentle pitter-patter of rain,
Other times with the ferocity of a hungry lion.
Anger, pain, sadness, words, memories, unending analyses, songs,
A jukebox, that plays all records together.
Imagine the noise,
Inside your head,
In the silence of the night.

But it is now that thoughts are lucid.
You realise realities that were invisible before.
All day, you file away moments, feelings, associations - in a folder,
And when a tired world sleeps,
The folder flings open, bursting to reveal itself,
Demanding reflection.

If only the day was just as silent and still.
You would sail through life with clarity,
About what you desire and what you don’t,
About where you stand and where you don’t,
About who you are and who you are not.

And when you awaken, the night reverberates in your bones,
Like the tingling of a secret rendezvous.
There’s a numbness, as you press the ‘play’ button of the day,
Working hard to remember the wisdom of the night,
So as to connect it to what unfolds ahead.

Nobody knows.
It is your secret, your little luxury.
You can snuggle into the vast black blanket and fall apart,
And stay that way, till you glue the pieces together in the morning.
The dark stranger will not judge you.
After all, he holds the sighs and tears of the world.
He will look at you kindly,
And touch you with sleep,
Soft, painless and healing.

Black. Illuminated forever by the moon and the perpetual stars.
This night is your friend.
He never shows you his face, but you can talk to him for hours.
He wants nothing, he takes nothing.
A true friend.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Are we really that dumb?

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

These words came from the renowned German philosopher and economist, Karl Marx. According to Wikipedia, “Marx believed that religion had certain practical functions in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person: it reduced people's immediate suffering and provided them with pleasant illusions, but it also reduced their energy and their willingness to confront the oppressive, heartless, and soulless reality that capitalism had forced them into.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people)

Since time immemorial, human beings have felt this urge to worship. We have a long history of being devotees of nature, animals, idols, mythological characters, men and women who came out of scriptures that were written by men themselves, and random people claiming to be the prophets of God.


Why this urge to believe in a force greater than us, is still a mystery. Maybe as Marx opinioned, it just made people feel better. They had something hopeful and positive to cling to – to blank out the misery and dark reality of life and existence. Religion probably gave them strength to face fears and tough situations.

But since when did we sacrifice our brains at the altar of the gods? Was that the condition they put forward to become a devotee? Why have we become an army of robots – unquestioning, blind, illogical, unscientific and plain dumb? Does the degree of our dumbness define the depth of our faith? Yes, the word ‘faith’ means absolute surrender to what you believe in, but since religion is mostly ‘man-made’, can we trust it to be 100% infallible and devoid of faults?

Why are we so engrossed in fighting for our human representatives of God (godmen and women), that we forget the basic tenets of religion? Love one another. Be kind. Spread peace. Do not hurt another being with your actions or words. Do not use violence; a lot greater can be achieved through love. Aren’t these more important than the idiots who claim to do all this, but only in words?

Yes, the people need someone to turn to. But then, let them not switch off their brains and at least place their trust in the right persons. A blatant rapist and murderer hardly cuts a fine figure to worship and trust. It’s like being in a relationship with a toxic someone who constantly cheats behind your back, physically and sexually abuses you and claims your life to be his/her own – and you saying, “But I can’t leave him/her because I love him so and I know he/she loves me too.” That’s when you know that you’ve stopped THINKING.

You want to cling on to something? Cling on to love. To peace. To non-violence. To the ‘live and let live’ mantra. These are so much better than the rubbish these false godpeople feed us. No human being deserves to be put up on a pedestal that high, that they are above the law and no longer accountable for their actions.

Let us switch on our brains. Keep them where they should be. Polish them regularly through analysis, logical reasoning and questions. Keep them running. Let us never be complacent, naïve fools – ripe for being used by the Ram Rahims who emerge from hell.

Faith is one thing, being ridiculously dumb is another.

--> Never stop thinking.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tick Tock

I can hear the clock tick. That seldom happens.
Usually drowned out by the laughter on TV or the endless beeping of the smartphone.
Hearing the clock tick is like tuning into your heartbeat.
Attention to something that was there all along.
You just forgot it was there.

I can hear the sweeper's broom outside. "Swish....swish....swish..."
No passing car to bully these sounds.
If a pin dropped, it would not escape my notice.
Perhaps this silence means something?
Probably giving way to elements of life we normally walk past without thinking.

The body is in silence. And still. Any movement takes a mammoth effort.
With a whirlwind within, that's all it can do to contain it.
Feelings, emotions, dreams, disappointments, memories - all on a rollercoaster ride.
All held together at the crux by something so powerful, it will take all my armed forces to de-throne it.

This is the silence before the storm.
The inactivity before exhaustive action.
The rest before war.

And as the soldiers cry out for battle and the arrow stands ready for release,
I sit.
Listening to the ticking of the clock. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

In Pursuit of Happyness

I just watched ‘In Pursuit of Happyness’ for the tenth time and it got me thinking. Again.

A lot of people live a pattern. They graduate, study some high tech fancy stuff at an overseas university and join the ranks of the ambitious, almost robotic army of workers, rushing to climb the ladder of success and be "settled" by 30. By the time their shiny car summits the ’30-year’ hilltop, the next haul from there is downhill. Suddenly, they begin to pause and slow down to contemplate. They may find an unspoken, unrealised discontent under all those fast-paced heart beats that the work targets and fat pay cheques brought on. The car begins to hesitate. And one day, the successful corporate slave gives up everything to go live on top of a desolate mountain. Or backpack across the country, absorbing new culture, music and well, life.

These guys discover that a secure job and money isn't everything. They find that answering to a boss won't do anymore. They want to answer to their own call, inside their heart. This is evolution that perhaps springs from urban disenchantment, monotony and exhaustion. Or maybe the need to do more meaningful things to make life complete.
 
And then there are people like me. A successful friend from the corporate sector told me recently that I was way better in life for having avoided becoming a corporate drone through my 20s. He said it was an achievement.

Maybe.

I followed my heart from the time I had to choose my subject in school. Opting for things that didn't appeal to me out of peer pressure was never an option. Things like that just never happened to me. I lived my 20s like a free bird, a gypsy following her heart, not only in life, but also in my career. I felt strongly about the environment and nature and worked on that, while my friends worked nights and weekends in stuffy corporate environs. I walked through warm forests, saw living creatures as God made them, lay on the banks of rivers listening to crocs or elephants bathing in the moonlight. I earned peanuts but I was happy. Because what I was doing actually made me happy. And it made some minute difference to the conservation battle we were fighting.
 
And gradually, what started happening to my corporate friends started happening to me – only backwards. I began to realise how important money is. And the magnitude of things a person can do in life if the pockets are heavy. To add to that, the creative demon arose and wanted to be enslaved no more. I wanted to design and write and create beautiful things - and to be answerable to nobody. That’s when the launch into entrepreneurship happened – unplanned, vague and dreamy. Just like the quintessential artist, who is stupid when it comes to business and the ways of the world. Things didn’t go as well as I’d envisioned. Reality struck, and honestly, it’s been striking since then.

Working on your own, for yourself is strewn with challenges and some pretty sharp thorns. Even today, payments from clients reach my bank account after running a marathon after them. It is probably seeing how clients undervalue your work and skills, or just that the bills never stop piling up, that a certain disenchantment sets in. You can no longer pursue anything extra besides bread and butter and the longing for a dash of fruit jam or a bowl of scrambled eggs sets in. A familiar discontent that I’ve seen in people stuck in conference rooms. Funnily enough, I guess we passed each other at this junction of discontent, striding in opposite directions. 

So the focus shifts from living like a free-spirited hippie to getting "serious", so that you and your work are also taken "seriously". And you are actually paid what you deserve, for a change (most clients will make you work for free if they can get away with it!) You want a certain standard of living, to make it to countries beyond Nepal and Bhutan, to never worry about bills again, to have comfortable savings to bank upon for the future. To travel on a whim. A financial security that the early days never had, nor cared to pursue.

So can money grant happiness? It’s debatable. The answers may vary from this side of the cubicle to that. Ten years ago, I’d unflinchingly say ‘no way!’ Today, I’d say 'yes'. If I had money, I would take a week off to a forest and live there in a hut in the midst of all those beautiful sounds. Or I’d fly off to Italy with my friend and fill the pages of my travel journal with memories I could never imagine earlier to make. If I had money, I’d force my parents to retire and chill, while I’d take care of them for the rest of their lives. I’d donate regularly to animal shelters and build their infrastructure. And all this – the cumulative sum of all this – that would make me happy. And my pursuit for that part of my life, that small part, has begun.

This is my evolution. And I embrace it.

A hippie at heart,
Never to be chained,
Money is a part,
Of what shall be attained.

Flight tickets to exciting places,
Or a shopping spree for mom,
To rivers and green spaces,
I never departed from.

Corporate to gypsy,
Or gypsy to corporate,
The balance is tipsy,
-->
But it’s never too late.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How Pets Revolutionised Parenthood

I have seven children. And the number keeps growing. They are furry, always hungry, run on Duracell and masters in the art of emotional blackmail through expressive eyes. Yes I take dance class, but most often, I am found dancing to their ‘paw’ tips.

And I did all this without a guy! I guess the notion that you need a man to be a mother is passé. Welcome to the new kind of motherhood, parenthood. Interestingly, most often I don't adopt these babies - they adopt me. 

For years, Mum's been openly expressing her desire to see me married so I could give her grandchildren to play with. So the other day, I put a month-old homeless puppy in her hand and said, "Here. Your grandchild." While she stood deciding how to react, I told her that these were the only grandchildren that she would ever get out of me (as per my current belief). 

I look around me and realise that I am not alone. The number of people - single, unmarried couples, married couples and many more than I know of - who adopt animals and treat them as their own children is increasing. I'm not an expert on this nor have I conducted massive surveys to reach this conclusion. I just see so many social media posts and converse with like-minded people who are simply delighted to have four-legged babies and give them the same love and care that human babies usually receive.

My friend, Ammu lives in Bombay with her husband and their two canine children - Sheroo and Boltoo. She tells me that "Adopting our two furry babies are two of life's best decisions my husband and I have taken. We have both grown up with pets so we are animals lovers, but keeping pets in Mumbai can be a logistical nightmare. So when we adopted our first kid, it was really a compulsion to rescue her from the road. She is blind from one eye and would have found it difficult to survive. But when we adopted her, everything fell into place, we found a friendly neighbourhood, a house-help and could think of adopting our second child, who we got from World For All."

See, there are ways of working around it. It's like family planning and making similar arrangements. She goes on to say, "As a young working couple, having kids is not in our present scheme of things. But having pets is like bringing up kids, it's just that they remain a child all their lives and their world begins and ends with their human parents."

My children are seven dogs - two inside the house and five outside it. The rivalry between the two sides of the gate is fierce, but one thing is common - they adore me and I'm nuts about them. If the day's been a stinker, rubbing Pichku's round little belly which she openly displays to me after a meal is the high point for me. Then Bozo butts in with his large jealous head for a scratch to which he believes he is entitled. All this, while Ollie glaringly watches from inside the gate, waiting impatiently for me to come back inside and be 'his' again. If I knew doggie language, there'd be a lot of abuses being hurled at my gate everyday, between the two sides. Benny of course, the old grandpa drags himself to the scene and watches on curiously, occasionally throwing a bark at Ollie who he cannot stand for some reason. Dog politics man! Just like human children and their bickering. 

When I get home in the evening, either from dance class or a late night out, whatever the time, Ollie waits for me at the door with his ball. First, he peeps from the window and watches me drive in, and then strategically runs away with my socks to get me to chase him. So no matter how tired or dressed up I am, I have to sprint with him to the terrace and play ball with him, romp and run a little, till the little master is satisfied and had his "play time." Even Benny watches out for me with expectant eyes, even though he can't run anymore. The outside gang gives me a grand welcome at the gate and demand a pet or scratch before I can enter the house. It feels warm and fuzzy inside that in addition to my parents, there is a whole 'wagging' party waiting for me.

I guess Ammu and her husband's lives are no different. "Our two babies, Sheroo and Boltoo, have a huge influence on our lives - we don't carry work home, we are now morning people, we take our health seriously because they need us to be fit and they are such stress busters! The best ever company on any given day. I strongly believe that we don't rescue them; they rescue us. Imagine coming back home to two jumpy kids who have been waiting for you, to give you a grand welcome, every single day? A dog is proof that God loves us. Period."

Who is a mother? What does it take to be a parent? I guess only we can define this. So for my caring friends and distant relatives who'd love me to have babies one day, I have news for you - I stepped into motherhood long ago. And my pack, is ever growing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Crayons

The other day I found a box of crayons on my niece’s desk. Unashamedly, I picked it up and took a long, pleasurable whiff. “Yes! They smell right,” I said to myself with eyes closed and a silly smile on my face. My niece stared at me as if I was not quite in my senses. But that’s okay, she doesn’t know.

There’s something about the fragrance of crayons that sends you shooting back to your childhood. To those countless moments when you sat scribbling in your colouring book for hours, struggling to keep the colours within the outline or trying to be creative and experiment with some shading.

Some crayons smell the same as they did then. I like things that never change; a constant in your life. Like the fragrance of rain on dry earth or cement, or the sweet-smelling Harsingar blossoms. Thank heavens for these things that stay the same, in a world that’s constantly changing like a stage backdrop.

Crayons, you still smell delicious. I could eat you.  

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Garden

Every morning, I awaken and saunter into my garden. Winter makes sure I feel his presence, and my arms go around me in response. The Harsingar tree is my favourite. All day and all night, there's a perpetual whiff of its fragrant white and orange flowers, that drop silently from the branches like snowflakes from the sky.

The garden dances each day. Seedlings making their slow progress skywards, flowers showing off their best party frocks, and trees singing in the cool breeze. And when the sun falls, they all bask - lazy and golden.

I await to see my Nasturtiums and Pansies. Their seeds were planted two weeks ago. There's a 'natural' suspense to it. The tomatoes in the back garden seem to be doing fine, while the melons have simply sprouted from the seeds in our homemade manure. This isn't even their season, yet they want to survive and shine.

I sit and watch the gossiping Babblers, hunting for tasty snacks in the grass; the occasional Hoopoe or Red-vented Bulbul; the flippity Sunbirds. They love the garden, I think even more than I do. It is their home, their feeding ground, their social hangout. A sip of water here, a peck at a wriggling worm there, and they're happy.

I watch them for myself. Because what it produces inside me is almost meditative. What a start to a day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Birthday reflections

I sit where I sat last year. Perhaps wiser, more in control and happier. This year has brought immense pain and suffering, but concealed cleverly, crucial lessons of life, understanding and street smartness.

Happy birthday to me.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Musings of a Fat Dancer

Yes, I am fat. And I am a dancer. For some people, it may be an oxymoron. Quite a few presume that I take dance classes to lose weight. So when I meet aunties at dreaded social gatherings, they look me up and down and say, “Weren’t you going for those dance classes? Have you lost any weight because of them?” "Beta, why don't you join the gym?" It’s beyond my patience to make them understand that my reason to dance, to learn dance and perhaps someday to teach it, goes much deeper than that.

I dance because it is the only place where I am myself – unashamed, unapologetic, naked and pure. It is the only thing that binds me to this world and keeps me away, at the same time. It is the hinge that gives me wings, so I can swing in any direction and express feelings that words cannot. It is the only way I know to respond to music.

But I am not your usual dancer. Uh..uh. A passerby may look at me and never fathom that I could lift my leg, leave alone do a pirouette or a split. I don’t blame him because I don’t have the perfect, lean, slim form that dancers are wont to have. Dainty on their feet, not an inch of fat, structured legs and oh those perfectly framed arms. I can just imagine Natalie Portman in The Black Swan. She’s the picture of what a dancer ought to look like. Stereotypically.

With a body like mine, I struggle. Every class, every day, every rehearsal for stage. For my slim fellow students (and I love and respect them all and know that they toil too), the struggle is to get that step right, or to accomplish a certain feat that will make them stand out, or to perfect technique to be able to apply it while dancing. For me, the strain is double. I have to grapple with the weight first. And then with everything else. So the uphill climb becomes steeper for dancers like me. Not to forget the emotional and psychological beating that we give ourselves for failing. It takes a mammoth amount of motivation and self-encouragement to get started again every time we fall.

Fortunately, I’ve been wacky enough to believe that no amount of ‘fat’ can stop me from dancing or trying to be better than before. It has been a testing challenge, but my passion has consumed me, often enabling me to turn a blind eye to my less-than-perfect shape, that doesn’t represent the quintessential dancer.

It is true that sometimes my body defeats me. I work hard and in my mind I know I can do it. It’s the performance where I sometimes strike out. In my mind, I’m a super ninja who can do killer roundhouse kicks and blow the enemy away with a single iron fist punch. The truth is, I can perhaps injure the enemy far worse by sitting on him.

So while I’m on the floor, wrestling with the sweaty attempt to reach a full split or take my brush kick higher, I have two enemies to conquer – my weight and the inability to do it. Sometimes it pulls me down like rocks tied to my feet, and probably nobody can understand how it feels. There are days when I go back home from class cursing myself for not being able to do a step because my body came in the way.

But still, I dance. I may not be the best but I certainly try to be. I’ve never even won a competition but what I have is dance experience. I can tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re screwing up by watching you in class. I know what muscle will be worked out by what exercise and how to strengthen your core till it is rock solid. I know my music and can give anybody a run for their money when it comes to connecting movement to beats and pauses. And you should see me in my second split.

The star of the musical movie ‘Hairspray’ was a fat girl called Tracy who loved to dance in spite of how she looked. Yes she didn’t have the body, the perfect looks or the flawless technique, but man she could move! Some people told her that she didn’t qualify as a dancer, but she didn’t care. My first stage performance was on a song from this movie and maybe it was sign. And it’s still with me today because no matter what the odds are, or how much I weigh, “You can’t stop the beat.”  

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Auto-Pilot Mode

You know something is not right when you're constantly running in auto-pilot mode. Especially where work is concerned. Brief moments of introspection and self-questioning later, I don't feel any more enlightened than I was before. All attempts to 'figure it out' go awry somewhere.

Words like motivation, inspiration, excitement, proactive, drive - resound far away in a cloud of hazy white, which is putting me to sleep. I am half asleep. ALL the time. Is this condition medical, psychological, emotional or simple laziness? Hard to say actually. Could be a bit of all.

Sadly, life isn't fun when you're half asleep. There are opportunities lost, special moments missed and a lot of time wasted.

Sometimes I wish I could just snap my fingers (which is physically cannot do, so relying on magic) and wake up from this real-dream. Jump up and smell the coffee and go about my day like an excited, happy bunny.

Auto-mode off. Bunny mode on.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Pine cones

Almost every Delhi child from my generation would remember those pine cones we found scattered on mountain roads and meadows. Each one was unique and intriguing in its own way, resembling a tree. It often became a game to see who picked up the best ones (undamaged and near perfect in form) and how many.

Sadly, when it was time to go back to the burning plains, we were told strictly to leave behind most of our treasure. Whatever we did manage to sneak back home, we painted with poster paints and sparkle glitter. There they sat on the table or mantelpiece constantly reminding us of the beautiful hills they belonged to, the 'needly' trees they dropped from.

It is only in Kanatal that we found purple cones. Yes, purple. From a distance, they seemed so obviously purple. Almost like large black currant ice cream cones. When I returned to the lodge from my walk, I told dad about them. He wouldn't believe me! He had to see them to be convinced that I wasn't Alice in Wonderland. Those purple cones, we never painted them. Their uniqueness was their colour.

I can close my eyes right now and smell the mountains, the cones calling out to me to come pick them up again and give them a brief moment of stardom.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inner Peace

Maybe I'm a dreamer or a romantic or simply an incurable optimist. After being through the din and chaos of the world, there are times when there is silence. Inside. Time stops. Emotions cease to exist. And there is this fleeting moment of being alive in being still.

Two movies come to my mind. The first is 'The Karate Kid', more specifically that scene when Jackie Chan tells Jaden Smith, "Being still and doing nothing are two very different things."

The second is Kung Fu Panda 2, where the constantly bumbling Po lands up on the tough path of finding inner peace. In his case, he probably stumbles upon it, like a sudden realisation. Perhaps, I live in the same hope that it will dawn upon me someday, when I'm probably sitting on a park bench somewhere, or playing basketball or eating a dessert hungrily.

To be still. To be purely happy. To wish good for everybody. The search for anything other than this is insignificant, unworthy of the few days on Earth called life.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Calling

What am I meant to do?
Such a long life and the decision couldn't be tougher,
When I stand at a threshold with multiple doors.

Am I to be an artist - paint all day long and sell my work for millions?
Am I to be an illustrator - doodle cartoons that make the world laugh?
Am I to be a writer - typing hundred words a minute, to win the Pulitzer prize?
Am I to decorate store windows and captivate the fancies of the shopping throng?
Am I to be a traveller - wander and experience the universe on a shoe-string budget?
Am I to be an educator - teach, play, nurture and influence the future?
Am I to be a dancer - pirouetting my way around the world?

One life. And there's so much one can be. Is there ever a time to decide? To give up one for the other? Would it reflect a lack of focus if I were not to abandon any? Something calls out, soft and musical, from the distance. I think it's the calling. What others identify so easily.

Perhaps it will come one day as I sit staring at the sea. Drop into my lap like a drop of rain. Crystal clear and shining. The calling. My calling.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Give bliss a miss?

When the dust and smoke settles down,
You can't help but frown,
The illusion was like sparkling wine,
Exciting, tasty, warm and fine.

But when the true eyes open and see,
You look so small before the fantasy,
Maybe you were better off without the trouble,
Now lie crushed, restless under the rubble.

Is there a way to say 'NO' to yourself?
To firmly put it away on the top shelf,
Where it can bother you no more,
So you can focus on a better door?

For true freedom means freedom from this,
Fleeting, mindless, shallow bliss,
As I slowly learn to fly with light wings,
My smile dances and my heart sings.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Twist and shout!

Life took a twist. But then, that's what life does.
Winding and snaking through unknown paths, braving uncertainty till it relinquishes at the finishing line. We have no choice. Nope, not at all.

We're probably as vulnerable as a new born baby, at any given point in life. It's like wearing a baseball glove and not knowing where the ball's going to come spinning from. You just have to catch it. If you do and stay happy, great, if you miss it and lament, the next throws are going to get tougher.

This is training for the super league.
I guess we have no option but to keep walking , hoping that we can take on whatever comes at us, no matter how formidable. And while we're at it, we might as well dance in our walk and twist and shout to celebrate life's twistiness!