Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Excitements of the Day



Yes, we are all locked down - down but not out!  Each day brings a battle of its own.  But it is almost summer now; nature heedless of man, unfolds at its own exquisite pace.  We are fortunate to have garden with a few fruit trees, some herbs, plenty of bees, squirrels, monkeys and an occasional snake to break the monotony.

We had many eventful moments yesterday.  The not so great ones were our cycle valve tubes getting leaky and our new car battery dying.  Now only my son is able to cycle about and fortunately our old yellow car is still trudging along.


I have been working on a live yeast (and bacteria) culture for bread (as we are running out of baker's yeast).  I was all set to start the bread early yesterday morning when we suddenly decided that we should get down the mangoes from our trees.  In hindsight, this was a very good idea because we had a terrific storm today and the monkeys came this morning searching for fruit.  (They found no mangoes left but threw down some hefty jackfruit, which I am still clearing up.)

Anyway, the mangoes had to be brought down with a hooked stick and they fell (or we caught them) in our bedsheet.  We got three bucketfuls of mangoes and my son was busy handing them out to neighbours who wanted some.  Most people nowadays assume you get ripe orange mangoes from markets and that's how they like them.  Not green and waiting to be covered up in straw and ripened, so there were not many takers for our fruit.  But we are busy wrapping them up and they should ripen in a while.  The fragrance is incredible and I wish we could preserve it on our bedsheets too..




So, I was late by a couple of hours to start the bread.  Anyway, it was fun to make, and I and made a loaf from the Tartine  recipe book.  It was so crusty outside that I had to saw through it and inside it was a bit like sourdough bread, but I think it is not a bad beginning (only my husband has taken the plunge and eaten it so far!).





 And, tomorrow is another day, hopefully filled with - better bread, mango chutney and eventually- ripe mangoes!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Thoughts on Death and Life

My father died a little over a month ago.  My mother had died many years earlier.

Death always has an air of finality to it and when a special loved one dies, in particular loving parents, it is as if an invisible umbilical cord is suddenly jerked out of you.  Umbilical cord and fathers?  Yes, if you know what I mean.

When my mother died there was an immense gap of emptiness and despair.  It took decades for me to cross the vast vacuum within me.  I was quite young and my mother had been the nucleus of our family.  But there was also relief and thankfulness at her death, for she had suffered a great deal from leukaemia in the last few years of her life.

When my father died, things were very different.  It was a sudden, hospital induced death and I am grateful for the fact that my father did not suffer.  He always hated being hospitalised and by the time he reached the emergency unit in hospital, he was hardly aware of what was happening.

Three days before my father's death, about the time he was hospitalised, I began to get messages from him.  Early morning, quick flashes as soon as I awoke, that at the time I did not even quite comprehend.  Messages about life and death.  My father has always been highly intuitive and I do believe that minds and spirits can communicate.  Not in an eerie way but in a wholesome, natural, positive manner.

This sense of communication was heightened on the night of my father's cremation.  I was not the only one to feel my father's presence- my young son did and a few others who were close to him.  In addition I also felt very intensely, the presence of my mother, the presence of a yogi and great joy, love and wisdom emanating from them all.

At the time I did not trust my feelings, thoughts or instincts.  And why do I write all this in a blog?  I have since continued to feel the presence (and communicate with) people who are not here in visible form, in some fashion.  I do not mean that I hear voices or see visions.  It is far more subtle and always a positive, non judgemental and compassionate form of communication.  Perhaps I am more open to listening to my spirit after many years of yoga, I do not know.

I just want to say that it has opened new doors for me.  Though yoga texts clearly say so, we do not really believe that there is more to a person than the physical form.  But now I know there is.  Death no longer has an air of finality for me.  It is nothing but the dissolution of a physical form.  Recently I have spoken to people who have faced similar losses and they have all said that they felt their loved ones close by and had many uncanny experiences which they could not explain.  Coincidences, serendipity, there are many other words for things we do not quite understand.

This view of the transience of death and the continuity of life has made me think and perhaps live my life a little differently now.

Finally, I put down below a few of my favourite verses on these matters of death and of life-

Death, Be Not Proud, by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, 
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee do go, 
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. 
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, 
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 

A Walk, by Rainer Maria Rilke

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry, 
I am not there; I did not die.

Coda, by Octavio Paz 

Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
Your glance scattered seeds.
It planted a tree.
I talk
because you shake its leaves.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Kenny Bear Lends A Paw

My husband is travelling and my son, Nayan, is down with viral fever (103 for last two days, is getting better today).  Nayan misses my husband and keeps telling me of all the terrible things he is going to do to him once he is back!

Temperature monitoring and medicine and food giving are a challenge.  What does one do?

It so happened that Kenny bear fell ill at the same time (with a temperature of 1000).  Someone had to take his temperature and feed him and he needed someone to huddle next to. So Nayan came to the rescue.  Kenny bear loves honey, especially when it is mixed with ginger and basil.  So does Nayan.  Lucky, for both of them.

P.S. Kenny bear is also better today (temperature of 55) but fast asleep.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Thoughts On Earth Hour

I sat and watched the sea and sky
A tide within me rose up high.

My heart echoed an ancient beat
I spoke to strangers in the street.

"I've cut the lights, blocked out the sounds
I've let my roots deep in the ground.

When I look up and gaze afar
I will be searching for my star."

Happy Earth Hour!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Growing Up, In Little Steps

This is a busy time of the year.  And we are so looking forward to what the new year will bring that we forget sometimes that a lovely little part of this year still remains.

We usually get visitors at this time of the year and this year is no exception.  The other thing we got (through the usual school route) were terrible infections- sore throats and coughs.  My son, the first to come down with it, was also the first to recover.  When our first set of visitors arrived, I was flat out (literally) in bed, not able to get up at all.

I was extremely frustrated - my favourite nephew (who visits every year) was here, for a brief visit.  My husband was not really available, as he was working on some deadlines.  That left my four and a half year old son (who had to be taken care of).

I was thinking, "The kids are here and I have not baked a single thing and can't even take them out or cook any of the things they like..." and so on.  It took me a while to calm down and when I did, I realized that the kids (my nephew and his wife) were now in their thirties and they were very happy to babysit my son.  They were apparently off sweets on this trip and were happy with fruit, which we had plenty of at home.

My son, who loves walks, showed them some nice paths on the campus.  Quite by chance, a few days ago, he had selected some pasta from the market, which turned out to be their favourite too.  So they all happily cooked dinner for themselves.

The next day, my son took them to visit some relatives (without his parents, for the first time).  Everyone had a wonderful time and I got some time to sleep off my infection and get back on my feet.

It occurred to me that we had all suddenly grown, I don't know exactly when or how, but in wondrous ways, rising to meet the occasion.  Little steps that made a big difference.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lessons From My Son, On Perfection

The pursuit of perfection is instilled in us at an early age, perhaps to develop certain qualities that will help us in years to come.  And it does have a place in our lives as do rigour, a commitment to excellence, diligence, analysis, the process of checking, cross-checking, sifting, unearthing...  But there are times when the pursuit of perfection is self defeating and often, the adult world cannot easily see this.  We need other eyes and ears and tiny  new voices to tell us that we should rethink.

Perfection comes into play quite often in times of self expression - when one is creating something new or just trying to express oneself through appropriate channels.  It is important to remember that when we are driven from within to express ourselves, we do not really know the purpose of the expression or what lies ahead for our creation - where it will go and who it will touch.  Even if we try, we cannot repeat ourselves for each situation is different- the moment is different, we are internally at a different state from the previous time and the space and environment we find ourselves in is never the same.  That is the beauty of our individual efforts and what makes it satisfying is not just the shape it takes but the process involved.  And at some moment we need to let it go, drift away and find its goal.  Many times, our concern about our own inner standards prevents us from expressing what at a very deep level we would really like to.  We hesitate, preferring to wait for a better time, and the moment is gone (other moments do come of course).

Long, long ago, I stopped singing (as I could not sing at the pitch desired by my primary school teachers!).  I do hum and whistle and, like many people, some music does move me enough to sing on my own at times.  But not very loudly.  After my son was born, I realized that he much preferred to hear my voice rather than the tapes I would play and nothing could make him sleep better than my own bedtime songs.  So I began to sing, just for the two of us, and now there is so much joy in the process because, at his prompting, we are learning new songs together and singing them loudly and unabashedly.  The first day that he settled into school, I found I was free to shop in the morning and it was only after spending quite some time in the shop that I realized I had been humming away to myself, and no one had raised an eyebrow.  A gift I need to thank my son for.

My thoughts turn also to a friend who derives tremendous satisfaction from perfection.  Photography is one of his interests, and when he visited India, he carried his equipment around, taking pictures everywhere he went.  There were so many photographs and not enough time to edit them so they lay around for a while until he decided to send them to us anyway.  It so happened that they arrived on a day when my little son returned from school in tears.  He had taken his collection of wildlife pictures (cut out from the newspaper) and someone had trashed them saying they were not meant for his school work,  and my son desperately wanted them back.  As I wondered what to do, there appeared on my computer screen, shot after shot of pictures taken at a wildlife sanctuary.  My son and I went through them with great delight.  We thought they were beautiful because they had a spontaneity and because they were just what my son was missing at that moment.  My son was happy to have a new collection (though he said there were not enough monkeys and also cautioned the photographer not to wander about at night taking pictures because a Brazilian wandering spider might dig its fangs into his foot!).  Perhaps these pictures would not make it into a fancy photo gallery in their current form but my son and I could not have asked for anything more perfect at that moment.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Diving Into Stillness -and more

It has been an unusual year.  Uneventful in big ways but overflowing with twists and turns and changes of paths.  I have been unable to write much for my time and energy was tied up so tightly that I could not stop to slip in a stray few words much as I wanted to.  So, readers, thank you once more for still staying around long enough to read what (I assume) is the last blog for this year.  I hope to write more next year.

It has been a year of continuous physical and mental activity as my little son tried to find his footing in the world of schools and 'educators'.  My husband inched forward with his work on flu vaccines.  My father-in-law braved his first year without his wife (whom he still thinks of as soon as he opens his eyes every morning, as he tells me).  Various family members faced challenges of some form.  And I found myself in the cross currents of all these events, trying to steer myself in the right direction.

Life is not linear.  It has a disconcerting (and exhilarating) Lewis Carroll like like flow- quantum leaps and lights that begin to gleam not at the far end but mid way through tunnels and fog.  In this blog, I have decided to do the same- to let my writing leap from place to place, as my mind follows the events of last year.  And to write exactly what I wanted to convey (which required a little leap of faith).

For sharing some of these moments with me, I thank my friends, whose words have helped tremendously.  Their outlook on life (and the fact that they took the time and effort to convey their thoughts to me) helped me feel braver and happier!

Two authors, whose books changed my life this year- Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) and Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way).

My husband, who has hardly been at home this year but when I have had immense need for him, has somehow managed to materialize and stay to help.

An acupuncturist, who sent wisdom and beautiful books to me from London.

A worldly wise rug collector and his bubble blowing, egg smashing, story telling wife who my son is incredibly fond of.

A scientist, co-inhabitor of this planet, whose one line mails are more pertinent and helpful than reams of theory from specialists.

A swimmer friend of my son's who shares a common interest in spiders, a writer in real life.

Another friend (of my mother-in-law's originally) who I have just got to know - a talented writer and photographer.

I dwell for a few moments on this last newly found friend of mine.  Particularly relevant in the light of this year's temple fights in Kerala, where masculine forces continue to resist the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 to the Sabarimala temple, a discrimination of the most perplexing kind in the name of God.

This photographer, a stranger in Kerala, has gained the confidence and trust of priests in some of the most sacred temples and has been given access to viewing and recording the ancient, still continuing forms of temple rituals and art forms.  A completely unexpected thing because she is a stranger to their land, a woman and furthermore - a foreigner (who has crossed the seven (or perhaps fewer) seas and approached them.  These reactions and occurrences are glimpses of hope in troubled times.  She occasionally sends me pictures of the temple dances that she is photographing - they are so incredibly powerful.  I am thankful for this sudden new opening in my life to a world unseen but intensely alive.

Descending a little further to murky realms, perhaps not really discussed in company, but- I do want to talk about it briefly- as it comes up in the ridiculous temple fights and many other forms- the menstrual cycle.  Essential, as the world agrees, but let women deal with this embarrassing set of events that seems to unleash the worst in them, and let them stay away from everyone else while doing so (except in progressive countries, where you really have to show them that women can work equivalently and so on..  I do not dwell on that).  I just want to mention my own experiences, which have made me wonder about things, as a scientist and a student of yoga (also because very few books deal with the aspects that I have been thinking about).

My most creative phase is always the one before the onset of this cycle.  Even if I am unable to write, my mind is filled with ideas and where they come from, I do not know (this happens each time, without exception).  I also wonder if men go through a similar cycle- molecules are in some way driving cycles of creativity, perhaps the cycles are not as physically obvious as in women but I feel they must exist.

Following this phase, there is a physical crash of the worst kind, intense pain in the form of a migraine series that necessitates withdrawing from everything except tasks that absolutely cannot be put off.  Why?  Not everyone goes through these intense reactions, and I should not have to.  "Don't bother with them, " says my husband.  "Hormones are powerful molecules, they come and they will go."  But my intense desire to get rid of the physical pain has led me to focus on the role of the mind and energy flows- subtle causes but certainly drivers of pain (and thus, hopefully, also healing).

I find though that respite, when it comes, is driven not through the mind but beyond it- by the spirit (if one wants to give these things a name).  In a state when the mind is switched off, when I go deep into the pain and feel it as energy, without giving it a label.  It takes time but I am beginning to realize that pain is not the rock hard surface it appears to be.  It does give way and if one manages to evade its grasp and dive further down, one comes to a pool of stillness.  What lies in this pool, I have no idea, for I have just about managed to touch the surface.  I have come up spluttering and gasping as the mind kicks back into its usual mind-stuff.  But pain (and all related painful memories) seem to me to be an active force that is trying to stop me from reaching somewhere that is more natural, more creative and that (I sense but do not know) has within in the potential to change my life.

So, next year's resolution is to try and dive deeper, hold away my thoughts for longer and trust myself to this unknown pool of stillness that lies silently within.

The last phase of the periods is the time of visions (as described by Native Americans, whose descriptions closely match my own experiences).  When the body is shutting down and the mind does not want to cope with everyday things, a kind of window opens into the spirit.  This results in shifts of perspective, a deeper understanding of oneself and where one is heading.  I do not believe one has to go through the rigmarole of hormonally induced changes to experience this, the signals are really quite evident for any person to see- when one feels that intense need for solitude,  the need to move away from mind or people-related work to activities like swimming or running or anything where one reconnects to an inner flow, one should try and yield to this yearning.  (In modern terminology, the pay offs are tremendous).

As the year ends, I am glad that though I could not move outwardly in any obvious way, I have moved deeper within,and, for me, this is enough.  My husband has been moving towards trying to streamline demands on him so perhaps the next year (or the following one!) will give him a little time of his own.  My son has taken brave little steps into a changing world and learned to deal with the ups and downs induced by other people, to identify the things he would like to do without giving up on the magic of dreams and laughter, love and innocence and all the good things of childhood.

I wish all my readers a wonderful year ahead and hope they move closer to things that give them peace and satisfaction in their lives!


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