never say never

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
Albert Einstein

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The world has come to a grinding halt. Indians are coming to terms with sitting quiet, a characteristic quite alien to them. And me? Well, for me the last two months have taught me to ‘never say never’ as I struggle with my daily routine. Let me explain.

I am, I must admit, a person who enjoys solitude. But in some measure. This lockdown is a double whammy! Banishment with punishment. My life now revolves around looking for and identifying all the pulses, vegetables, spices, pots and pans, ladles, cutlery, kitchen cloth, wipes, vacuum cleaner, sweeping gadget, to name a few. And then keeping the apartment spic and span.

Additionally, I manage to whip something up with my new found culinary expertise and finish the rest of the chores. After all the laborious tasks, I trudge to my books, iPad and laptop. Cell phone is enjoying its own solitude as well, since my clients are resting and I have no energy left to socialise. Social distancing is really at its peak as far as I am concerned.

Talking of social distancing, I have been flooded with links of ‘free’ webinars and online meeting sessions for personal as well as professional benefits. I am spoilt for choice and pick the ones that suit my time and intellect, hoping they come in handy at some point.

But not all the hours are so nerve racking. The pandemic does have its brighter hues. I have found some quality time to read posts on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook to enjoy the writings, art and craft posts that some have uploaded. So much talent online. Outstanding creativity that I have seen in uploaded video clips, music and poetry with a soul and a fair share of Indian and international recipes.

It’s a huge stress buster for me to sit and enjoy these posts in the dead of night. In fact, a few of the uploads are so good that they take my breath away! I sincerely feel that these few authors should certainly graduate to the next level in their creative pursuits as soon as possible.

And then again, I enjoy listening to senior counsels discuss relevant legal issues lucidly, across nations. Ted Talks, web series and movies also take away a fair share of my beauty sleep. So much to catch up on!

But hey, I have not just been a good listener and viewer! I also do my bit. I have gone back to reading and writing. I realise how much I had missed them in these insane years. So many ideas and wishes have sprung up on me that they threaten to engulf me in the times of my ‘solitude and silent nights’.

Now the predicament is how do I find a balance between what I love to do and what I was doing pre-lockdown? Post lockdown, my life, I reckon, will not be able to go back to what it was. Life has always thrown challenges at me ever since I can remember, but this one is probably going to be the mother of it all.

In fact, when I start getting back into my creative groove, my love for travel should come in very handy. Also, this new found practice of managing the home front by myself has made me confident of my own ability to deal with my body and mind more deftly.

On the flipside, time on hand is also a spoiler. Deluge of memories that I have to sieve through all the time – some very poignant, drains me out emotionally. And the roads to choose from, for my onward journey, driving me away from my comfort zone, gets me edgy.

In this soulful, emotional tryst, I have found forgotten talents and lost few travails that I would have held on to, under different circumstances…

My head reels now! So much thinking is tiring. Not just for me. People across the globe must be tired. The uncertainty is killing! Hope the pandemic slackens its pace and the world is able to breathe easy at least…in another three months maybe?

Difficult times indeed. Vaccine, I understand is far away. May the opportunity to make mega bucks come quickly to researchers and pharma companies to find the right medicine for this virus. If it’s from India, even better.

alter ego

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When the night is still and

I hear the sounds of silence

my mind suddenly awakens to an unseen life,

a soul that stirs my world of thoughts,

blinds my vision, pirouetting as

a whiff of fresh air, undeterred, unfettered

by the chains of realism, daring to believe,

prances on my restless shadow that can’t

but deny the magnetic aura.

My alter ego?

My soul seeks to feel

the freedom, the freshness of youth,

the gay abandon and the frolic that

once drove my being.

I touch the spirit of reality instead

gathering a disturbed night where I

pay for the silence in the vortex

of a storm that binds me.

I can’t free myself from the gathering swirl,

from a space and time that are no longer mine.

Can’t reach the beckoning light, the presence

from where I breathe in gasps.

My soul struggles to break free,

I strive to step into the other realm

even as my mind craves and despairs.

I turn away as moments that engulfed me

start fading into nothingness.

In an unreal world, where time is still,

mind is free, dreams are real, aura blend,

maybe it’s where my alter ego exists,

my mind whispers knowingly,

nebulous…young, undefined,

remote, beyond my reach.

I smile quietly, with tears in my eyes

and turn back into the silent night.

Uma

My visit to Tungi happened all of a sudden, just when the winter chill was quietly setting in. I needed a break and I couldn’t have asked for a better place.

But this story is not about me or my Tungi resort. It’s about an experience that I had there, which stayed with me forever.

Village field being watched over

One afternoon, we just set out to visit the nearby villages on persistence of one villager who was very keen to show us around.

As we trudged up the uneven, unkempt lanes, it was difficult to appreciate the beauty of the place, which was actually oversold by the self professed guide.

I lost my patience soon enough and took off separately into the first village that I set my eyes on. I was greeted with loud barking of dogs, which immediately deterred my adventurous swagger. I hesitated to step up any further, when I chanced upon a small boy holding onto a couple of fairly large sized dogs, and looking curiously at me. The dogs betrayed their antecedents by barking away rather raucously and with greater gusto.

By then my prestige was at stake. I looked at the boy and stepped forward bravely, hoping he would be able to hold onto the two ferocious animals till I crossed over the stretch.

Surprisingly, God was kind and I moved into the village without further trauma. Or maybe I was destined to walk in there.

Village snapshot

There was nothing to write home about the village. I was sorely disappointed. It was full of cow dung, dirty water milling all over the place and most huts had asbestos roofs. Since there were stacks of rice husk, the air was dusty and heavy.

I just moved up, wanting to find an exit path, when I chanced upon a small hut to my right. It looked rather out of place, neatly laid out with a wooden door having nice flowers decorated on it.

It looked so quaint and vibrant, that it lifted my mood. I started to dig out my cell phone to click some pictures. As I was rummaging my bag, my diary fell out and I tried to grab it before it fell into the dirty water. Unknowingly, I think I may not been so diplomatic with my expletives, because an old lady came out of the hut to watch the small scene being enacted in front of their habitat. Fortunately, I retrieved my diary without much damage. This time more with my acrobatic efforts than with God’s grace, I must admit.

However, back to the hut. By now I had three spectators, one dog, one small girl and the old lady. I smiled at the easiest link, the girl. She, in turn, smiled back and ran into the hut. The old lady called out for someone. I waited. I was curious to see the members who stayed in the hut.

All of a sudden, I saw an energetic, smiling young woman come out of the hut, wrapped in a bright pink sari. Her smile from ear to ear was as electrifying as was her sari. I was dazzled and absorbed this emissary of Pink in silence.

She was a tad dark and her teeth were sparkling white. The sari was immaculately worn in the nauvari style (6 yards) and sat loudly on her complexion. The घुंघट (veil) was up on the head, unruffled and majestic. But there was nothing majestic about the young woman. She was warm, kind and homely. I realised that she was the only one who spoke Hindi. Rest all spoke the local lingo.

She asked me if I wanted something. No, I said. I was certainly eager to see her hut. I didn’t have to wait. Much to my happiness she called me inside and I quickly walked in with her. I was ushered into a longish room, which doubled up for the kitchen and the living room. It was neat, clean and the utensils competed with her in their dazzle. Numerous steel utensils lay well organised on shelves. On one end stood two चुल्हा (hearth).

Uma’s kitchen and living room

The hut was made of a single brick wall with an asbestos roof. There was one inner room that housed four old ladies, one floor-ridden, and the small girl. The backyard was covered and their buffaloes were kept there.

Buffalo shed

She introduced herself as Uma and then introduced me to her mother-in-law. I declined an invitation for tea but said that I would take some pictures. The two women were ever so enthusiastic. Uma went on to tie her sari in the regular style for her photo shoot!

After the photography session, Uma took me around. I saw a few more villagers, their homes and a small Shiva temple. But no one was as eye catching as Uma and no house matched her hut. Not even that of the मुखिया (Village head).

As we walked, Uma chatted. There was one man in Uma’s family, her husband, who had gone to the field and was expected back soon. She said she spent her time tending to her family. Apart from her mother-in-law, she had three more aunts to look after. One aunt was very sick and couldn’t get up. The local doctor had given up on her. The buffaloes gave milk which was used at home and was sold too.

But she didn’t want her daughter to lead this life, she said with determination. Uma wanted her daughter to study in Mumbai. She said she would take her there. Her aunt, her mother’s sister, stayed in Borivali. And Uma had her plans in place. I smiled.

A strong woman with progressive aspirations. Who would imagine that in a remote, unknown village, a woman in pink was dreaming big for her daughter? I marvelled at the tenacity of such a breed of women. They didn’t let adversity cower them down. They dreamt and the dreams flowed down to the next generation.

It was time for me to leave. As I bade her goodbye I knew I had a memory that would stay with me forever.

Uma with her mother-in-law

The picture that I share here has given me so much hope and positive energy when my chips are down, which is more often than not, I just can’t express. Uma and her happy, smiling face works like magic on me.

There’s always another day, Uma tells me from the picture.

it’s time

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My heart, my mind, my emotions

pulsate, rise and spiral around me

timeless and unseen, engulfing my being

in a state of nothingness.

Fleeting moments, droplets of sound

dallying and dancing, throbbing and

sending my mind into splinters!

Down in my being, spasm of heartbeats

and swirl of thoughts, move my senses

into realm of unease and pain.

I feel my soul thrashing in the pangs of time

my restless being rolls into the chasm

of heart and life without an end

and too deep to fathom.

I lose myself, images blur

life flickers and I know it’s time.

Saloni – one of many

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Saloni and I met on the road on a sultry Monday morning.

There I was. Amidst chaotic, unruly vehicles at a signal, drivers impatiently waiting to move. I too wanted to move. I was getting late for a meeting and the traffic snarl did not help one wee bit. 930 am, as I impatiently looked at my watch. How on earth would I reach?

Feeling helpless, I rolled down my car window, peeping out. Blast of hot air greeted me. Honking of cars, buses, autos, shouts of hawkers and from that din, there popped up a small, piquant, smiling face.

I looked at her in utter surprise and recoiled, automatically reaching for the window button. Not to be outdone, the girl pushed her small hand through the window thrusting a bunch of flowers almost into my face. Both, me and my driver barked in unison, पीछे हटो (move back)! She did move away, but the flowers stayed. In the meanwhile, the signal turned green and we started moving. The flowers fell onto my lap and the girl started running with the car. It was scary indeed.

We turned at the crossing and she braved the traffic to reach us. With my heart in my mouth, I got out of the car. And that chance face off on the day was the start of a short journey that I traversed with this little girl, Saloni.

We connected that very instant. There was something about Saloni. Something that made a reticent person like me reach out to her every single day, sharp at 0915 in the morning, at the crossing, where she waited with her flowers. She got off work at 11 am and went to a school nearby.

She sat in the car with me for a few minutes, much to the disapproval of my driver, and talked incessantly. Her mother was a house maid and her brother worked at a garage, she told me.

Saloni loved studies, which made me start buying all her flowers, everyday, so that she could study.

My daily ritual with Saloni gradually became a habit. Apart from buying all her flowers, I also made time for her. I would get her something to eat and help her with her Maths. I used to go on a Sunday morning or on a holiday as well, to meet Saloni. To buy her flowers and for her Maths.

Saloni was quick on the grasp and concentrated easily. I decided that I would pay for her education. I told her that I wanted to meet her mother.

Life has its own queer twists and turns. And I was a victim of circumstances. Immediately after asking Saloni to call her mother, I had to travel out suddenly and I had no way of letting Saloni know.

I took the same route after almost a fortnight, at the same time to look for Saloni. I couldn’t find her. A new girl, a little older than Saloni, was at the crossing. One day, I was taking the train. So I got off the auto at the crossing, to hunt for Saloni.

Saloni was nowhere to be seen. I walked upto the other girl to check on Saloni, but she said that she didn’t know Saloni. I looked around for a known face but to no avail. It was hot and I started perspiring. Unable to take the heat and the noise, I moved off.

Despite a daily search on the spot, I couldn’t trace the girl. One day, all of a sudden I chanced upon a familiar face. A boy whom I had seen selling some small items when Saloni was around. I called him and enquired about Saloni. ‘पता नहीं (don’t know)’, he shrugged. With some cajoling and with some monetary exchange, he told me that she lived with her family in Dharavi. I took an incomplete address from the reluctant boy who clearly wasn’t interested in my queries.

On the next Sunday morning, I took off for Dharavi in search of Saloni. The address was only an indicator, as it certainly didn’t do much to the identification. It was a difficult time, locating Saloni’s place. After endless walking around, I was directed to a small, dingy room almost at the end of the colony. As I stood outside the door, hesitant to knock, a woman walked out. She was startled to see me and gave me a hard stare. ‘किसे ढूंड रहें हैं मैडम (who are you searching Madam)’? ‘Saloni’, I asked.

‘अच्छा तो आप हैं (So you are the one)’! ‘Could I meet her? Where is she?’ I could sense trouble as the woman glared at me. ‘She is married and lives in Agra’.

I have faced many losses in my life. People I have cared for, I have lost. More often than I care to remember.

But this was about a 7 year old girl whom I had taught how to dream. To take flight on her own wings. And I had promised to help her fulfil those dreams.

Standing in that heap of dungeon, I was almost in tears. I was speechless and just couldn’t believe what I had heard. In just 12 days! ‘But she is just 7’! I stuttered.

The woman spewed venom. She said I had misled her daughter and made her believe that she could run her life her own way. ‘आपके पास पैसा है आपने बोला। फिर कहाँ गये आप? (You have money so you encouraged her. Then where did you disappear)?’

She said Saloni waited for me days on end. She didn’t want to marry. She wanted to study. ‘हमारे में यह सब नहीं चलता मैडम। बार बार रिश्ते नहीं आते। (Such things don’t happen in our community. Matches don’t come again and again.)’ ‘The boy. What does he do’, I asked. He was a widower with two children. A potter by profession.

I walked away from the lane despondently. A black Sunday indeed. And I never met Saloni again, all of 7, married to a much married man.

I pen this experience of mine for two reasons.

There are many Saloni’s in India. I had a chance to save one but couldn’t. I know what failed dreams are like. I know how Saloni must have felt when she didn’t find me at the crossing, day after day. I will never be able to forgive myself for this.

Timing is everything. I didn’t reach out at the right time, even if I had the inclination, I failed Saloni. In essence, I failed myself. Have I not failed any other time? Yes I have. But here it is not about me. It is about a girl who saw the world through my eyes.

I wonder if this breach of trust was a greater letdown than the legal implications, moral obligations and checking the veracity of the mother’s statement.

But the fact is, I have never been able to come to terms with this feeling of doom.

Continue reading “Saloni – one of many”

flight of a gazelle

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I sit on the green grass

at the end of the meadow

my feet all wet with the dew that

frolics on the tips of

the swaying blades;

down at the other end

swings with the wind

the scarecrow

grinning at the mocking birds

that peck at it in disdain;

the blue sky above stares

deep down at me

the wind blows relentlessly

slicing through my flying strands

brushing my eyes

as I try to believe that

this is all my kingdom;

the sudden call of a

distant peacock jolts me

out of my bubble in a flash;

as I stand up gasping

my dress wet, hands dirty,

meadow springs to life

green is stark

scarecrow is evil

sky is smirking

and peacock

the real king

flies across the expanse;

I run back

in a flight of a gazelle

catching my breath

learning at that very moment

what I think is mine

will slip out of my fingers

even as much as I try

to hold it with both hands

in the sands of time

ruthless in its escape;

meadow will still be green

sky will still be blue

winds will still be relentless

and peacock will

still be king

red dress

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empty road

shimmering gravel

floating clouds

few drops of rain

sudden flight of birds

lapping of waves…

all rolled into a huge ball

of silence piercing through

the folds of darkness.

yonder glimpses of

street light

dimming the quiet

searing through darkness

breaks on my red dress.

as I sit by

the window

so still and tearful

the red dress shimmers

in a splash of colour

on my little frame

helpless and quiet.

lights no longer

brighten the night

as I nervously look

for answers

on my dress which

in a myriad of colours

is lost on me.

I sit by

the window

waiting for the

night to take flight

and let me have

my red dress.

as time stands still

night is long

wait is weary

mind is dull

body tired

life mocks at me

through the

splash of colours

on my dress.

mind shrieks

body pushes

rain splashes…

move, they say.

time stands still

I can’t move

as I sit

by the window

waiting for

my red dress

sitting again

on my little frame.