I love birthdays! Especially mine. I know that sounds incredibly self centered
but I am past birthdays when it was cool not to care. The ones where I have shrugged and pretended and scoffed at celebrations. I have even sailed past milestone birthdays where I was promised the best decade of my life. With sympathetic smiles and supportive words. I played along and tried to look wise and accepting and a little bit like my grand uncle when he had stomach issues. In reality, I don’t think of life in terms of decades. I just want cake. Anything but chocolate. And surprises. I’m a sucker for surprises.
Another birthday went by just recently and I believe honesty is now completely acceptable. Expected even. My children have perfected their tolerant smiles and my mother is often telling us (my sister and I) to act our age. That’s tough. In my head, I’m a 15 yr old who can’t wait to be 25 so as to be taken seriously. My sister believes in unicorns and happy endings. Truth is, age in numbers has never made much sense to either one of us. If it wasn’t for mother, children and mirrors, we would have chalked up achy bones to growing pains.
People do often seem genuinely surprised when I tell them my age and I never know how to respond. I am told I look younger. ‘Thank you’ feels just so fake when my first instinct is to say ‘sorry’. I don’t know why. Must have something to do with the image of a painfully clueless younger me. I wouldn’t like to inflict that on the world again. The moment usually ends in an awkward half smile as I fight the urge to direct them to the many fine lines and the southward trend of everything. ‘Look at those and these- I swear I’m not lying!’ I want to say. Ten years back when life seemed to stretch ahead endlessly, I scoffed at makeup and control garments too but today I am older, more pragmatic. I plan on going down looking my best.
Then there is that displaced and shuffled up feeling on the inside. I don’t know if it qualifies as being older but it definitely disqualifies the carefree feeling of being someone’s child. Things are a bit lopsided, a little off whack. Now I worry about my mother like I remember her worrying about me. Even though she is independent and fearless and tries to convince me that I shouldn’t worry. I listen to her, hear, understand. But without my father, who I used to talk to, who heard me and understood, I can no longer afford the luxury of being a child. Like a limb that one doesn’t miss till it’s gone. It’s confusing, this reality in a one parent world. A reality, my father would have been quick to assure me, is only the natural order of things.
It all boils down to love. That, my older- though not necessarily wiser- self has picked up along the way. An observation, if you will. At the center of all this buzzing and whizzing and candle and cake, in not knowing when to step in and when to back off, is love. Everyone knows the pattern. Birth, life, death. Yet many of us have selective awareness and make it miserable on ourselves and the people around, forgetting that none of it matters. But there is love at the heart of even that. I know that it defines me completely. Love for someone, love of survival, love for a child, love for a job, love of something- that driving force without which it is impossible to get from point A to point B in that pattern of life.
As a child, when on a drive, I used to love getting up on my knees on the seat and staring out the rear window. Unwaveringly focused on that point in the far distance where the journey began. It was fascinating to me that no matter how fast or how far I traveled, the connection with that point could not be broken. All the things I noticed in the distance piling up behind was somehow very important, not to be forgotten in the excitement of looking ahead into the unknown. Life to me is just like that. An ever increasing pileup of memories behind me even as the candles on the cake add up each year.
Memories and experiences, good and bad, real measures of life. Going by that, I think I’ll be around 500 next birthday. Hold the candles, please give me cake. Anything but chocolate. Surprise me. While I tell myself-
“But some day you’ll be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”- CS Lewis
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France
I didn’t have a pet growing up but always knew I was a dog person. I was ‘guardedly in like’ with all dogs I came across, willing to shower them with kindness and affection but on the ready to walk away if they turned nasty. Kind of like how I am now with people. I have vague memories of bringing home a stray and calling him Brownie, though I didn’t have the faintest idea how to care for him. Brownie because his hair was brown. It might have been white underneath, I didn’t have the chance to find out. When I came home from school the next day he had disappeared. My mom was suspiciously silent about the whole thing and my father distracted me with another Enid Blyton. I don’t think my sister was aware there was a dog.
Years later I gave birth to someone who was obsessed with animals. She taught herself everything there was to know about every animal on the planet by the time she was 5. I tried distracting her with sports and dance, but it was to no avail. Not because I don’t like animals. I’m your average run of the mill mother material, the kind who makes sure the kids have a full belly, a clean diaper, and if they must pick their noses, they don’t do that in the middle of a supermarket. The kind of mother who believes she’s doing a rather good job of it unlike the job she did trying to keep the house plants alive. You see, most living things don’t do too well under my care.
But the inevitable request for a pet became an incessant demand. So we got her a fish. She named it Killer. It didn’t last long and we got her a hamster. She named him Hamtaro. One day I found her searching for an eye because Hamtaro was missing one. I’m sure it was somehow my fault though I’m not sure how. Soon after, Hamtaro joined the house plants and the fish in a corner of the backyard. The child could not be thwarted. The wishlist kept changing and I found notes stuck inside my closet, the kitchen cabinet, on the TV. Once she asked for a bearded dragon and I imagined a fire breathing one perched on my roof. Turns out a bearded dragon is a large lizard with spikes, horns and smarts.
Now reptiles is where I draw the line and a smart reptile, my idea of a horror story.
It was a relief when she moved on to begging for a pet sheep, horse, koala, and eventually, a cat, bunny or dog. I got her one of each, the stuffed kind. She did not appreciate the humor in that. When I explained to her that the live kind stand no chance under my care, she insisted she would do all the work, that I just had to open the door to my home and my heart to the idea. Oh she was very good. Over the next five years she had got her father on board. Finally she decided a dog was all she needed to make her world perfect. My younger one takes after my sister and was probably unaware of the entire proceedings.
Like I said, I have always fancied myself a dog person. I started warming up to the idea though nothing would make me admit that out loud. I didn’t see a purpose to it. It was too impractical. We travel a lot- what then? Who would take the dog on daily walks? Who would pick up after the dog, because it wasn’t going to be me. Been there and done that with two little human beings, never going back. What about the expense? Will the dog expect to be entertained while everyone was away for the day? They had an answer to each of these questions except the last. To that, they just stared at me. Fair enough. I started to hesitantly dream of the ideal dog.
He would have to be a medium sized breed. A black/brown/white combination of colors, intelligent and perky eared. Maybe I would name him Pluto in honor of a cocker spaniel who lived across from us in Punjab, who I adored from far. If it had to be a larger breed then something majestic like a German Shepherd or a Doberman, loyal and courageous. He would be named Colonel or Shadow or Bagheera. Maybe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A dignified presence by my side, my silent guardian. His upright ears and keen nose would pick up any scent of danger and his yellow tinged black eyes would narrow fiercely as he got ready to protect me from all harm. His booming bark would be heard for miles around and he would bite but only on my command.
Switching tracks to reality took a moment and my dream dogs collapsed around me laughing uproariously. I watched Juliet bounding up the driveway, all jiggles and fluff. Her floppy ears flew up in the air and slapped back down on the side of her face every which way. Her face was set in the widest goofiest grin I’ve seen on man or dog. Something about the world- no, everything about the world seemed to make her very very happy. All 75 lbs of her came hurtling at me and it felt only right to give her a good cuddle. Underneath the cloud of fur she felt like a perfectly set pudding still warm from the oven. Colonel, Shadow, Bagheera and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle watched me turn to mush, sniffed in disdain and went poof.
Juliet was a fully grown 2 and completely, amazingly trained when she came to us. She is almost 8 now. Her first daddy made the obviously difficult decision that our family was a better fit for her. We wanted to honor his magnanimity of heart and decided not to change the name he had given her- Juliet Ramesh. Over time she has got used to being called by many names because in this family, you can’t go by just one. When I call out ‘Stinky!’ all three girls- the two legged ones as well as the four legged one look up inquiringly. Then there are names such as Sundari, Guggu Guvvie, Itsy bitsy that belong only to her.
There are guard dogs and service dogs and therapy dogs. Dogs who have important jobs to do. Not Juliet. She does not guard or protect, not in obvious ways. Her big brown eyes dance in joy to see people. She doesn’t bite- on command or otherwise. When you stick your hand in her mouth she freezes, or pushes it out with her tongue. She is a golden retriever and it is logical to assume she retrieves. Nope, not her. She loves to pick up anything we throw for her. Then she makes us run around in circles after her to get it from her. At least she gets half the job right. We tried the egg experiment. Golden retrievers are so gentle they can carry an egg in their mouth without breaking it. We put the egg in her mouth and she took off with it, a fat golden cloud, with the four of us after her, round and round the backyard till she was cornered. She looked at us puzzled then spat out the egg, at which point it did break. But she does get half the job done.
I have come to the conclusion that she doesn’t know that she’s a dog. Definitely not one that has a purpose. In the almost six years that she has been with us, she has barked about ten times. It has usually been at squirrels whose existence she takes great offense to. Then at old ladies. Not the upright ones. The ones who are bent over to pick up something from the ground. Derrières sans torso scare her. Especially the older ones. It is baffling. Her bark, on these rare occasions has been deep, booming and a thing of beauty. The squirrels scuttle away faster than light and the ladies either fall over or straighten up rather too quickly. But she always seems so comically surprised and bewildered by her own bark, they are quick to forgive her. The ladies, not the squirrels. We just stand there a little shaken, very apologetic and as proud as when the girls took their first steps.
I haven’t been very sure what her purpose is but there is a certain warmth in the house with her around. Warmth, dog hair and a great many squeaky toys. Coming home from anywhere, whether it be after a week away or at the end of the day or after the two minutes it takes to get to the mailbox and back- a grand welcome is always assured. I don’t think anyone is ever this happy that I exist. She seems to know when I am in a bad mood and comes ambling up. Her beautiful eyes speak volumes and she refuses to go away till I’ve petted away my grouse. I put her in costumes and tie up her hair in bows and she patiently tolerates all of my whims. She comes in handy as a pillow, a hand and foot warmer, the perfect subject to my stint at photography. I laugh, notice, feel, care and love more since she entered our lives.
She has grown older, the hair on her face changing from shiny gold to shimmery white. She sleeps a little longer and is a little slower. Her eyes light up with puppy mischief but seem deeper, wiser. I watch her going wild playing in the snow, diving in to get a mouthful, running around after snowballs. I know she will have a slight limp afterwards and she will come to me, a tinge of pain in her trusting big brown eyes. She will look at me, unwavering in her confidence in my ability to make her better.
Maybe I had it all backwards. Maybe coming to us was her purpose. To guard and protect her, mine. One half her job, the other half mine.
“We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it though we tried to fight it”- Billy Joel
It has been a while since I’ve written. It’s finally happened, I thought. I have nothing to say. But that wasn’t it at all. It’s like the mess in my garage. When getting the basement done, everything got taken out to the garage, a lot of good things mixed in with a lot of junk. Now there is so much ‘stuff’ in there I don’t know where to begin sorting them out. So I go in there, look around, touch a few things, smile at the memories, put them back, walk out of there and close the door.
2017 was like that. A lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of ‘stuff’ for my mind to sort through and put into words. Seasons changed, routine set in, a whole year went by and the new year is no longer new. Time forges ahead and with it, progress. But human beings seem to go round in circles. Entertainment takes many forms- ‘This is us’, ‘Padmavati’, FOX News. Life and Trump push me again and again to take pause and introspect on the value of family, relationships and what it means to be an immigrant in today’s America.
We came to the US twenty five years ago because the opportunity presented itself. We came in search of an adventure, not for a better life. We gave ourselves a deadline and lost ourselves in a country that was so welcoming of foreigners. We decided that 5 years was a good time to experience a different culture on the other side of the world, before heading back home. Because life was pretty wonderful back there and we had left the people we loved to come here.
From the moment I stepped out of the airport one bright September afternoon, I fell in love with this country. My jet lagged sleep deprived mind was in awe of the clear blue skies that felt low enough to touch. The idea that I was on the other side of the globe was thrilling and I kept pinching myself because it felt like a dream. Everything was different, fascinating. Creaky wooden floor boards, the purple of the leaves, the silence and order- the libraries and bookstores. The massiveness of open land, clothing sizes, people’s friendliness, food portions and ice cream tubs.
I walked into a near empty one bedroom apartment and in my mind it still is the most beautiful place I had ever seen. We lived there for a year. A year of ‘firsts’. The first snowfall, my first driver’s license, super bowl when I first pretended to understand American football, the first time being very broke and very happy. We had friends and sleeping bags all over the tiny apartment. I learned to cook in a kitchen that was compact, convenient and fitted two people if they stood back to back. It was like playing house and I got just as much fun out of it as if I was.
5 years flew by, work permit changed to Green card, we bought a cozy condo in a lake front community, we had a baby and being broke was neither fun, nor an option. Almost without our knowledge, life was turning a corner, getting into the next phase. Discussion about the deadline didn’t happen much anymore, the kitchen accommodated more than two, we had real furniture and real friends. Although I continued to pretend to understand American foot ball, time to ‘play’ at life was coming to an end. We bought a forever home and baby #2 came along.
One foot here and another in India, we pretty much straddled the world. Commitments and pieces of heart were now strewn equally and the deadline far behind us. People ask if I’ve encountered issues as an immigrant. Truth is that I wouldn’t have noticed. I come from a country where prejudices of all sorts were so deeply woven into the fabric of society and for so many centuries, one no longer recognized or acknowledged it. A country of many religions, castes, sects, languages, skin color, man made divisions aplenty. A country of raw emotions where one knew exactly what the person standing in front of you thought about you.
Making eye contact with someone here meant an instant smile and I assumed I was loved and welcomed. It felt good. I had no reason to question my sense of belonging. Many years later my girls were at the library and someone told them to go back to wherever they came from. After that day I started noticing what prejudice sounds, looks and feels like, no matter how well hidden behind smiles and education. I notice how desperate it is to find expression. And how successfully it is unleashed when politicians use it to their advantage.
It’s like the mess in my garage. There wasn’t one till I created it.
But enough about American politics. I have something way more fun to pretend to understand- American football! It’s Super Bowl Sunday! Go birds!
There are guns
There is hurt
The sun won’t shine
Or the river runs dry
The land divides
And aliens reign
You see a child
Looking for her mother
Or a homeless man
In every corner
The music stops playing
And tears don’t stop rolling
A pall of gloom befalls
To a man’s slaying
The hope is still alive
The dreams they are to stay.
As a stranger holds a cold hand
As a neighbour wipes dry a child’s tears
And a fallen hero’s life you praise
For as long as the music still plays in your ears
I will keep writing my songs
And Love. There will be love.
As the Election Day draws closer, the alarm bells in my head get increasingly louder. There is no getting away from it. The newspaper, TV, Internet- the media is binging on the juiciest feast its bitten down on in recent times. So many aspects to this election that are contrary to all logical reasoning. But the brain is a funny thing. It resists, gives in, soaks up, readjusts till what was preposterous yesterday seems perfectly normal today.
Anyone familiar with that brilliantly disturbing piece of literature, ‘Lord of the flies’ would know exactly what I mean. Rich in symbolism, William Golding explores the transformation of a civilized bunch of kids stranded on a remote island and their rapid descent into savagery. Jack is a character in this who goes on to symbolize absolute evil. He is a bully who initially talks of the importance of rules that separate them from ‘savages’ and then leads his followers down a brutal path of violence and terror. In the modern world savagery can exist in many forms. Man is set against man in many ways.
I’m not a stranger to being at the receiving end of prejudices and misguided assumptions. Like many others of my generation, I belong to one part of India and grew up in another, lived half my life on one side of the world and the other on the opposite. Through all this traveling back and forth and all over the world, I was taught how important it is to observe, respect, adapt, assimilate. Realized quite early on that’s not a lesson widely taught. The south Indian accent, darker skin and difference in social etiquette constantly come under ridicule- Bollywood is an expert at this. I’ve heard North Indians being regarded as superficial, ignorant and culturally backward. I’m a South Indian who grew up in the north and when younger, was confused about which of these I should consider a personal slight.
Then there is the Western world and the East. Education and technological progress may have brought the world together more than ever before, but they also pick out and emphasize the differences. It makes it colorful and interesting that every individual is a unique result of his or her upbringing, and social, geographic, moral and cultural background. I’ve lived all my life very secure and rather smug in the belief that when it comes to attitude towards mankind in general, I’m a world citizen unencumbered by petty mental boundaries. These past few weeks are a reminder though that there is always a ‘Jack’ who exists among us in many forms – whether it be the potential for evil that is there in each of us or an outside force that lures it out. Either way, he becomes stronger each time he creates a beast.
“Maybe there is a beast . . . .maybe it’s only us.”
Flipping through Fb posts took me to a video from the bizarre ‘Hindus for Trump’ event in North Jersey. Another of those ‘is this for real?!’ material that the brain eventually processed and is yet to get comfortable with. There were protesters from the Indian community holding up placards and Trump supporters fighting back. The video showed one guy in particular engaged in a shouting match with a woman protestor. It was alarming to watch as he got red in the face, threatening, screaming, snarling at her, mocking her gestures and accent, insulting her religion. I felt a bristling, an ugliness on the inside, a feeling of choking on something distasteful. Alarm bells…
While I don’t agree that offering the other cheek is the way to go, it’s a tricky thing to distinguish between true malice and sheer ignorance. So I took a deep breath and a step back. I put a leash on that beast and made him go back to sleep. Anger doesn’t help deal with someone who doesn’t realize that he has sealed himself up into a tight little can of ignorance. In fact it’s sad to see him isolate himself on such unnecessary divisions such as religion, nationality, color of skin, gender, and life choices. There are times when an offender simply doesn’t know any better and it is always worth the effort to try to educate him or her. Throw an alternate route, a different way of thinking out there and he may just decide to explore it. I’ve watched my dad do this successfully, numerous times with students branded antisocial elements. It takes commitment to society, patience and the wisdom to see beyond yourself. A prospect that will be increasingly difficult if a society believes that a civilized world can exist within walls.
The angry man in the video wants a better America and the placard holding lady believes that together we are stronger. Fair enough. Educate your children. Teach them the value of hard work, honesty, decency, kindness and common sense. Make them aware that there is potential for evil as well as good in each person regardless of religion, gender, color of skin or bank balance. Never accept anything without question- whether it be from your doctor, the interpreter of your God, or a public figure. The person who shouts the loudest will be heard but it does not mean he is right- someone else’s beliefs, thoughts and opinions need not become yours. If you were to judge someone based on their difference, switch the camera to selfie mode too occasionally – Maybe the change should start with you. You need not understand someone else’s way of life if it doesn’t affect you or harm others. You do need to respect it.
And finally- our forefathers have worked hard, fought for and dreamt of a future that is now our present. Let’s do no harm even if we do no good. Unfortunately, those are pretty much the two choices we have right now.
I always thought of it as the awful terrible thing that happens to other people. Other daughters and sons whose grief made me tiptoe around my own fears. Sometimes I would decide to let the fear in and face it head on. The tears wouldn’t stop then and the sorrow felt so real I would tell myself I’m prepared. In the highly unlikely event of the unthinkable happening, this is how it will feel. That’s the thing about deaths and births. Nothing prepares you for it and nothing compares to it. You let it happen and you float along. Fight it and you drown. I know this because right now I am drowning a little each day.
One of my earliest memories is of a dusty pair of maroon leather shoes with tassels and a crowded sidewalk. I remember watching, fascinated, these shoes weaving their way expertly through what looked like a million pairs of feet ahead of me. Bobbing my head this way and that, I wanted to skip along faster so as not to lose sight of them but my dad held my hand tight. Every time I tugged, he held firmer. The shoes were getting away, tassels swinging tantalizingly. I looked up at my dad who was turning to my mom, she was asking something. His grip on my hand loosened a tiny bit for a very brief moment. I tugged harder, my hand slipped out of his, and I ran. The shoes were almost out of sight now.
Everything that happened after that is a bit vague in my mind, like trying to look out of a dusty window. The shrill sounds of vehicles honking and screeching to a halt, shouts from people and my mother screaming my name, lots of running. I remember arms reaching out and scooping me up and hugging me tight. It was my dad, his breathing all weird and his expression strange. I’ve heard that story recounted a number of times over the years about how my parents almost lost me that evening on a crowded street of Bombay. I wait to feel fear, anxiety, some recollection of it. All I remember feeling is a sense of certainty that my dad was right there. All I had to do was turn around. And he was, all my life, every time I needed him, always right there.
On good days memories feel like one of those lazy early morning dreams when you’re half awake yet still asleep. Bedtime stories before I could read, my dad reading to us every night. The books looking tiny in his big hands, the warm glow of our table lamps, the scent of his aftershave, the fabric of his dressing gown. Enid Blyton’s Mr Pinkwhistle and Mr Galliano’s Circus and collections of short stories. His voice deep and strong and then he would voice the characters making us giggle. I used to watch his face, his expression, he seemed to enjoy the stories as much as we did. Later when I could read on my own and my dad continued to read to my sister, I would put my book down to listen to him read the stories we both knew well. I was never done listening to him read. I’m still not done.
Grief is an undefinable thing. I’ve known heartbreaks and heartaches and sadness. But nothing like this big dark hole. It’s inside me and it surrounds me. It’s a filter which distorts the most ordinary day. I am that person who is obsessive about the ‘WHY’ of things. Always been sceptical, can’t seem to help it. I find it difficult to trust the effect until the cause is all sorted out. My father would tell me that there need not be an explanation to everything. Always trust your instinct, he would say, logic can take a while to catch up. He said some things are simply beyond our understanding but it’s all part of a larger picture. I applied that theory to many areas of life and he was always right. Except for this one thing I’m beginning to doubt- He also said the universe never gives us anything we can’t handle.
‘My father passed away’… I have practiced saying that to myself over and over. So that I can say that to the world without the words sticking to my throat. I tell myself that I’m coping really well. I watch my mother be brave and strong and try to learn from her. There are books on my table about grief management. Support comes from unexpected sources- words of strangers and kindness from people I have been out of touch with. Friends and family who are my pillars of strength. I feel my family’s watchful eyes on me as they quietly deal with their own loss. There has been laughter and fun and I plunge into life headlong. Weddings and travel, dancing and dressing up. Patches of time when everything feels normal. Like the quiet before the storm. Because once the door closes and I am alone, the gaping vacuum that nags at me- why hasn’t daddy called…grief is also this slimy cunning unpredictable thing lurking around waiting to pounce.
It takes a split second to remember that I’m never going to hear from him again. And then the long long list of ‘never’s pile up- it’s like a thousand explosions ripping through my mind and shattering the carefully stacked pieces of my heart. This time the universe really messed up and I am mad as hell. The relief of giving in to it surprises me and the force of it destroys me. It feels good not to have to pretend because behind those closed doors, no one is watching. My thoughts go in circles chasing after the ‘why’- there was still so much left for him to do. So much he had to teach, so much left for me to learn. I try to stitch together snatches of memories to create that larger picture he was always talking about- it’s been six months since he’s been here to paint it for me.
Much of our childhood was spent watching my dad bring to life a blank canvas. He used both hands with equal ease, he was ambidextrous. I wanted my hands to write and draw the way his did, I wanted him to be proud of me. But the left one refused to cooperate and although stick figures was all I could manage to draw, my dad never stopped saying how proud he was of me.The smells of paint, oils and turpentine used to be a constant in my house. My mom who needs cleanliness and order to be able to function, dedicates one room to ‘housing the mess’! Canvases in various stages of completion stacked against the wall and paint soaked brushes and rags lying around. Patches of paint on surfaces. It may look like chaos to the untrained eye but we knew it was a process, a necessity in the creation of art. Sometimes he would paint murals overnight and sometimes take months to finish a portrait to his satisfaction.
My father created a world for us that was extraordinary. If Dharma is a religion, he was a religious man who firmly believed in the inherent goodness of humanity. Even when someone proved him wrong through their actions, he was never angry, just sympathetic. Slights and slander simply amused him, always finding a way to understand the cause of negativity in someone. He was also deeply interested in other religions, he frequently quoted the Bible and discussed his understanding of Quran. He read extensively about Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism. I’ve only heard him speak with respect and reverence way back when ‘tolerance’ was just another word. He explained to us how religion was born when there was a need for something to hold people together, making me curious about those times. I have turned to him constantly to be reassured, to hold on to faith when humanity seems on the brink of extinction. Everything was uncomplicated and surprisingly simple the way he explained it, whether it was an interpretation of Art, a Shakespearean Play or a life issue.
I was 14 when he chanced upon a love letter from my classmate. In 14 yrs of life, my father had never once said a harsh word to me, never been angry, never lost his temper. When he said that he would like to talk to me, I had no idea what to expect. He asked me if I liked this boy and whether I had responded to the letter. I said ‘No way!!’, smug about that good girl halo, waiting for the pat on my back. After all, my friends were getting into trouble with their parents over their secret romances and clandestine meetings. He looked at me for a moment and said- BE KIND. I was stung that my father didn’t seem appreciative enough of my mature decision. ‘Do you WANT me to say yes?!!’ I asked defiantly. ‘Good lord, no!’, he laughed, his proper English most pronounced when making a point- ‘I don’t want you to say anything you don’t want to, or be anything you’re not. But your words have great power. It takes a lot of courage for a 14yr old boy to propose to a girl and what you say and how you say it will affect his self esteem. Possibly into adulthood. It’s important to be true to yourself but equally important to be considerate of someone else. Form your words carefully- be kind.’
That, most of all, stayed with me. I haven’t always been kind, ashamed to admit, but I’ve always been aware of the effect and importance of words. I was reminded of that on one of my recent visits, one monsoon day in Kerala. I sat on the porch with my dad watching the rain when the mailman stopped by. My father’s eyes lit up for a brief moment and then he said, more to himself, I suspect- Must be bills. No one writes letters anymore. I got myself a set of envelopes and paper as soon as I got back- a surprisingly difficult task, my dad was right, no one writes letters anymore! I wrote to him every Friday. I thought I was doing it for him but as it turned out, it became more for me. It took a week for the letters to reach him and I spoke with my parents every day. Yet there were things I found to say in the letters that I couldn’t have said on the phone. I took the advice of a wise friend and continue to write – I ask my dad if there was anything we could’ve done to make him stay just a little longer. I have many more hugs to give him. I don’t want him to know of the tears that come with each word, so just like he said- I form my words carefully.
My sister used to think him invincible. She isn’t the skeptic that I am. Even when I knew in my heart that he was getting ready to leave us, it never struck her that he wouldn’t make it. She went above and beyond and did everything possible to make him well. She was his little girl and I know that he’s never once let her down. I think he tried very hard not to let her down this one last time too. I watched him talk to her about her work and about the next trip that we would all take together.. He even dictated, off the top of his head like always, short pieces, interesting anecdotes and characters from his childhood in Bangalore, when it was under the British rule. I watched him make her laugh as we took turns keying it down. My heart hurt for her so much- I knew what was to come. The hideous sound of the wheezing oxygen machine a constant reminder and the struggle I could see in him, to keep breathing. But she chose not to dwell on that and he played along. Just like him, she too can, at will, choose to see only the brighter side of things.
I accompanied my Dad on a trip to Paderborn, Germany, a couple of years back. He was invited to speak at an International conference on ‘Global economy and World Religions’. I met him at Frankfurt airport and although I knew he hadn’t been in the best of health, it was a shock to see how frail he looked. Even walking seemed to be an effort. I wondered how he would be able to address the crowd, whether it was a good idea. But he was a proud man who never once admitted to being anything but ‘perfectly fine, thank you!’. With a smile. So I kept my worries to myself as he walked up to the podium and started to speak. His words were strong and steady, holding the audience captive and as I listened spellbound, I thought of the Plays he used to direct and the parts he used to act out. Usually a quiet and mild person, he transformed himself on stage. I had a strong suspicion that he was performing one last grand act, tricking his body into keeping up with his incredible mind. Later, I asked him how on earth he pulled off that fantastic presentation and he grinned- “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players..”
I laughed and he took my hand. ‘Besides, it helped to know that if I needed you, you are right here’
Always, Daddy. I’m right here. Staring at a father sized void in life in a world that’s been knocked off its axis. And the show will go on.
NASA’s recent Mars revelations have triggered a million ideas in my head so much so that insanity is not a distant thing. I am positive that my mental state will eventually dash all hopes of my impending travel to the planet. I’ve been designing fancy web systems, designing a co-existence plan for MARS inhabitants, putting together a framework for a MARS core team that is required for sustaining life, the list is endless.
Now, should my fancy Expedia like travel system offer round-trip tickets between Earth and MARS, or should it be just one way to start with? It would be perfect if there are not too many options. For example, there will be multiple airport locations, not divided by political boundaries, but just by convenience. Pricing would all be the same no matter which airport. As one starts thinking, things get too complicated.
I’m not exactly certain that I’ll head that way in my lifetime, but I foresee a day when my progenies will. Should I start a Mars fund as I’m guessing the cost to travel will be steep, only affordable by the likes of millionaires and such? I am fully aware that countries are spending billions for research on the possibility of life there, and I do hope the Mars committee is fair to all earthlings. After all, the hope is that we will all be one and the same once we land there. We start fresh and we do things right second time around.
Putting aside all the “earth-man” made complications; my underlying desire is for Mars to be ALL that Earth is not.
Without terrorists, without politically defined borders, without rulers, without polluted air, without roaches or rats- if you ask me, I could break into that famed Beatles number. But that’s just me, all I need is love, music and without a doubt, lots of chocolate.
On my day-off
“You have the ability to turn my day around.” For better or for worse- As clichéd as it sounds and as much as I hear Ferris Bueller laughing his head off, l do think cozying up with you on the couch, eating take-out food while watching a random, well, a war movie is the perfect way to spend my occasional day off from work. It’s only been light years since this transpired to be. Much thankfulness for that. This day-off will be etched, forever in my brain Read more
That which is so simple to achieve, lies solely in my hands. Literally.
A resolution. What I want is for my daughter to know that I’m always there for her. To care and to comfort her anytime she needs me. What I don’t want to hear is this, “Oh mom’s on her phone all the time, texting her friends”. It’s that cringe-worthy moment I want to avoid when you want to fling your phone and give yourself a reality check. Read more