Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rushed times

I haven’t written in ages. Not a word although they seem to spill out of somewhere in my mind and all its clutter. There is so much going on in my life that the thoughts become a jumble and my words seem incoherent…

There is a sense of time flying and me trying to keep track of it. The last 2 ½ months have been rushed. I have become forgetful-forgetting to respond to calls, mails; even perhaps forgetting to connect with myself. It feels different. I have to remind myself to just be. Not read, nor think, nor look at the dusty table with a vengeance or scout around for a dusting cloth. Or struggle to remember those things that I need to remember.

Perhaps the wonder lies in moving through those busy periods of ones life with the same grace and serenity as the peaceful times. I need to remind myself of that.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ganapati Puja

‘Its that time of the year again’…Ganapati Puja is here and the entire atmosphere is charged with an air of excitement. A precious guest has come to visit our neighborhood.
A week prior to August 27th I see the preparations begin in the corner of our street. A simple arrangement of 12 strong bamboo sticks tied and supported together are first assembled together. This is followed by a strong waterproofing sheet so as to provide protection to our Guest from the errant rains. And then yes the various banners of the sponsors draping the roof of the ‘pandal’are displayed. The days preceding the actual Ganesh Puja are one of sheer activity. Day after day, bit by bit the scene unfolds much like a drama with its many scenes and props. The first stage involves sourcing a sponsor for the ‘pandal’ and collecting donations from the neighborhood residents. Then the posters appear heralding the organizers name- bold, prominent and colorful. Every year the festival moves with the changing times-more color, more lights, and a bigger idol, sophisticated music systems with speakers strategically placed and everything looks hip and modern.

When the idol arrives amidst much fanfare in a gaily decorated truck, life comes to a halt. There are crowds waiting with bated breath for the precious guest. I stand out on my 7th floor balcony with the children and watch the procession being led with joy and fervor. It takes an interminable time to have him settled into his new but temporary home but every moment is worth watching. The cries of “Ganapati Bappa Moraya”, the bursting of firecrackers and men, women and children dancing with great abandon-every moment lingers on as Lord Ganesh or the ‘Elephant headed’ God enters his new abode.

I am not a Maharashtrian by birth nor am I a deeply religious person by nature but something changes in me during this festive period. Not that I bring the idol home; nor do I become overtly religious overnight. But the change takes place. Imperceptible but yet I am aware. Perhaps it is the string of pretty blue and white fairy lights that light up our street every night and transform it completely. Or the sound of spiritual music that awakens me every morning and lulls me to sleep each night. Not entirely devotional as my husband argues, they do tend to be interspersed with plenty of catchy Hindi numbers to please the Lord’s little worshippers-the children. The fragrance of fresh flowers, the whiff of the incense sticks and the chanting of the mantras only enhance the energies. The rendering of the Sathyanarayan Katha and the ‘aarti’ every evening is enough to make me stop my chores and sit still and just be. The positive energies are so high that it actually motivates a laidback mother of two to make fresh ‘prasad’ (offerings) to the idol every evening. It varies from ‘modaks’ to halwa and fresh/dry fruits.
As I enter the pandal the 1st evening of His arrival, a riot of color greets me from the colored dhurries placed around to the beautiful vibrant colors of the idol. The fragrance of the jasmine and the burning ‘diya’ mingles smoothly with the aroma of the earth and the ground. There is activity but there is serenity as well. Something instantly calms within.

My earliest memory of Ganesh Puja in Bombay was in 1993, when I visited an elderly neighbour.This 65 year old gentle Maharashtrian lady would take wet clay and fashion it into a symbolic Ganapati form with its trunk while chanting spiritual mantras. At the end of 10 days she would immerse it into a body of water. It is believed that as we immerse the deity who has been our guest, we shed our negative energies in the process too. Today of course one places an order for the Plaster of Paris idol months in advance, makes a beautiful house of thermocol and buy all the fancy trappings that go along with it.

The 10 days seem like one long festive holiday. Children playing hopscotch, relaxed men folk keeping watch over the ‘pandals’ distributing ‘prasad’ to the worshippers. Open air cinema shows are held on weekend nights, only the latest ones will do for them. Volleyball and family games are organized for the Krida Mandal dwellers and those who wish to participate. The residents of the various buildings that flank the ‘pandal’ get to watch from their readymade balcony- theatres.There are many of course who complain about the noise and then the police swing into action to enforce the noise deadlines.

Everyone talks about how the festival has lost its spiritual feel and has become more commercialized, cultural and noisy rather than devotional. Competition for the best pandals will go on forever, comparisons as to the largest Ganesh idol will continue and discussions on how much the ‘Lalbaugcha Raja’ earned and how many visited Him(no puja is complete without a visit to the Lalbaug Ganesh idol) will never cease. That is a part of the festival that it has become over the years.Popular,competitive and gaudy but the feeling of devotion and sheer love one feels for the dear Elephant God underlies each and every pandal that one can ever visit or glimpse.

His farewell on the 11th day is as grand and magnificent as his entry. Preparations begin the previous night (10th day) when the Sathyanarayan Katha is read and all of us receive the delicious Prasad in a sweet box.
As he is led out from his temporary home for his final immersion into the sea, there is a sense of sadness that intermingles with the hectic activity in progress. He leaves our street by afternoon and His final immersion takes place by late night amidst sprinkling of ‘gulal’, firecrackers and cries of ‘Ganapati Baba Morya! Pudcha Varshi Laukarya’!.

The next morning when I wake up, I feel the silence that hangs in the air like a blanket. I tell myself that time does fly and life has to go on…
And now I look forward to his arrival next year.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A letter from my city-Bombay

‘Can I ever live without her?’ I have asked myself many a time. Her effervescent energy and unique discomforts seems to have cast a spell that I can’t shrug off.
A city, alien to me some 14 years ago when I arrived as a newly wed is now home to me in every sense of the word. The images linger on -of plastic and garbage; of fancy high-rises and teeming crowds of people; of the festive cries of Ganapati Bappa Moraya and the breaking of the ‘dahi handi’. None of it has changed over the years. It is now part of the very fabric of the city that she is.

She has it all-cramped spaces, failing infrastructure, apartments that could be termed ‘boxes’ and an existence that is not easy by any definition. She also has her efficient dabbawaala’s, ‘rasta’ bhel and two rupees ‘time-pass’. And yet if one were to ask me what is it that is so charming about my city, I would be lost for words. The charm lies not just in her vibrancy or the vast expanse of the sea that overlooks my home”; Or in the ubiquitous humble ‘vada pav’ that fills hungry stomachs every day. Or in the ‘cutting chai’that is an instant warm up on a rainy monsoon day. There is more. A hidden allure, perhaps that no one can ever see or place a finger upon but simply feel.

Life is in the fast lane, yes and stressful to boot especially when your life depends upon boarding the 8.05 local. But she also leaves you with the chance of finding your own quiet corner within or without. You just have to search for it.
A journey of discovery it has been, of discovering the value of ‘precious ‘space’ be it in an over packed local train or in one’s 500 sq ft apartment. One just learns to create space within that space. Perhaps you could even create a garden with blossoming hibiscuses and roses.
The thrill of being called ‘bai’ (teacher) by my maid when I was all of 25 years and her efficiency and time management made me understand the importance of discipline and hard work. What a world of difference it could make.
And the funniest lesson of all, when I made an attempt to call a stray dog or cat (with a kind of smooching sound reserved for animals); I had the taxi drivers and vendors in the vicinity asking me what I needed!

Over the years, I have changed homes to different parts of the city, worked and raised my two daughters here. And through it all I have learnt a simple truth. That of how easy it is to fall in love with Bombay if one were to just flow with her rhythm and accept her the way she is. Any other city would be too easy an existence for me. Call me spoilt!

‘Ganapati Bappa Moraya’-welcoming Lord Ganesh on Ganesh Chathurti
‘dahi handi’-a pot of dahi usually at a height of 20-40 feet or higher broken during Gokulashtami (birth of Lord Krishna) by a group of people.
‘dabbawala’s’-the people who carry freshly made food from home in lunch boxes to office goers
‘rasta bhel’-roadside sellers selling puffed rice usually spiced
‘time pass’-peanuts are called time pass because they are just that
‘vada pav’-vada -a hot potato cutlet;pav is a bun
‘cutting chai’-hot sweet tea served in a glass

Wrote this for Shakespeare & Co, a writers network on Ryze

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Questions! Do we have the answers?

All of us seem to be experiencing anger and a sheer sense of outrage at the recent Mumbai blasts. Anger at the senseless killing, anger at the inefficacy of the system and anger at our own helplessness. Anger is natural but when used with care it can be a tremendous source of power and influence.

What do I feel post the blasts? I feel detached yet there is an anger that stems from sheer helplessness about the situation, an anger that spills over into my normal life unsuspectingly. I cannot imagine that someone can wreak violence to this extent. To stealthily snatch away the lives of hundreds of people who they didn’t even know or have a personal vendetta against. At the same time it doesn’t make sense to expect others to think the way we do. Each one of us is so different and motivated by different goals in our lives. So were the killers. They killed; they achieved their goal and what they had set out to do. But they were not there to see the aftermath of their gruesome act.

What do I want? Do I want my city/country to never ever face terrorist attacks? Do I want to experience this same of detachment when I read about the loss of lives, lives that should never have been lost in the first place? Do I want to feel that sense of grief and anxiety that those families experienced when they had no clue about the whereabouts of their loved ones? Do I want to be insensitive and feel that it cannot ever happen to me, it happens only to others? Deep within I know what I want-peace, simply peace. So that nothing can tear the fabric of our city and of our souls. I want to see my city bustling and vibrant yes but also clean, with open spaces. Spaces free of ugly monstrous buildings and accumulated garbage. And I don’t want to just sit and grumble about civic authorities and about the sheer indifference of the Government? I want to do something, to start somewhere...
I listen to stories from friends who have had narrow escapes, hear about acquaintances who lost their family members; read the newspapers that continue to carry stories of those who died, of lucky survivors, of post trauma stress disorder, of depression and of burying the unidentified. We may declare that our spirit is indefatigable, we bounce back quickly and we are an intrepid lot just because life resumed the very next day. It did resume yes but did we really penetrate that masked front and ask anyone how their spirit was and how they really felt?

There is no question of winning as a city and as people. Some view it as battle to be fought. But it cannot be fought with a festering anger that has no focus or direction. It can be fought only with a clear mind. The journey against terrorism has always been there. Each one of these shocking experiences enable us travel it step by step. Let the breaks in the journey not disillusion us and make us feel vulnerable to those whose job is all about destruction and death. Alternatively, let it create and foster in us a sense of unity, endless hope, faith and strength that no outside influence can ever dissolve or shatter.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Renovating one’s home is no mean task. A strange sense of being uprooted, as if it isn’t happening to you and very much akin to renovating one’s own self. As my home underwent several changes with each passing day, it seemed to transform itself and along with it, so did I. Perhaps like a makeover that leaves you feeling different-fresher, brighter and lighter.

From repairing of its cracked roofs, waterproofing, plastering, painting, new upholstery, new curtains it underwent the works. There seemed to be more space, although the objects were the same. For me it was a matter of looking at it differently. A change here, a shift there and a simple moving around of furniture changed the entire feel of my living room. And its energies.

Right now I don’t feel like looking back as to when and how it began. The decision had been taken and there it was. It began with a simple putting away in cartons. Simple, it wasn’t .The books alone occupied 6 huge cartons. My mother in law who was visiting me then sweetly suggested that I should consider starting a library! By the end of 2 days we had a room which was stuffed with cartons. All neatly labelled, stacked but decidedly overwhelming.

I saw my home being transformed from a veritable junkyard to some semblance of a home over 3 weeks. At first I refused to look at the junk. I turned a blind eye to it all as if I was a guest and it wasn’t my home. I would head straight for my own room which was a mini junk yard in its own right and that remained my comfort zone for many days. I saw myself looking at the various objects scattered all over the home-the ones I had collected, some junk, some precious.And I looked at them with a new insight.

Did I really need so many artifacts, some of which were in poor condition but were being held on to by “clutter bug” me for sentimental reasons? We discovered old memorabilia –my husband’s toys and old books, my college notes (!), old letters, even post-its. One by one, bit by bit I gave away old clothes, curtains and books and discarded the unnecessary stuff.

I discovered many old photographs and along with my daughters, made a collage of them and had it framed. That was truly a bonding time with family.Amit and I shared the stories behind the photograph’s past and had lots of laughs over the funny ones. Just the right time to get nostalgic! With no television and computer, the world didn’t seem all that bad. It was refreshingly different.

It has been over a month now. Most of the work is done, just a few jobs here and there. Hammering of nails, putting up pictures, arranging things in order- I am now getting used to my “old-new” home and a “renovated” me!

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Modern Sanyasi"

Sporting funky jewellery, I speak with a drawl,
I’m more than just my saffron ‘dhoti’ and shawl.

Stone studded rings adorn my hands,
Don’t doubt it; I can do a mean head-stand.

I have manicured nails and grey dreadlocks,
Love marigold garlands and my ‘holy pot’.

Do take note of the mobile I tote,
If my clients didn’t call me, I would be broke.

I have an old companion, who keeps me sound,
If not for my B&H, I would have gone underground.

I’m setting out for the city, have a long journey ahead,
I need some retail therapy and to earn my bread.

Don’t be fooled by what’s written about me
I am a mere, modern-day ‘sanyasi’, you see!

Written for a "Theme exercise" for S & Co

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My Treasures-my children :)

I wish to see the world through your eyes as you,

hastily wipe your chocolate filled mouth on the curtains.

tie my colorful chiffon dupatta into a make believe sari.

stealthily apply lipstick all over your chubby face and rosebud lips.

uninhibitedly dance to remixed music and insist I dance too.

squeal with unbidden glee over a surprise packet of “Lays” chips and "Cadbury’s Dairy Milk".

listen to me while I teach you alphabets and ask me after it’s done," Where is my star"?

with such patience and focus peel off every onion of its skin and leave my kitchen floor in a sheet of slippery pink.

you insist on making our grouchy neighbor smile each morning and insist I wish him Good Morning too.

carry your little handbag to the park, bunched up with coins to pay for your daily dose of “sev-puri”.

so sweetly ask each Friday if I have a holiday on Saturday just like Dad and “Didi” do. (You are the only one who has ever asked me if mom’s get a holiday).

fight with me and make that cute scowl of yours and then show your fingers asking for peace (how quickly you change your mind).

salute a tired policeman while we wait in an endless traffic jam.

You give me many reasons to smile and I ask myself do I need to teach you or do I need to learn?

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Quest

Not smooth or rounded
or free of glitches,
At times a pot-holed journey
replete with hits and misses.

A relentless search
for nudges and signs,
That could lead and guide me
towards this quest of mine.

Difficult to express,
words may not suffice,
A hesitation to share,
even if it’s for a price.

It seems to shift and change
like the grains of sand,
Perhaps to do with me
and the ways of my mind.

As of now my quest
seems simple and clear;
To live in truth and faith
and be without fear.

To be more of what I am
with each passing day,
And to live life to its fullest
come what may.

As part of the Theme exercise for Shakespeare and Company Network of Writers(Ryze)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I had not seen her in over 20 years, not a glimpse not a word, just an occasional tidbit of news about her and other college friends but … there she was simple and graceful in a peach colored sari, looking beautiful. To me, she would always be beautiful.

Some moments are precious, such as this one, that left me short of breath and words and a pleasant churning within. Old memories and long forgotten emotions associated with them rose to the surface. I could not avoid them however hard I tried. I didn’t.

We had been college friends who had shared a wonderful rapport and a highly volatile relationship or friendship as she had insisted on calling it. We would argue and differ on almost everything and I had always envied her, her sharp wit, intuition and her remarkable ability to read eyes. I could do neither, except probably charm girls with my chivalrous behavior and humorous disposition. To her that classified as zilch. Yet we had hit it off so well sharing easy conversations and being sounding boards for each other. It had been a good friendship. Until we had completed college and moved on in life to higher degrees in different countries, work and careers and then settling down. We did keep in touch but over the years it had become intermittent until it reached a stage where I didn’t know where she was and what she was doing. Time and circumstances do create bridges which we fail or forget to cross.

Now as I walked towards her, my usual self confidence seemed to dissolve and my heart skipped a beat or was it many beats .I felt a silly urge to just turn back and walk away. I didn’t!
Age hadn’t touched her or perhaps I was blind to it. Her laughter lines and beautiful wrinkles only seemed to enhance her grace. Nothing could make me look away from her large expressive eyes and at that moment I wished with all my heart that I could read her mind. Even reading eyes would do.

I greeted her with a warm smile, “Hello Rhea. How have you been?
She seemed a bit disoriented and put her hand out to touch me. The familiar tilt of her head, her touch on my arm, her smile -to me it seemed that the last 20 years just melted away in that moment.
“Rahul, is that you? My long lost college pal? she exclaimed. And her face broke out into a wide happy smile.
We spent the next few minutes talking about old batchmates, teachers and a little about our lives. She didn’t speak much except that she had shifted to the city about a year ago and was with a NGO. She just listened; very unlike the “Rey” he had known. Maybe time changes everything. Maybe she didn’t even recollect his nickname for her-“Rey” like the rays of the sun. Too many maybe’s! We were like two friends who had become strangers and were now on the brink of renewing it all over again. The thought made me happy. We exchanged numbers with promises to be in touch. I had every intention of keeping the promise, now that I had found her.

Time was short. She had an appointment to keep and had to leave.
As we bid goodbyes, I could not stop myself from asking her, “Do you still read eyes?”
She smiled her warm lovely smile and replied, “I’ve stopped reading eyes, I read voices instead”.

I watched her leave.

I joined the group I had left.
“Do you know her?” my colleague Naren asked

“I do, we were friends in college”. (I was about to say good but refrained, don’t ask me why.) “I met her now after 20 years”.

“Rhea Patel, right...she runs a NGO, “Drishti” for blind children, actively involved with education for the blind. Just saw a brochure with her picture few days ago. And no one would ever know that she is blind herself. A lady of courage and spirit, without doubt.”Naren continued.

I was left speechless.

A piece of fiction.
Any resemblance to Rajendra's story or characters is purely coincidental. However his story inspired me to write this piece.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

As I get ready yet another time for my daughter's 3rd Botox surgical procedure,I ask myself -am I ready to handle it yet again?I am resigned about it and for me thats a dreadful way to feel.To accept something out of a resigned attitude.Am I too tired to ask and question,enquire and probe ...have I become jaded about her treatment?Like being caught up in a familar rut and not wanting to climb out of it!

As she grows each day(she is now 4 years,5 months and 2 days old) and I put her to sleep each night,a feeling of tenderness arises in me.Some moments are precious-as her head lies on my chest,her curly hair with its lingering traces of shampoo and the night's dinner,her steady heartbeat,warm breath and the way her fingers curl around my hair tightly as if not wanting to let go.Tears flow,yes they do but they are tears of strength and of finally acknowledging what I really want for her.

I want her to stand,to walk,to run,to hop,skip and jump,to dance with the wind and reach for the clouds and to cherish her life and the joy of movement.I want the very best that life has to offer for her and nothing else.

I owe this to a dear friend-Asmita who helped me understand the importance of acknowledging one's wants.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Just another day of my life

These days,I am attending a therapy workshop for children with cerebral palsy.There are children of all ages from 1 month to 15 years with different types of motor/intellectual impairments.I guess challenged is a better word to use because all I see in it is that it's such a challenging and daunting task to handle a child who cannot move.Some cannot speak either.

They have a different approach this time...each child has been assigned to an indivdual therapist who will take care of the child's exercises/progress for 6 weeks till March.The bond grows so quickly as I see in my daughter and her therapist.Anandita and her "uncle" as she calls him have formed a new mode of greeting each other and she is picking up Tamil from him.In the first session the therapist Dr Loganathan(his name has been shortened to "Logan" Uncle) asked me as to what did I want for my child ?I simply told him ,"I want her to stand and walk".He smiled and I added,"I beleive you can help her do that".I don't know if she is going to be able to stand and walk(I guess I can dream)but I do know that if I have the faith in myself and in the person who has been chosen to guide her through these 6 weeks then only "good" can happen. Faith can never go wrong.

And yes,the mothers.What an eye opener and a wonderful experience to meet and speak with them.Some are not forthcoming while some are seeking advice and who better than other mothers...
I take a book along to keep me company but never end up reading it.The moments spent there watching the children as they troop in always smiling is an incredible source of joy. And instead of the book,I read their "eyes"...the eyes of the parents look weary and have an indelible sadness but yes they also shine with an acceptance that I have yet to glimpse elsewhere.
Whereas the children(no matter what their age/physical condition)-their eyes are always bright and shine with excitement!
I am learning now how joy can be derived from the simplest of things.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Carve me; Shape me as you will,
sculpt me, mould me as you wish.
Chipped edges to smoothen and fill,
with your artists brush, its gentle swish.

Challenge me to lessons, yet to learn,
nudge me on towards the end.
Emotions to delve in, beliefs to burn,
a cathartic journey with many a bend.

Light my shadows, dissolve my fears,
kiss my wounds and hold me tight.
A gentle touch to remind me you are near,
to build my strength and face this fight.

Not a fight, this, just an ordinary day
at life’s school, where I learn to make my way.

My 1st attempt at a sonnet.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A simple photograph of streaming sunshine on an early wintry morning left me spellbound.