Sunday, December 26, 2010

Notes on a Mid-break Melting

If the test of the true princess is the pea underneath mattresses, this week, I'd have snagged myself a prince, if I could have garnered enough energy. The changing weather seems to have melted my bones, gelled around bone-sockets, and is leaking out of my nose and eyes. But this weather seems to have affected not just my skeletal framework but also the couches and beds that offer no comfort as they are filled with bolder-like peas and pins and needles from quilts I've not finished.

Actually, I must confess, I am relieved that the flu has finally descended. It has been lurking around desks, just out of eyesight, a haunting more uncomfortable because it lacked definition. I have also been relieved for this downing because it means that I don't have to worry about being a support structure; I can let go and dissolve for a bit. And as it happens with all sickness, time expands while the fever clutches. When I feel better, I am heartened to know that only a few hours have passed, not few days or weeks.

Since the fever is not serious, the melting bones feel more like an indulgence, and each sneeze feels like a catharsis of sorts. It has also lent a construct to days that are unfettered by any routines; I know the worst time of the day descends once the day gets tired, and so I have been able to sort out some bookcases; this is especially significant because bookcases in my house are worse than some people's closets. They hold many ghosts; many unfamiliar books that no one claims; many favorites that cause strife about whose shelf they should reside on; and so, like a lot of healthily repressed families, we tend to not address them. But since the only contenders I have right now are the supremely incurious cats, I have finally sorted out a few haunted corners of the house, like that bookcase behind my child's door.

For each day, I assign myself a few chores. A day I don't get to a chore or two is especially welcome. These days I feel like an inversion of a Sisyphus, who relishes every inch his rock descends as much as his doppelganger cherishes each inch the rock climbs. It is also important to remember that Odysseus relishes the feel of being in the midst of the ocean, even more than he does reaching an island.

It was a Wednesday when I'd last looked at a calender; I washed my hair today, so it must be a Sunday. The immortals must feel thus, moored serenely in the middle of a never-ending break, melting every so often, every so often sorting out a messy corner, watching absolute nonsense on an indifferent screen or page that tell the same stories and enjoying it all, always keeping within ken the dream of hectic days, with resolutely mandated wakings and dreamings, of constant heeding.

The weather has turned chilly again tonight, perfect for a melting. I shall vend towards the couch and dream of needles, peas, and books that don't belong anywhere.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Because . . .

The rain pounds on the cold windows, and for the first time in months, I am glad of it: rain brings changing weather, and I think I need it to. My grades are squared away, the madness of the most hectic quarter of the year is past, as is the holiday rush (for me). I look forward to a few quiet days of catching up with my inner self, something I've neglected this year. I have too many projects to actually appreciate a meaningful closure the end of December usually brings, but I do need some pockets of nothingness to adjust perspective.

Then again, I wonder at my need to justify this need: this blog-space affords one of the few indulgences I allow myself. I write here not because of deadlines, not because of monsters waking me up with itchy fingers, not because a theme needs more development or address, not because of any reason, just because . . . .

My father used to hate this word, this because word, which, he believed, holds many long-drawn out syllables for the sole reason of bulkily packaging lame excuses. He had a special kind of steel reserved in his eyes for when this word turned up in any explanations for, oh, a variety of situations, like why the Geography homework was not done, or the reason for the Civics grade, or how a sibling's favored toy ended up broken.

I must confess, I have to make an extra effort when I see this word in student papers: it is a good enough word and should not be mistrusted so illogically. Sometimes, I say the word out loud, drawing out the long syllable longer, to listen to myself say it, haunted with the steel from my father's eyes. Sometimes, I wonder at the hubris lurking in that elongated word: it assumes to know the bigger picture, and promises to explain the reasons behind its arrangement. So it seems fair to consider it a promising portal between multiverses that forever contradict all others, cancel each other out, and simultaneously co-exist and overlap with each other.

The rains have paused for the hour; the cats are napping in their preferred caverns; my child is out of town; and the long afternoon is still for a spell. I shall try to use this stillness to find the center of my being.

As the afternoon sinks into the evening, I scatter events of the past four or five months on my table and try to understand how their edges fit together, to realise a bigger picture. I don't know yet how these events will arrange themselves, but I do know the last piece of that picture: it is because, a word that links random-seeming events to choices of the past, to horizons of possibility, like all links, forged in steel, a word that holds a long breath in its chest that shall articulate itself as the afternoon exhales its explanations.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chasing Closures

It seems the planets have again changed their paths and are messing up my horizons. It could be the weather that has me so off kilter. The days are really hot, but evenings come fast and dawns are lazy in rising; I am trapped on a glassy ocean in the Ancient Mariner's Rime :"The sun's rim dips, the stars rush out/ at one stride comes the dark!" The tickle in the back of my throat confirms the changing year. Last weekend when I happened to look up in the sky, the silent, rolling constellations veritably glared down at me and I hastily lowered my gaze, caught staring.

It is the season of long stories for the long nights, and it seems my stories are not immune to this tendency of stretching out.

I have been working on a set of stories for a few months and I am happy with none of them. The one that I thought was easier to work with refuses to end. I'd started it as a prospective submission for a short story of about three to four pages (the standard 2000 words), but this one is over ten pages and like the endless night, it sits jealously.

But I am loathe to give it up since working on it somehow comforts me. It seems to have taken up the vigilant post of my never-ending quilt.

The story is a first person perspective and I feel already immersed in the persona. The topography of my character's garden is more recognizable than my living room, and I find myself resenting having to clear up the laundry and sort away the dishwasher. My character's face feels more mine than the scowling brows and down turned mouth staring back at me from my mirror. I admire her tenacity, her strength of will, her ability to keep her head in midst of unimaginable circumstances, and I come up short, with my anxieties, panic, and frustrations over the trivial realities I can't seem to get a handle on, that are protean at best. My character has another great advantage over me: everyone knows her story and how it ends. I have so many alternate futures and horrifying prospects that seem as viable as any other possibility I can imagine. Somehow, these things make her more alive, more believable than I. I seem to be a faded out, insubstantial shadow of my character, and often wish she'd take over my life completely as she seems so much more able to handle all that is demanded of her with aplomb and dignity.

If she weren't so admirable, I'd envy her! But truthfully, I don't. I wish she could, in fact, step out and help me bear the fardels my particular flesh seems heir to. And I shall miss her when my story is done; re-reading the same story (knowing it has been finished once) is not the same. It feels false and essentially wrong, even narcissistic, like trying to seek the magic of a first love in subsequent affairs.

So here is my plan. I shall not let this story end until the holidays (mine and everyone else's) are over. When the year finally falls, I shall wrap myself up in my story and let it heal and warm my and inner core that the boring, eroding demands of my waking self regularly devour and corrupt.

Monday, October 4, 2010

For the Love of Music, the Lure of Tale

Once upon a time, in a far away land, I used to dance Kathak. We were told that the word, Kathak, literally meant Story Teller: Katha Kahey So Kathak (The one who tells the story, or Katha, is the Kathak). It is one of the classical dances of India, and I made a conscious choice of giving it up when my Literature Reading demanded all my attention and resources, a choice I recognized, even then, as logical, and heavy with regret.

Our Guruji would arrive at the height of our after-school naps; we'd be shaken out of slumber and made to get ready for the lesson. Of course, being kids, we really hated that. This rude awakening would be followed by Tatkar, the intense footwork exercises that get increasingly complex and convoluted as the training progresses. I didn't care for it then at all, even though it got easier for me to handle the complex rhythms and beats, because this exercise did not demand any emotional involvement from me. My favorite part came almost at the end of the lesson, when we would begin teasing a thumri or thaat. We'd try to channel Radha's unrequited, helpless love for the blue skinned god, or evoke Krishna as we'd tell of the mischief the god regularly got himself into, while not missing any beats or taal.

This is the fountainhead to which I trace my love for stories: the still afternoon air, a tale as old as memory, what Amit Chaudhary calls a cultural thumbprint.

As the training advanced, new strains were woven in, and we were introduced to the basic ragas, their, personalities, the diurnal characteristics associated with them, the diversions most suited to them. Yes, this does seem like characters, and they are characters! That was the reason I found them most attractive.

In fact, to date, my favorite type of painting is the Ragmaala paintings, in which each of these ragas is depicted anthropomorphically, along with the connecting raginis. I find them rather extraordinary: they express, perfectly, the exact emotions as well as the entire range of human feelings, and there are many schools of these Ragmala paintings! Just like human emotion, these ragas have no singular composer, and one doesn't associate individual artists with the paintings. There are, of course, stories about their origins, stories that connect these ragas to divinities. The ragas, in turn, tell these stories and more, and like the self-sustaining ancient deities, birth themselves.

They remove humans from temporal designations and introduce them to their feelings; for a lover of stories, nothing could be more perfect!

I am thinking of this world I deliberately turned my face away from, since I just finished Amit Chaudhary's The Immortals, and he so faithfully depicts this denied world. I must confess to more than a twinge of regret today, and these forgotten notes suddenly stand out in relief in the Hindi movie songs I am so addicted to, almost admonishing me for not recognizing them earlier.

But then I remind myself that the music is still within me, very much a part of my day, and I have given up nothing. After all, Katha kahey so kathak, and I am told I tell stories very well, like a true Kathak. Of all the compliments I receive from my classrooms, this one is the most meaningful to me.

The new Quarter begins today; I think I shall begin it with the story of Orpheus, my paean to the gods of music.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Et Tu?

Frankly, I feel betrayed by the one entity I most rely on: my body. Actually, let me re-phrase that. Today, I've realised to what extent my body has been betraying me for the past few years.

I have always believed that the body is a summation of the balance between mind and spirit; that good health reflects this balance, and is a conscious choice; that I would know if something were wrong with me, better than any doctor.

I had not realised how slowly it all seeps away, without one's notice, when one is caught up in the time-consuming business of living. It happens very discreetly and the little negligible things go first, all choices, hour by ticking hour.

My eyes felt too tired or blurred to quilt; I blamed this on the extended time I've been spending with the electronic media, especially lately. So I decided to take a little break and chose to read instead. My feet swelled up and ached; I blamed this on the increased lecture time as I've just re-gutted my class structure to include more instruction. My fingers hurt; and again, I blamed the extra typing I've been doing. Predictibly, my eyes itched, watered, and refused to even look at the words dancing before me; I blamed the computer screen I spend the day staring at. I found myself tired at mid-morning. Admittedly, I've never been overly industrious, but I noticed I'd been napping a great deal lately.

It took an outsider, a doctor, to force me to take stock: that the pallor of my skin was not due to my being out of sunlight; that I needed outside help to re-balance the humors that make up my being; that my age is not advanced enough for me to plead it as an excuse.

This is, at this point, thankfully fixable with a little white iron pill, staring innocently up at me, tiny enough to be lost in the folds of my palm. It is humbling to think that that mote holds the balance of my being.

The worst of all is the deep betrayal I have felt from my body. I now believe it has a separate consciousness all of its own, and that my own intelligence and care are not enough to sustain it. This entity I reside in has lately cheated me out of hours of quilting, denied me poetry I could have made, even books I could have read, and stairs I could have climbed.

After a very, very long time, I've finished four books in five days, completed my syllabi for the quarter that begins on Monday, watched an entire season of Deep Space 9, and stayed up till 1am without paying the price for it the following day. Tomorrow, I look forward to some quilting and more reading, without feeling dizzy with fatigue at the mere thought of it.

This entry is directed to my body, which, I hope reads this somehow, and realises the hurt it has visited upon me by lying and cheating in this manner. I hope it feels chastised enough to promise not to try such shenanigans any more.

After all, we have miles to go before we can be safely out of these woods; I shall need strong eyes to tell a true light from mirages and bog fires, solid fingers to firmly clasp the walking stick, and strong limbs for definite purchase.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Service Of Waiting

A large part of being a Theatre Mom involves waiting, finding a place to wait comfortably, trying to get comfortable with being seen waiting, and convincing oneself that the busy work puttered away at while waiting has been a meaningful, productive exercise.

This is not all, however. One must prepare one's home to wait until its inhabitants return: dinner must be thought of, feline bowls refreshed and refilled, waiting lamps lit before hurrying away with all the implements (books, laptop, board games) that could ease the waiting. Upon return, one spends yet more time switching off wait-lights, lighting home-lamps, conversing with felines lest they should imagine themselves abandoned. Then the day needs to be wound up and alarms set to ensure that the waiting appointment on the morrow not be missed.

I am proud to say, I am quite the expert at this. Ask me about waiting spots anywhere in the tri-county area and I can probably point you to the most conveniently placed Panera Bread Company, the nearest Starbucks that plays the muzak most conducive to a Scrabble or Chess game, the neighborhood Barnes and Noble with the best spaced outlets for laptop plug-ins, away from the insulting bustle of the cafe and families rushing about, obviously not waiting.

The most difficult aspect to conquer in this is to get comfortable with being seen waiting. The servers at Panera Bread or French Bakery perambulate around one's chosen seat, with studied casualness or busyness. One must ignore all curious looks and concentrate very hard on pretending to not exist, on being invisible; idlers and loiterers are not kindly thought of. I have an entire wardrobe of clothing that renders me invisible, jeans and t-shirts of indeterminate grey-beige that the eye just skips over without registering any presence. Earrings, lip glosses, interesting handbags are to be avoided at all cost; if one's lips get dry, frequent refills of water in non-decrepit plastic cups are recommended as best recourse. Care must be taken that the books accompanying she-who-waits must be checked out from public libraries, preferably covered in monochromatic bindings or clear plastic that catches the most shy glare from the mutated lighting, magnifying it, making the title indistinguishable and unreadable.This deters conversation. One definitely does not want to converse, lest one be discovered "just waiting" and rendered irretrievably, incurably not-cool.

I will concede, Reader, that had it not been for these waiting hours, I'd not have graded, read, or played Scrabble as much as I have, and for that, I am grateful. There is something liberating about the knowledge that no trips to the grocery store make sense, since it'd be hours before the milk and frozen vegetables would find their way to their shelves in refrigerator & freezer. The public libraries, undoubtedly in pre-meditated malice, are 40 minutes away, making a round trip meaningless. So this section of the day, evening, morning is best resigned to timid waiting.

Don't get me wrong; I do not resent this. The week, hours, chores, obligations that surround this waiting often frustrate me with their insistent, meaningless necessity. The waiting provides me with a promised sanctuary of undisturbed, if forced, reflection, more like an oasis than a stranding. There are times, like today, when I have rushed around, conscious of and looking forward to the waiting promised at the end of the day. I also know that at the end of weeks of waiting, I shall be treated to a really enjoyable performance, with the added bonus of seeing my child in her element, while I get to gasp, giggle, applaud, and congratulate. There can be no greater reward for a parent.

I shall remember when time's winged chariot draws near, and my daughter shall fly away from any need of my waiting. I shall look back on these hours with fondness, and remember that it was not all rushing and busyness, that I cherished the waiting as much as the applause, the drive, the rushed meals, the littered laundry, and backpacks on the floor to trip over, as I ran around and after her.

The greatest service I am doing by waiting, then, is to my future self from whom this waiting shall be taken away. Then, I shall glance upon that inward eye and consider how my light is spent.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Matter of Death and Life

The past weekend has been a roller-coaster, and surviving it still makes me dizzy. The wise maintain that the actual business of living may take only a few minutes, but that's time enough to reel through the entire stretch of emotions our species is subject to, and this past weekend has proved this wisdom indubitably. I cannot remember another time when the simultaneous immensity of life and death has dawned on me to this extent.

It began with a chance remark from an old friend expressing desolation at the sudden death of another friend. I still am unable to believe it: the friend who has passed away was not sick, not much older than I, and the unexpected nature of her passing has left confusion, disbelief, and fear in its wake. The memorial service was very touching, and her bereaved family deported themselves with admirable grace and dignity. However, as I stood in that crowded room, brimming with mourners, I could see most of us wore a dazed look, as though we were actors forced into an unrehearsed scene, in a world where we don't speak the language fluently. I could not believe that the service would ever end, until she'd walk in, setting the tilted world aright; I could believe less that after it ended, a little hour, long eternities later, we did something completely ordinary, and drove home, stopping for gas on the way.

Devastating as this experience was, the weekend was not over, and the roller coaster ride was only half way done. The next morning, I got a phone call from Des: the youngest among us had just decided on a life-partner, and the family was buzzing with excitement and joy on facebook! Everybody had an opinion about when the wedding should be, who'd attend it, where they'd stay, what websites would have the best fare, and inexorably, the wheel of time trundled on, uncaring of its effect on its riders. We all look forward to a joyful expansion of our tribe, and we can't wait to welcome our new relatives we haven't yet met. The possibilities shine in our imagination, of the inevitable laughter, celebration, and reaffirmation all beginnings promise.

I know time, routine, and new concerns shall dull the lessons this weekend has brought home so dramatically to me, but I hope this entry shall serve as an indelible reminder of keenly, intimately experiencing joy and sorrow within the span of a couple of days.

I also know I shall need to perch at the edge of the ocean and land to actually evaluate and imbibe the inexplicable insanity, to turn it into some hard nugget of usable matter. The only lesson I can realise through today's haze of emotional exhaustion, is that neither life, nor death await; in the end, one is left at the edge of a precipice, given a moment to feel, understand, and internalise the familiar behind, the unknown vastness before and beyond, and then either pulled back or pushed forward, because no space may remain still or stagnant for longer than a moment.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Festive

August has begun, and with it, the season of festivals. This month began with a wonderful, unexpected treat. Last weekend, we saw a wonderful film celebrating women artists and their ability to juggle family and other obligations with their urge to create; what better way to celebrate creation than thus?

This was made more meaningful because I could attend this function bracketed by the two generations that have defined me, my mother and my daughter. This event was attended by a group of artists and the treat was the discussions that accompanied this event.

A central problem sounded by the film that especially resonated with me, was the general assumption that women feel that they have to give up motherhood to be creative. It is true that I choose my daughter's needs over my need to write and this does cause a great deal of frustration for me, spilling over into other parts of our life. I would, undeniably, love to have more "me-time" and spend days, mornings, nights to just let my fingers have their will with the blank screen. However, a greater truth is that my motherhood has been responsible for every creative impulse I enjoy. I would have been a really hollow, empty shell had my relationship with my daughter not enriched me deeply.

Readying oneself for the festive season means finding one's centre, steadying one's inner core, and clarifying one's vision of self. This event adjusted my focus, priorities, reminded me of the reason why I am.

The film also pointed out the inevitable connection between women's routines and house work. In spite of resenting housework, I must confess to the rightness of it, the necessity for it, realize domestic chores as expressions of the nesting instinct that defines women's realities.

This afternoon has been a wonderful way to begin the festive season. I find that I look forward to the holidays, in spite of being so far from the building excitement that would be brightening up the long evenings in des. Comforted in my most creative relationship, I have bought rakhis for my brothers and nephews, to further affirm my relationship within the family, and shop for rakhi hampers with a genuine enjoyment. I hope to celebrate the birth of one of my favorite gods this Janmashtmi, and bid a celebratory farewell to the god of beginnings this Ganesh Chaturti. I shall dance with the goddess this Navratri, and plan out the illuminations, enjoy fireworks, and teach my fingers to find creative expression in decorating my thresholds with rangoli this Diwali.

As the monsoon clatters window panes, the winds sing a prothalmion of plenty and fertility, and Demeter begins to ready her daughter for her husband's house, it is difficult to resist the hysteria, affirmation, nostalgia, and unreasonable joy that is the music of the season.

The un-named protagonist of "Mother Holle" shakes the bed till it snows, in full understanding of the cosmic import of her domestic chores, heralding in Autumn festivities, lighting home lamps to celebrate and welcome.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ravelled Sleeve of Care

The ancient Greeks housed Hypnos, the god of sleep, very logically in the Underworld. If sleep were to take concrete form, it would be heavy like iron and subject to gravity twice as much as iron. In likeness of death, it drags the body down, forces forgetfulness, and defines the state of being awake. I have come to appreciate how much sleep rounds up our waking realities, since of late, I am one of the cursed whom night-sleep eludes.

This shift in my sleep patterns seems seasonal. There is something debilitating about the heat that smothers in the monsoon. The still, wet air squats stubbornly in the middle of the day. There is no way around it; it forces helpless victims to get horizontal, unable to resist weighted eyelids, to seep lower and lower down to the very Underworld. The god often reaches out his heavy hand and once it clutches, the eyes surrender.

Night brings no relief from this heat; only Hypnos abandons the red-eyed, sweating victim to the book piles on her bedside table. The air refuses to move, spreading such preternatural stillness, that whirring and sighing of fans becomes necessary noise.

My friends have no sympathy for my condition and tell me in an exasperated voice to switch on the air, for goodness' sake!

However, air conditioning aggravates this condition instead of offering relief. Imagine the stale air circulating through one's living space, stinking of forgotten dust trapped in unreachable crevices, moving over dead insect bodies in vents, through shoe-racks and hampers with unwashed laundry, chilling awkward pockets of rooms, shrouding the house in a false cool that clenches teeth, grates on inner throat linings, swells sinuses, blocks ears, parches the body. Water desperately gulped down also tastes dusty, reminding me of long summer afternoons at my grandparents' old family house, when my grandmother gave us water in glasses she forgot to rinse from their long slumber in glass cabinets during the school year.

So being in air-conditioned spaces makes me feel like a condemned slave trapped in an undisturbed tomb; I must confess my acute discomfort of that musty air.

Besides, I love the fragrance of night blooming flowers outside the window, one of the many gifts this season brings. I had fantasies of drifting off to sleep, borne on that fragrance in gentle rain, when I planted those shrubs. Now, even though I can't sleep when the night jasmine blooms, I seek a little comfort in its keeping me company.

During the day, however, I obsess over sleep. I evoke vivid dreams, try to capture cities, houses, streets, rooms from dream-scapes, and remember to think of them in vain efforts to induce sleep. I spend pointless minutes calculating how many hours' sleep I must catch up with; then, I further slice up leftover time into neat sections, allocating a slice of time to each day. Of course, this adding, subtracting, factoring is to no avail; but counting is a knee-jerk reaction of any mind deprived of night-sleep.

I've tended, then, to snatch naps, in afternoons, mornings, while stirring coffee, watching a TV show, in the elevator, at traffic lights. My family says I've been blessed with this ability to cat nap, and I must say that while these naps don't quite knit up my ravelled sleeve of care, they do offer some respite. Of course, there are times when I can't always tell if I am asleep or awake, but then there is something comforting and restful about blending of these two states, about blurred horizons, as though no distinction is demanded, no clarity made imperative.

Despite everyone thinking me blessed with them, my naps are an acquired skill, one of the many lessons my cats have taught me. I've often stumbled upon sleeping cat bodies in various positions, in unlikely places and the total concentration and commitment to the nap are fascinating to study. Nothing can rouse the napping feline, not the squeaking ducklings outside the window, not the rattle of their treat bag, not opening of cans, nothing. But once awake, the cat is all there, needing no time to transition between states, clear in demands, eyes shining with enviable awareness of his own intelligence and resolve.

I am still learning. I seem to have quite mastered the art of choosing to fall into sudden naps. If only I could also master the art of immediate, complete wakefulness, so the horizon between sleep and not-asleep is more than an illusion!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Conquering Variables Or How I Spent the Summer

Yes, I have variables on my mind. Success could be defined as the ability to constantly factor in variables without losing one's cool while continuing to solve equations. These past few weeks have tossed up many variables that I must have conquered, because here I am, at the threshold of yet another quarter, contemplating the first week as it looms large and near.

For one thing, I refused to plan anything. I had no international trips and because of all the globe hopping of the past year, I was looking forward to a decent chunk of doing nothing.

But then what constitutes doing nothing, a phrase pregnant with promise and contradictions? This doing nothing has meant that I experience things I'd never thought I would, because I never think of them at all.

The beach was cold, wet, and dark, the sand packed so hard it hardly felt grainy. It was the day after 4th of July and we had no reason to be there. The sensibles had abandoned the beach to stay in to recover from the holiday, to watch movies, to play board games, to choose to turn away from the busy rains that had plagued us through the weekend. An isolated group of young hopefuls, noisy in their insistence on fun, ignored us as they gamboled away, flashes of their cameras lighting up their deliberate screeches.

It felt like it was time to go, but when I called my child to return from her walk, she said she was watching a huge turtle, and please could she stay?

Recognizing a variable of the best kind, I hurried, skirting around the many turle nests, across the sand to where I could sense her. It was too dark to see any shapes clearly, but not too dark to see the amazement on my child's face as we watched the dark, looming shape drag itself up the beach and begin digging.

I had seen this happen on youtube videos, represented on number plates across town, but never been treated to the real thing, an immense, incredible sight that dried up to my eyes as they forgot to blink. No, reader, we did not approach the turtle or take pictures of her, which would have been a profanation. Sometimes, the Universe rewards without any effort or reason exchanged for such reward, and it is a humbling experience.

Variables do not resemble each other, though, I found when I was treated to tubing for the first time. I had never quite understood what that sport entailed until I saw people floating down a river in inflated rubber tires.

It was the perfect day: not too sunny, not too cloudy and when we were dropped by bus at the top of the hill, I thought I was prepared; it looked simple enough. Vishnu-like, one just floated. However, like doing nothing, this was an action verb. There were tree-trunks and rocks one had to navigate through, and some it was impossible to avoid. That's when I realised I was faced with an unseen variable I would be forced to factor in: the moss and algae on the rocks which formed the only Terra Firma in the fast moving creek.

This has been an experience that has been fun and humbling in equal parts. The slippery creek bottom, my unconquered variable, reminds me that I cannot, ever, be confident that my feet shall find purchase in what seems like popular sport. I have to be prepared to get stuck, to keep up my upper body strength that I may be able to steer clear of the open jaws of still rocks under the bubbling, rushing water, giggling like a heady kid in the next tube. I have to be wary of insects that might suddenly show themselves, attack me from shady branches, swaying gently in the wind. And the only place I can actually close my eyes is the center of the stream, on deeper waters, the sun beating down and reducing all variables, relying on being visible to my fellow floaters for my safety.

I have a whole new respect for Vishnu, now that I realise exactly how much of what has to be factored into just floating and dreaming. I also know now why Vishnu is the Protector.

Sometimes, the very business of drawing breath takes one's breath away and at this moment, I am most reminded of the gratitude and divine quenching that overwhelmed every molecule of my being when I galloped down the first glass of icy water after I returned from the beach, after I emerged from the tube, as I write this and cause words to appear because I have navigated through the amazing variables and willed it so.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Amazing!

This entry is in response to Chitra Divakaruni's prompt about one amazing thing that has happened. I have been thinking about the many amazing things, from the exquisite sunrises and twilights at the beach, to strange happenstances, like my leaving the home shores with only my punjabis and shakespeares, and realising that that's all the equipment I've needed in the new world.

But then when I really search my treasure boxes, one moment stands out like a jewel, a moment after which my very self-view has been irrevocably changed.

This moment, like all such moments, was not sudden like lightening; it had been building up for years, and with more immediate urgency the few months before it happened.

I remember it very clearly: the mirror I was looking at was blurry, with grey and ochre spots, the largest one immediately above my left temple. I also remember what I wore then, as I looked into that mirror: it was a light pink paisley printed quilted jacket, a favorite then.

I had my 6th month sonogram that day. Yes, reader, I was pregnant. We had decided that we didn't want to know the gender of the baby and had told our doctors and technicians about this. We knew we'd love it no matter what.

I was apprehensive because my family was far away, and I was afraid when I went in for the sonogram on my own, the very first time in my life I faced a scary machine with no one to hold my hand. I remember the cold gel on my skin, vaguely uncomfortable, and the quiet voice of the technician, pointing out various parts of the fetus. At last, it was over, and he said he was almost done, just a couple of minutes more.

I discovered I had never, until then, quite understood the import of holding a new life within oneself. That heart beat with such determined will; a fist half-opened in tandem with a foot suddenly flicking up, and I felt the kick. The fascinating, grey, blotchy, moving thing, image, was a human being, and wonder of wonders, it was within my body!

The technician stopped speaking, dragging, forcing my eyes away from the fascinating screen, the incredible, unbelievable throb of a life the universe had entrusted to me. When the technician knew he had my full attention, he said that the gender of the baby was quite clear; would I like to know?

I don't remember my response, but it must have been clear, for he awarded me with the most amazing words I have ever heard, "It's a girl!"

I don't remember, actually, the entire process of crying, but I do remember noticing that the ultrasound gel felt much, much colder than tears. What can I say, reader? This was the most important moment of my life, and I was sobbing and sniffling in the most pathetic manner imaginable! But I knew then, that that's what one feels when joy literally overflows: one loses one's dignity and sputters around in a daze.

I was to wait at the facility for about an hour more, and I wandered around the little strip mall, composed mainly of Cuban shops and Hispanic markets. I knew I had to do something, and I bought my daughter my first gift to her: a pair of booties and a matching skull cap. I then begged the counter-lady to use the rest room.

This, I remember as the most amazing moment: I looked into the mirror and realised that I was looking at a woman who has a daughter.

I told this to the woman in the mirror over and over again, "You have a daughter! A Dikri!"

Never has everything felt as right as those words. It was as though the universe had clicked and whirred into place, everything locked just as it should be because that very recognizable woman in the mirror had a daughter.

My daughter turns 16 this week, and I am continually amazed that I'd be trusted with a being like her, for however short a time. True, my times with her so far have been fraught with as much worry and discord as with joy and harmony, and we have had many, many amazing times.

I measure all those times against the yardstick of a woman looking into a stained mirror, owning her daughter, acknowledging her as a separate being, inseparable from her own being.

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Apology for Re-Visitation

I am visiting an old friend: Anna Karenina. It is always a special treat when I open the first page and begin to listen, in complete comfort that this is a long tale that will be told well. A reading like this, like living through a brilliant production of Hamlet, cannot be, should not be hurried. It is very much like savoring a meal one has fantasized about but hasn't enjoyed for a while. The lines, the syntax (even though it is a translation), the very cadence of the text feel like a song long buried, finally allowed to surge and haunt, and I am very grateful to the bookclub that has allowed this excuse!

Some texts disappoint by not living up to their promise: they promise richness, minute details, subtexts, and a theme complex enough to warrant a labyrinthine plot, but only skim the surface, touch on the shallow waves, and move on to end before one has had one's fill.

Anna never fails me, though. It is a nicely developed text, with enough round characters so a whole canvas is wonderfully populated, at the same time balanced, tightly woven, and not over-done or spoiled.

Maybe it was the finesse with which the text was handled when I read it while reading Literature, a finesse that lingers beyond decades and lands, thanks to one of my favorite professors of all time. Maybe it was the many Thomas Hardy's I was reading at the same time (I am not a fan; a thousand apologies!). Maybe it is the memory of feeling young I associate with this text. Maybe it is the combination of all of the above. Whatever the reasons, this is a story I long for over and over again. On my bookshelf, there are only a few texts that warrant a return, and Anna proudly sits beside the epics and the Shakespeare's I constantly re-visit.

I like to sit in a dusty corner when I treat myself to Anna. The first time I read it, it was in a hospital library, waiting for my father to finish with the first operation of his day. So now, I like to have a slightly dusty fragrance, the fragrance of un-dusted book shelves in the background. The last time I read Anna, I even made sure to wake up extra early and read it between 4 & 6am, before the day actually dawned properly, since that was also my hour at the hospital library.

Some of my friends tell me I am old fashioned to actually like a text like Anna; sometimes, some others just smile awkwardly and look away, seemingly at a loss at what to say to a being like me; they mistake my enthusiasm for posturing. I must confess these awkward moments make me feel the extreme heaviness of Odysseus' oar like few other times do. I don't understand how I could be so misunderstood, and have learned to keep my peace, to mellow my enthusiasm so I don't seem glaringly inept.

Most people tell me they have no time to read such a thick book and shudder to underline their statement. Maybe my need for texts such as Anna is a character defect, a chemical imbalance, an excuse for my innate laziness?

Yes, I have a child; yes, she keeps me busy; yes, I have missed deadlines because I was doing chores or grading; but equally true is the fact that the savoring of well-loved texts lends relevance to my existence. I don't have time to do the laundry, sweep up the floor, keep my kitchen spanking clean, cook much, or entertain enough. But that is because these stories hold me in their thrall, keep me up when I should be asleep, give me migraines of guilt when I wander too far away from them. So it is true that there is a great deal of self-indulgence in my reading.

However, enjoying Anna is more than a narcissistic wallowing for a lost self. I know there is an ageless kernel in me that demands this re-visitation every time I get tired of my daily dealings with people and their "trivial dramas," as my daughter so eloquently puts it.

So visiting a text like Anna is my paean to the teeming humanity that surrounds me; it serves to remind me why I love real people, as I admire the nobility of Levin, appreciate life like Stiva, adore the simplicity and sophistication that Kitty is, so that I might be brave enough to live as fully and passionately as Anna does.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not Getting Along

I continue trying to pin my concentration, and the quilting I've been doing lately definitely helps. However, it is rare that I get an hour like this, sans homework, sans high school projects, sans melodrama that every adolescent is heir to, and I know I must work on my unfinished stories.

But here is the thing: I have lost control over them. They seem have acquired a consciousness of their own and often, I hear them snickering at me from beneath my closed laptop; I hear them murmuring, plotting, bickering with each other, calling out to each other, completely ignoring me. They wake me up with their constant cacophony and I can hear them singing each to each; they will not sing to me!

Like my daughter, they too have outgrown a need for me. But like my daughter, I haven't outgrown them. My everyday life is spiced up with my fictional characters' responses. I recognize spaces the stories unfold in. As I teach my fiction students the joys of flirting with perspective, my stories change tunes, voices, selves behind my eyes.

I disapprove of their brazen conduct, their lack of decorum. They remind me of the daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law triads of Hindi soap operas, those family sagas for which I have a fascinated disgust, like Milton's for Satan.

After all, I am constructing these stories (confound it, I still think of them as mine!), and how do they represent me to the larger world? Whatever will everyone think? Is THIS what I brought up and nurtured? Don't they realise the immense responsibility I shoulder in acknowledging them?

The really frightening thing is, what if I am the kind of writer they say I am? Someone very, very much unlike the kind I had always thought myself to be?

So I refuse to let them out.

Jealously, I keep them atop towers with no doors and have snipped off their long hair.

I am still looking for a way to quiet them, though.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Flashes upon that Inward Eye

One would think that seeing beautiful places would strengthen the wavering needles of one's internal compass, reaffirm faith in the undying spirit that resists immunity to appreciation of the beautiful. However, I have been unable to reconcile my inner realities to the outer landscape that demands my attention with the insistence and privilege that comes from belonging and owning.

I just returned from Italy a few weeks ago and still cannot stop sighing over the places that turned out to be not dead cliches of images of exotic, improbable, far off places, but real locales, throbbing, teeming, vivacious.

I remembered to touch the stones wherever I went, trailed my fingers along the casual buildings across the street from the Vatican, laid my forehead on the walls of museums, tried to lock in the sensation of my hand resting on a parapet in Assisi, used a rock from a Mediterranean beach as a worry-stone, picked up and kept a brick-fragment from Pompeii. But every passing minute inexorably marched on, slamming into me the awareness of its passing. I tried to inhabit each one with my entire being, tried to inhale it, drink it in, possess it with every molecule, but being mortal, I have been left behind.

Of course, like any insanely infatuated tourist, I do have thousands of pictures, so as the year dwindles beneath routines, chores, and the business of carrying on, I have the option of reminding myself of a wonderful time.

I have had to treat myself repeatedly, have needed friends more than ever, all to remind me that even on that wonderful trip, I missed home, that I longed for my own bed, that I was more often than not tired of living out of suitcases that couldn't be unpacked since we rarely spent more than a couple of nights in one place.

So yes, I am glad to be back and this entry is one of my many attempts at bringing all of myself back here, on this desk.

I've always thought of my internal landscape as a hive of honeycomb-like structure, not an organized land-water-horizon realm. I find now, I have a few more chambers; I hope that these have strengthened the over-all structure, helped me understand hidden facets of who I am, and equipped me to hold more.

These hold fragments that I have no photographs of, an exotic far-off land in me, woven in the fabric of who I am, indelible, pure, true.

Tomorrow, when I look at my mirror to brush my teeth, I shall not forget to savor the sunlight spilled on cobbled streets of Florence, a golden afternoon, and smile because the day shall be good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Folder

1:25 in the morning I woke up to the burning bile in the back of my throat, the pungent taste of work undone. I have been gathering papers since then: transcripts, birth certificates, passports.

It amazes me how a single folder, worth no more than a couple of dollars at the stationary store, just a set of card paper folded and pocketed that one can carry without noticing, is large enough to contain a life.

Along with most people, I keep all my "important documents" (even though this sounds like an oxymoron) in one place, that I may easily dash out with in case of a fire. And like most people, I don't open that folder unless absolutely pushed to do it.

Like a lot of people, I call this The Folder.

Maybe the hour had something to do with it, but facing The Folder felt like one of those times when in the silence and solitude of an endless moment, a recognition, realization, an unveiling descends and no words could articulate it if it was to be recalled and explanation attempted.

The first thing that met me when I opened the folder was my will; then I worked backwards through the breaking of my marriage, birth of my child, various transcripts as I had tried to find a niche in a world I'd immigrated to, the numerous recommendation letters I'd moved with (concrete good will, as I used to call them), my marriage certificate, transcripts, dissertation copies, school records, and finally at the very end, tucked away in the pocket of that folder, a birth certificate.

I have been asked to provide copies of transcripts and I have an impending international journey, both of which force me to confront The Folder, a confrontation, which, I must confess feels like meeting a self in a mirror that one keeps carefully concealed behind a thick curtain.

My M. Phil. dissertation focused on the image of the woman in fiction and predictable soul that I am, I'd named it "Mirror, Mirror." Ever since then, I've found every reflection a bit unsettling, like acknowledging and owning an older, less recognizable being as self, like suddenly recognizing a doppelganger on a lonely walk. My neatly tied up resolution to the dissertation does not translate itself into more accepting, healthier reflections in my reality, especially those reflections that include a movie of my entire life as I look to my death.

Now here I am, reflecting, yet again, an hour later, my paper work addressed, The Folder put away.

I am trying to calm myself down enough to catch a couple of hours' rest before the mad rush of my day begins. I am trying to read The Ramayana, trying to get a cosmic perspective, trying to convince myself that of course I matter, that there is more richness, complexity, feeling, relevance to my existence than can be contained in a cheap folder shut away in a drawer.

The Folder awaits, in sure knowledge that what I feel for it is immaterial, that it may be a discomfort now, but that the awareness of its being is also the reason I've had many restful nights, and that it shall be the loudest proclamation of who I was when it is time for it to be opened by my survivors.

Unlike me, The Folder needs no other validations or acceptances.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Time Out

I have been contemplating the idea of time, lately. Constructing and respecting a time frame has been one of the many challenges I've had with my writing. I don't, of course, include my poems in this worrisome category, since they exist out of all time frames.

I try, very hard, as I am constructing a world, to stay as close as possible to the way reality works, in order for the fictional world to be easily recognizable. However, time is one concept that has been so difficult to frame. The last three weeks, for instance, have been packed with so much that needed to be taken care of, that even attempts at prioritizing seemed ridiculous, and ultimately, only whatever I had the time for, got taken care of. The rest awaits.

If I am unable to manage my work and time to handle my real expectations and responsibilities, how can I presume to manage a fictional time frame?

As if to reinforce my failures, now, almost all the clocks in my house have stopped telling the real time. It seems to defy logic, but suddenly, in tandem, the two clocks in the living room and kitchen stare belligerently and blankly, refusing to move their hands, even though they both continue to tick in some kind of a cosmic mockery.

The other two clocks take turns running 10 minutes ahead and 5 minutes behind, so I never get a clear view of my temporal compasses.

My friends just laugh it off, saying I need to make the time to change all their batteries, shaking their heads at my neurotic fear of a cosmic sign, full of foreboding. Of course, I can hear how uncomfortable and uneasy their laughter is, tinged with obvious relief, thank heavens this is not happening to them.

This is exactly how time has been treating my fictional world as well: I needed a story to be contained within a morning, but it seems to want to go farther back, years back, even, trace itself to its present moment, resisting all confinement the unity of time demands of me.

I have shelved that story for the time being, and have begun another one with less rigid time-constraints. Of course, that one is taking too long to reach where it needs to.

As a child, when I first began writing, I used to begin at the climax of the plot and weave people, events, feelings, objects around it, like a quilt. This practice, of course, is one of the greatest qualifiers of my efficiency as an instructor of thesis statements, and it has drawn me so close to quilting as a hobby (when I have the time).

Maybe that's the practice I need to go back to? But no; doing things the same way feels a little nauseous, as though no matter how much I walk, I don't get any farther, rather like using a treadmill than walking to a grocery store. That is one of the fears I have: to produce by rote so that I explore no new lands within myself.

Maybe the time is merely out of joint and I just need to wait to right itself back?

I could be feeling this temporal dislocation because I shall have made two international trips in three and half months. I shall have lost and gained so many days, hours, the very prospect defeats my every effort at controlling and managing the times I live in between those trips.

One of my students claims someone owes him a Saturday. He lost it somewhere between the two coasts of this huge continent and wonders if it means that he will live a day less. Fortunately, since we were in a Fairytale class, I could assure him he'd be awarded his lost Saturday in a chthonic package, either in a Dream, during a Journey, or a in similar archetypal time-frame.

However, once I left the class-room (and the space-time of Fairytales), I've wondered about my lost time too.

I sincerely hope that I, too, get these weeks back in some way, since they too, are what I'd log in as "lost."

Of course, that begs the question: What exactly is found time, then?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thank You For the Music . . .

Really, I wasn't expecting this to be particularly different from a lot of other recitals I've attended at the cutest, boldest, most wonderful little theatre I've been partial to for the past 8 years.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy their plays immensely, but often, the recitals are just a fun night out for me, since I haven't grown up with the music. I can't sing along with the rest of the audience; I can't always understand the folksy wisdom that forms such an important backdrop to them; and often, the recitals are the first time I've heard the songs that the rest of the audience has imbibed with the air they breathe. I can only applaud the performances in terms of the quality of singing, which makes my response rather limited. I often forget the songs themselves and fail to recognize them when my daughter hums them, expecting me to join in.

So while I enjoy myself for the evening, it rarely leaves a lasting impression on me, like the plays often do.

However, today, to my surprise, the songs and their performances made me laugh and cry, and I don't do either easily. It always amazes me when this happens without my consent or expectation.

The theatre is holding a two day Folk and Classic Rock recital over this weekend, and if you've been reading this blog, this is not the music that, how shall I put it? Oh yes, moves my soul. Even though I did grow up listening to as much of the Beatles and ABBA as any other kid of my time, I am more of a Kishore Kumar- Lata Mangeshkar kind, a Hindi-movie-song-addict, and my kind of folk music is Gujarati Garbas.

And today, the theatre used no Beatles or ABBA (from whom, of course, I've borrowed the title of this post), which have become so pervasive that listening to them is fun, but rarely much more than just uncomplicated fun that comes from comforting, familiar lyrics and melodies.

On the drive home, I started thinking about this. I had never felt the teenage angst that I used to read about, nor was I ever angrily rebellious or vehemently non-conformist. I didn't feel alienated, disappointed, or depressed. I didn't have the wild streak that drove me away from home in search of an undefinable dream (my immigration was a deliberate choice, not a desperate escape). I never really felt misunderstood; why, then, did these songs of displacement affect me so?

But like the deceptively simple diction of the songs, the answer to this was simple in the way all complex, universal truths are simple: the songs spoke of the longing for home, the inability to define or reach it, the need to belong, the miracle of sunshine, the rebellion against thought-numbing conformity, the unspeakable obscenity of war, the fear of losing all the moments as time marches on, the entrapment of thoughtless choices, the immensity and futility of barriers, the indescribable sweetness of love, . . . the list goes on.

Usually, when I am affirmed of my place in the universe, this affirmation comes through an identification and understanding of an idea or attribute connected to the places I have trotted away from, the terrain I call Des. This evening has been one of those few times when this affirmation reaches me through an attribute from the land that is my chosen home.

It indeed feels like a life-changing epiphany when one recognizes an unbreakable, undeniable connection with the soil that, in archetypal terms, is one's Janma Bhumi, the land one emerges from. But today, I am doubly humbled and honored to have been included, accepted, through the shared music of its people, by my Karma Bhumi, the land I have chosen on which I may be tested, where I may prove myself through my choices and actions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Many Splendored Thing

Today, of course, is Valentine's Day, and the whole world around me seems to have suddenly gone mushy, including my cats, who only seem to want to burrow and cuddle and talked to.

Well, actually, they could be asking for food, but that's more or less the same thing, isn't it?

It seems only proper that there should be a day set aside for this feeling that no one really seems to understand, only yearn for, illogical as it may be. We are told by lovers of lore, that this is like a sickness in the blood, that once this happens, one loses all appetite, all rest, as though one has drunk too much coffee, and all the colors and sensations feel highlighted in neon colors.

What is more, the literature of love warns us that there can only be one way love stories can end, with death! It all begins when eyes meet and ends when breath leaves body, sometimes, not even then!

All this sounds terribly uncomfortable, unnerving, and undignified, to say the least. Yet this is what differentiates living with full awareness of one's entire being, from simply drawing indifferent breath. This feeling we don't understand seems to govern our life and is as blended within our very existence, like a thread woven in a necklace, to transliterate the popular Hindi song.

Be that as it may, Love is a sad, if thriving business. You can buy disembodied, blood colored hearts on sidewalks, or from the suddenly ubiquitous traffic signal hawkers who knock on your car windows, beg you to get your beloved a balloon or blossom dipped in your heart's blood.

Then, there are the too-too red flowers that are so pathetic, so disturbing. Poor things: they are fed false messages and promises of possible procreation, forcibly inebriated with chemicals that urge them to bloom all the more hysterically in hopes of attracting hordes of bees and pollinators. Of course, no such thing happens; instead, they are snipped off, thrust, along with others of their kind in more alchemied, even coloring solvents, some even sprayed with painful glitter, to be sold as symbols of undying love, or at least as instruments of successful wooing.

Chocolates, I understand, delicious, rich, lethal in the long run, as tokens of love. But I am afraid I fail to understand the thriving business of hearts and flowers.

However, there is another, more effective way of wooing granted to us. More than chocolates, hearts, roses, and balloons, one could use the greatest gift bestowed upon humanity to woo one's beloved: poetry and words!

These last longer than flowers, feel softer than teddy bears and stuffed toys, are more redolent of emotion than saffron, can be varied and woven with more colors than rainbows, set truer than diamonds in that most fitting & priceless of cases, music, and instead of the guilt and teeth rot that are often accompanying specters of chocolates, words come with just sweetness and richness. They articulate, present, symbolize a whole plethora, an entire spectrum of feelings, at the same time apologize for their own inadequacy, a modesty glaringly lacking in the other objects associated with the expression of love.

So here is my suggestion to you: give your beloved a mirror decorated with verse that they may see themselves as only you can see them, their face framed by your regard.

Of course, a few chocolates and diamonds wouldn't hurt, the first well-vouched for as aphrodisiacs, the second promise to shine 'till all the seas gang dry, my dear, and th'rocks will melt wi' the sun. You could add a few blenders, hammers, or gardening gloves, if you are brave.

After all, love is a many splendored thing, sans rules, sans sense, and there are un-count-able ways to show how I love thee.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Told and Untold

Too often of late, writing has become a luxury, a rare treat allowed by powers whose scheduling I don't understand. This past week, for example, sheer exasperation has driven me to the almost forgotten skill of writing by hand on paper; I cannot tell how it exhausts the fingers!

I've been working on a short story, on a particularly difficult part: the balance between sincere and corny or fake. This golden mean has proven elusive this time, as it often has, in the past.

All literature, it has been drilled into us, is the experience of being human. But the exact timbre of intensity of some very human emotions & the way veritable people respond to these emotions, eludes me. Just a tad too much of this intensity and it spills over into unforgivable melodrama. My characters suddenly seem banal and caricature-ish, insincere and unbelievable. If I try to control this intensity, impose some decorum and discipline onto it, it spoils and curdles into a blotch of cliches. My characters get reduced to predictable mediocrity and threaten to fade away. What is more, during attempts at such disciplining, I suddenly hear my own voice, lecturing! An unforgivable embarrassment to any fiction crafter, like underclothing peeking out at inopportune moments.

Often, I write volumes of drivel just to reach that sparkling instant of perfection, when I know I can save that phrase, that sentence, that word, and it's potent enough to spin off universes of stories to keep itself company. However, it doesn't help that for really boring reasons, I don't get a lot of time to write, like I used to. So my volumes of drivel have to be dashed off intermittently, like a dying car at a traffic jam.

I must confess, this makes me quite, quite nauseous.

I don't know how Austen did it, finishing a masterpiece in what must have felt like snatched epiphanies in hours stolen from chores. I don't know, but I can very well imagine. For instance, even though I don't have the family problems that plagued Austen, I do know the guilt of awareness that this time could have been, should have been devoted towards some effort at cleaning up my house. I also know that in less than five minutes, I shall have to surrender this keyboard to more pressing matters, to serve more imminent deadlines.

My child is doing an Art History project and I am staring at a rather bad reprint of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and it amazes me that colors, composition, and inherent tale in the masterpiece still take my breath away; it feels like sheer poetry! How did he do it? Reach across centuries, through bad printers, to catch a tired woman at her messy desk, take her collar and force her to pay attention to the timeless?

The answer, it seems, could lie in stories that are indelible features on the face of our species. I shall let the epics work their magic, then; it might be time to revisit poetry and hopefully, that'll help me reach the undefinable.

After all, Odysseus assures me that poets have closer commerce with the gods than anyone else, and Odysseus is a wise man.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

High!

The last weekend brought an unexpected treat: kite flying. Actually, Makar Sankrat, or Uttraan, or the Kite Flying day is long past, on January 14th, when the sun entered the Makar Constellation. However, this year, on that weekend, there were no prospects conducive to kite flying due to unreasonable cold and illogical winds.

As a child, I remember figuring out my year in terms of the festivals, starting with this one. I remember the blaring of popular movie songs, the fragrance of molasses cooking in ghee and sesame seeds, the usually interrupted cerulean of the sky as a patchwork of kites, kite-tails, even lanterns. I remember the familiar streets from a height, as the day would begin and end on roof tops and terraces, and instead of the hawkers and occasional cars, the streets would be rife with boys running after kites with dead branches, the better to snare them with, my dear!

I never thought that this would be one of the festivals I'd miss; it was never the most favorite one, since I am female. Where I grew up, there was a strong gender differentiation: the girls usually held the spool of kite-thread, while their male counterparts actually flew the kites. It was a truth universally acknowledged that one needed a boy to really control kites, to fly them, to mend them, to balance them, and to shout appropriate expletives during kite-wars. One of the most important things to do during recess was to compare scars borne on one's hands, cuts from the kite-thread which was processed in glass dust. But this was only for the boys: the scars sported by the girls were frowned upon as proof of their unacceptable tom-boy-ish tendencies.

However, as an adult, I find that I do miss flying kites. I find I love the heavy tension of the kite-thread when the kite is high, and the knowledge that it is high because I wish it to be. I love to control a weaving kite with well-timed snatches, to steer it within the air currents, to let the kite-string flow as the kite discovers new heights, to coax and bully it to go even higher than it thought possible. I bear the scars of kite-thread on my fingers and palms with a great deal of pride.

Adulthood has also brought me an added satisfaction to flying kites: I don't care what people think of my femininity or lack thereof. I am too old (and therefore, too invisible) to be judged for exhibiting tendencies that are not stereotypical of my gender. In fact, I hope, the sight of my battling the winds that my kite may greet the sun, could hearten other younger females to try their skill with more comfort because they aren't the only ones.

This month also brought me a physical copy of an anthology which has published my short story, with a check (my first). For about a week, every time I looked down at it, I felt an unbelieving joy, hunger for what my friends and family thought of it, and itchiness in my fingers for fixing it further.

It felt like a high I remember from my childhood on rooftops in the cool dawning. I know once the story is published, I have no control over it, that in effect, the kite-string is cut and beyond my reach. Still, there is a responsibility that comes with the sight of my name in print.

I feel the heaviness of the sky on my story, grounded by my name below it, a feeling as concrete, as nebulous as the illusion of control over a kite buffeted by January winds.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Free

She is young, so she doesn't want to leave yet. But I am always afraid for her, afraid the cats might somehow get her, afraid she might be lost, afraid she misses her family too much, just afraid.

I let my birds go last weekend. I've had a tribe of them for the past 15-16 years, but due to really boring, tiresome reasons that only sound like bad excuses, I've had to make this decision.

I didn't want to abandon them; I wanted to make sure that they'd know where to get food from, even after they've left my house. I had visions of training them gently to get used to the outdoors, since they are born in captivity. I prepared a space for them in my postage stamp of a back yard, arranged some bird feeders just beyond the open cage door, hung an old wind chime that scares the cats on the open cage door, all in said preparation.

But woman supposes and the Universe just laughs.

I stumbled on a step and the poor things, alarmed, just flew out in a panic. I could see them circling the roofs and trees for a couple of hours after, and called out to them in vain. Either they couldn't hear, or they couldn't recognize their cage from above; whatever the reason, they didn't return.

However, what worries me the most is that all of them did not leave: a young parakeet, who looks like she might be ready with an egg, continues to live in the cage, the open door notwithstanding.

For the first day, she kept calling out, even responding when I talked to her. But for a whole day now, she has been just quiet. She shuffles around when I call her, but doesn't speak anymore.

The cage door is still open and the wind chime seems to be working.

This makes me wonder about the nature of freedom. Everybody pays so much lip service to it, but who really understands the cost, the heavy, heavy burden that inevitably comes with it?

Imagine the terror of an open sky on untried wings; the monstrous confusing fear emerging from a forgotten instinct at seeing a dark, wide wingspan; the desperation at seeing the sun set among unfamiliar wilderness, hunger gnawing at the innards; the need to find home; the inability to do so.

I wish I could articulate to my daughter the wisdom of the little parakeet who chooses to stay, even at the cost of her song. Freedom seems like a wonderful dream come true and it is natural to want to choose. However, once one leaves the safety of confinement, it is impossible to find the way back, even when the way beckons.

Ultimately, freedom devours the unprepared, who find horrors beyond their darkest nightmares coming true, instead of the endless shimmering blue sky.

And me? I am left with this huge hole in the centre of my being, where my birds used to live. I am the impoverished, helpless cage-master who understands their terror and confusion but is unable to reach them, the open cage door notwithstanding:

The air gets in the way, and no matter how much of it I gulp it down, it seems endless, like the unforgiving sky.
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