It rained that day in BlueStem Magazine
pink, Texas sun rolls
a million oysters of light
stars in winter’s eyes
A beautiful, very talented blogger and friend, Charlotte nominated my blog for a Very inspiring Blog. Coming from her, it means a LOT. I read her posts and I am transported to a different sphere. The sphere of inspiration, skillful craft and mindfulness.
Coming back to the award – in the past, I have avoided participating in such awards because I am unable to list the blogs I follow as the list keeps on evolving from time to time. Moreover, it has been a difficult thing for me to to list facts about myself. I am a very conflicted person and hence have tried to keep this blog separate from my personal sphere so that I can be objective about my writing.
So, thank you Charlotte from the bottom of my heart. Loved the blogs you picked and always admire and love your writing.
One of the image of my childhood memories looks like an 8×10 ” canvas with a collage of sepia pictures, a lone Barbie with two sets of dresses and my grandfather’s typewriter. There are my father’s books, all covered in thick brown covers and a relic of a trunk (under lock and key supervision of my mother) that stored our belongings. A scent of familiarity persists across all of them. Of mothballs – clean and pearly – fading into our quilts and shawls. When ever you’d reach out to pull a sweater or hold a quilt for the first time, you’d know the exact odor you were going to wear for days. A bit chemical and rustic, characteristic of every household and a mark of love – of mothers and grandmothers.
Those days, on lazy afternoons – I used to watch my mother bundle up winter clothing in suitcases. Every year, she’d open a fresh bag of naphthalene balls and place them between cardigans, ponchos and woolen dresses. The trivial process of circulating clothes in and out of boxes was a sacred detour for me from the world of homework and limited play time. I’d spend hours looking at my mother’s sarees – chiffon and silk – embroidered with sequins and threads – immaculately wrapped in white muslin. They gave me goosebumps thinking that someday I’d get out of odd clothes and slip into an hourglass attire. Hence, mothballs were my best friends – safeguarding my treasure.
Wearing the same scent, on a winter eve – I wrote my first poem in Hindi. A few days later, I read my first novel. Its antique font rolling like a mothball – preserving the thoughts of the author with every whiff. It was around the same time, I received letters from my grandfather. The cataract in his eyes messed the straight lines of each sentence to a diagonal with several typos. And in spite of the jumbled address smudged by the ink, the letters always arrived on our doorstep. Upon their arrival, I’d identify my name embossed on a cream, half glued envelope with zigzag row of stamps, holding his love and wisdom in the bellies of the fat alphabets punched late at night. Slowly but surely.
While I was in the thick of writing poems in my father’s barely used diaries and arranging household items in old trunks once a while, I would also pluck a book or two from his library. He bought sheets of brown paper and changed the covers of all his books during Diwali break. Every book was cataloged and for a twelve-year old like me, it was fascinating to see them arranged in numeric order – tall and short – old and new – side by side like loyal members of a big family. Finding keys to my father’s cabinets was easier than locating the key to my mother’s trunk – something very distinguishing of the way my parents viewed life and their possessions. The mothballs were here too guarding the intelligent paper. I’d stand there for sometime and go through any book. There were no underlines, no marked pages – just fresh text, liberated with diagrams, ready to be absorbed by the grey matter of a collective in a classroom.
It is a new and changed world now. The past was boisterously rich with noisy closets, big dial-padded telephones and shuffling of pages and the present is sophisticated with touch screens and e-books. There are digital locks, virtual learning and socializing. Somewhere along the way, we have built a beautiful barrier to block every touch, smell and sound.
As I inhale the last remains of a mothball on a sweater, it asks me – what will the memories of a future childhood look like?
“Something intelligent – maybe beyond the comprehension of our five senses,” I reply and sniff again.
Fight 1848 service to San Francisco …
Martha stops, amplified with uncertainty.
San Francisco … divas belting out songs, rallies for poor and hungry. Nick’s tongue over her gypsy heart carving passionate aisles.
Flight 2332, Chicago, window seat.
Secure investments, beach properties, divorce. Loveless, lonely squares.
Above 42 inspired by yeah write gargle blaster #162 this week: Which way to go?
The largest democracy has spoken. There was a huge voter turn out. People are ready for a change. The appointed leader is expected of miracles. Time will once again prove these people wrong if they do not wish to be a proactive part of the change.
So rise, it’s our home. Let us get to work. We can complain later.
I have read the news. People are jubilant. Minorities are skeptical. It is natural to be frustrated hoping for a change every time a promising leader comes into power and leaves making you poorer and desperate. It is a punch in the gut when you are called the rape capital of the world, it is simply disgusting when you are considered as the most corrupt, indifferent nation surviving on God’s mercy. It is heartbreaking to see you stripped and helpless because we conveniently raise a finger at your shortcomings while we are the ones who give away bribes, burn and rape our daughters. We are the ones who accept our fate instead of standing for the truth. And we do that because we don’t believe in ourselves. We simply don’t believe that we deserve the best. That You deserve the best in us.
Yet, we conveniently call ourselves your sons and daughters. Is that just a stamp on our passports? Only our right to vote? Or is it just our right to complain? Some might say that it is easier for me because I am sitting thousands of miles away, in a safe and warm house. But I have spend first twenty-four years of my life in your womb. I was nurtured by your secular food and I was threatened by your overwhelming growth. I was worried that you’d discard me. And in that mayhem, I left you. Thinking that patriotism is a myth. It only looks good in books and banners. Yet it is only after arriving in another country, I realized the importance of my roots, the beautiful olive color of my skin, my understanding of all major religions of the world and the very essential fact – how does it feel to be a minority? How does it feel when I explain that I am different than a Sikh, or a Muslim or a Christian but they are also essentially me. That in our home country we worship cows and trees because they are perfect examples of compassion. That we look after each other and walk into each others home without the notion of privacy.
I believe your freedom is young. It needs time to mature and settle down. In the meantime, we cannot take it for granted. It has serious consequences. It is in this time of struggle, that our responsibilities are momentous. Maybe in this lifetime, there may not be much improvement, maybe we will be cheated again or maybe we will get up realizing that the change required is within us and not outside.
My patriotism for you has taken a beating over the years, just like million others. But every time I doubted your greatness, I reminded myself of your seamless ability to merge every religion, every cuisine, every language and every variation. So many conquerors came and left and you welcomed their heritage as yours. You never stood for expanding your broders or attacking other nations, only to protect yourself. And whenever the word secular met my eye, I thought of only you as I am yet to see another example. That is your challenge and that is your strength.
As a world, we are standing at the brink of breakdown. While we may define ourselves with borders or religions, as a civilization we are still searching for the meaning of our existence. We are invading ourselves and others to see how far can we go on the path of destruction before we redeem ourselves. Perhaps that is why today the world is looking at you – wondering if the largest democracy can make it happen? Perhaps, it can show us all that our vices are just our weaker insecurities. We are more than our animal instincts. Much more.
I see a faint glitter of hope in your eyes, because I see every responsible citizen in your vision, willing to do his/her part. He realizes that leaders and political parties are our extensions – they can never be bigger than us. Here you are – on the move with 1.237 billion marching towards the future. At this juncture, I don’t want to pray for your success because that will be my last resort. I want to be in the driving seat.
I look at a polished sandstone holding the four lions symbolizing power,courage,pride and confidence – resting on a platform guarded by four animals – elephant of the east, horse of the south, bull of the west and my favorite – lion of the north. Decorated with the principle of Dharma Chakra in the center and rested on a blooming lotus – it is the emblem that always gave me goose bumps and tears in my eyes, reminding me that I come from Her. And every symbol of Her be it the national anthem or the tricolor flag, is meant to inspire and lead us to truth, the eternal salvation. Let us have the courage to do it right this time. Jai Hind.
सत्यमेव जयते(Truth alone Triumphs)!
It has been raining for past few hours. From my office window the world is a grey tunnel with blinking brake lights and traffic signals. It isn’t spectacular yet it is a lovely day. To write. However, today my stories are still. I keep returning to Rose, a ninety-three year old patient who had a severe disability due to dementia. I met her six months ago through Hospice volunteer program.
Rose is in a wheelchair when I enter her room. She is staring at her hands and murmuring as if talking to a bird. She takes a few moments to move, as lightly as her voice would allow to take notice of me. Small and elegant with pale skin and bright silver strands, she starts talking about the rain as if I am an old acquaintance. We are off to a good start – I help her eat a banana, I watch TV with her and organize a few things. I talk as she falls asleep. I stare at the pink colored walls for a few moments before I see myself out.
In the hallway, I meet an Indian woman also on a wheelchair, eager to talk. She is recovering from a foot surgery. We chat. About stuff. About growing old and the perspective it brings. Outside the alcove of windows, there is a rustle of wind with stray drops.
I see Rose every few weekends for a few hours. I bring in crayons and we talk about identifying colors. She lights up at the sight of pink and red. Her brilliant and penetrating eyes defy her mental illness, every time she looks at me. And that inspires a certain timidity in me. Watching her in pink cardigan and cream trousers is like watching cherry blossoms – frail, beautiful and visible for a very short span. A few weeks, a month, maybe an hour. The leaves outside have changed colors, and I think her neurons are the same way – slowly eroding towards the winter of her life. There is nowhere to go except forward even if it is the end.
She often complains of pain in her hands. I massage them and the pain shifts. I can tell by the way she rolls her eyes and hypothetically walks away from me. I wait for her to come back. Sometimes it takes more than one visit.
On one visit while we are going over some magazines, she shouts Blue. And I am thrilled as she has not gone beyond pink and red. I smile and we do a high-five. Well, sort of. When it is time for me to leave, she grabs my hand. I know she wants me to stay longer. Instantly, I feel I will not see her again. In spite of my best efforts. I leave after half an hour. Outside, the Indian woman is waiting for me – we sit together for a bit. Mostly in silence. My hands smell of banana. My clothes carry a hint of Rose’s room. I know everything is meant to be lost in time.
It is a few months later, I find time to go back to Rose. I am excited. I am excited to have been proved wrong. I am about to leave and for some weird reason, I check my email. There is one from hospice coordinator.
Rose passed away peacefully yesterday night after being placed on continuous care.
I sit for a long time looking outside. There are colors – some blue, some red and a lot of grey and silver in between.
Amidst the clouds, the airplane drifts to a familiar, colorful mural of you and I fill your vastness in my 2-inch glasses. The tiring journey of several hours culminates into a burst of energy to witness this contrasting panorama – the belly of slums against the skyscrapers; the struggling traffic of cars wider than roads and millions of cellphones screaming in torn pockets.
Outside the airport, the humid monsoon air welcomes me. The airport has improved but not the scene outside. The overpowering stench, hustling drivers and cramped taxis always remind me of your love and indifference.
I see you in strange yet similar faces – faces that speak many languages; relish three dozen cuisines and boast of even more when it comes to attire. And I see your old, majestic charm eroding in the name of global connectivity.
The pre-monsoon arrives in northern half of you as if eager to meet me. I pull out plastic chairs in the small patio watching the endless downpour. The heavier drops beat the pavement – releasing the musky smell, suddenly making me hungry. I watch rest of the evening chewing hot pakoraas, the lazy slurping of chai and monsoon tap dance.
Are mangoes still around? I wonder. The next day, I get several types – langdaa, badaam, dusheri, chosa – some I have enjoyed every year and others I have only imagined how they tasted. Every time I sink my teeth into the delicious flesh, I feel blessed to experience your pulse alive in me.
Several weddings are marked on the calendar and I set out into the scorching heat turning up sarees and matching jewellery. I feel accomplished after buying less but scanning it all. The extravagant Indian weddings are places to look at others at the time when fashion and styles have become so diverse. One simply cannot stand out. It is better to stay as a spectator.
The wedding requires us to travel by train. Due to rain, the platform is under the attack of flies and smeared with loose mud. I watch a janitor who throws buckets of water to sweep away flies and lumps pf soil. I see hawkers arranging magazines and beaded purses. No one is interested in their merchandise. Soon, the train arrives with several people hanging just an inch away from the platform.
The cars slither away from mayhem to small fields, huts and patches of trees. Your overflowing pockets of puddles and raging rivers remind that monsoon will continue to flood whether you need it or not. The minimalist landscape that decorates you stretches between mid-size towns and vacant railway stations. While some parts of the world are overwhelmed with technology, these co-ordinates on your face have stood still in time.
For the next few days, I will get dressed up,eat delicacies and dance for hours. This will repeat until the show is over and the dresses run out. Perhaps, then it will be time to pay attention to the shabbily fenced fields, poor households where a lot of you hides in darkness while a delta of you glitters with excess wealth and stardom.
It has been three weeks and it is time to start the next leg. Mangoes and monsoon have remained a constant companion and while the heat was never enough to dry the clothes, it was always sufficient to drive us nuts. I collect my memories and as you bid goodbye here with tight hugs and while you also await me at the next destination with open arms -I hold your hand and move on.
When I start for work in the morning, I notice the blinding sky. It is a regular day – with sheer sunlight. No clouds. I see mud holes in my yard. The bunnies are feeding on tulip bulbs at night. It is a cycle I cannot avoid just as how ideas come to me in morning and disappear by night. The general thaw in the temperature has improved my sullen creativity but I am not there yet.
Today I wish to stray from my usual commute – take a different road – go past closed and half-open shops at this hour – stop and watch people at a gas station as they stoop a little, doing a chore. I think simple tasks bring clarity. I want to avoid the high-rise buildings, I wish to go past fields, worn out signs, neighborhoods peeling with wild flowers and rampant yards. I want to grow dense and undisturbed with ideas, characters and everything in between. Like painting a red, rusty Ferris wheel with even the minutest detail. Clear and oiled, moving and throwing kids into a jubilant scream.
But I know I have to wait – not for observation but for the right idea to come along. I am not one with my writing. We are two parallel rails running side by side. I have to wait for us to intersect. Until then the writing crayon has to stay still by my side.
Writing is something that I am still exploring and experimenting. I hope I always feel this way that it is not final. That it can be better. To say, it is my love, is partly true. A piece of art can be an original reflection only if you give yourself over. That is never the case when you love someone. You always expect to be loved back. I don’t think I have that liberty with writing. All I can do is surrender completely – because if I don’t, the reader will smell it all over the place.
Writing is also a craft to feel connected. It is transmission of thoughts into the universe. It is waiting to receive a response. It means to rearrange the lives of ones I create, throw in a crisis or two and resolve it by a meaningful reason. Something that gives purpose to our existence. It is a reaffirmation, a testimony that all stories end well, and if they don’t, they are still going on.
So let me wait. Let the concrete settle in and form shapes of places, people and things. Let my plane fight gravity, take off and cruise in the sky – free and graceful. Until then it is a lot of coffee and mindless gazing.
Part 1 is here: on fighting my writing woes.