Monday, December 03, 2012

To Sir with Love:

He was a frail man in his sixties but looked much older. An advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease made his hands shake a lot and his gait was an excruciatingly slow shuffle. Whenever he used to get up to go to the washroom, I used to get scared that he might fall down. He had lost most of his hair but he always used to slowly put on his turban before opening the door for anyone. His beard was completely white. I can’t remember the details now but his children did not really care about him. He used to live alone with his very simple wife in his two room house which was in a bad need for repair.

In those days, getting tuition outside of school was looked down upon. It meant that you are so dull that you have to seek help for studying. I was a brilliant student till 4th Std and a favourite of many of my teachers. But something had switched in my head by the time I reached the next class. In the next three years, my studies plummeted and I became withdrawn… such an extent that in Class 8th I failed in Chemistry in one trimester. The fact that I was barely saved from repeating the same class, made me sit up and think hard. I went up to my father myself and told him I needed help.

Sir, as I have always known and called him, never gave me any work to do initially. I used to go to his house, fiddle around with my books, drink tea made by his wife and go back home. Only when he was sure I was comfortable did he ask me to attempt solving problems given in school. All he would do was clarify the basics and let me solve the problems myself. He always told me that I knew all the answers which made me slowly get rid of the fear of theorams, equations and mathematical problems and start enjoying the challenge of solving them. Soon I was balancing equations in class in front of everybody and solving problems which even the most intelligent girls in class could not solve.

From barely managing a 40% in most science subjects, I went on to score good enough marks to take up Science in Plus two. He didn’t smile or get ecstatic like I was. He just re-iterated my faith in myself. We had to move out of our rented house soon after. I didn’t go to say bye to Sir as I felt too awkward. I am sure he must have thought why I had stopped coming to see him.

A few years later, I got the news that he had succumbed to his illness. I felt hollow and remembered that I had never even said a good-bye.

For me, he was the best teacher I ever had...the only one who made me retain my faith in my abilities. The only one who had more faith in me than I had in myself.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wasted Years:

I recently met a guy in his early forties looking for answers through a spiritual quest. Shy, introverted, he has difficulty talking to people around him. He is also risk averse, so much so that he stayed in one job for 15 years just because his horoscope told him not to. In that 15 years, he faced so much of politics that he got stress disorder, anxiety and depression. With a hint of pride, he told me that he has never dated.

Instead of feeling sympathy for him, I felt so repulsed that I could have easily slapped him. What good is a spiritual search if you do not want to change yourself in the process? What good is a life if you cannot go beyond yourself and seeing the world only from your narrow perspective? What good is living if you have not taken a risk?

I have a friend who due to some childhood issues tends to fall into relationships where the guy treats her like dirt. She has understood the repeat pattern in her life and the reason for the same, yet she does not have the will to break away from it.

In the meanwhile, years have gone by unattended. And then when you actually do turn around, the world around you has changed and you realise that you have missed out on a prime facet called Life.

I believe in karma (not the negative types and which results in a fatalistic approach to life) and I believe in re-incarnation. I know I have lived for centuries and probably will for the next few centuries. It’s a burden then to keep coming back just to understand your repeat patterns and break them. Imagine living 180 years (or three lives) just to understand that all you needed to do was say No, or extend a hand, or say sorry!

Be aware of yourself. Once you know who you are, what others say or do to you will cease to matter. As a friend had once told me long ago - if you know better, act better.

Change now. Live your life as if there is a meaning. Keep growing as a spiritual being.

Time is precious.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Home Coming:

It’s been seven long years now. I am finally going to the cold, beautiful, unfathomable high mountains up north. I am finally going home!

The sneak peek of the high mountains last year in Arunachal convinced me that the Himalayas is finally ready to have me back. But there is no mad restlessness or crazy happiness of a decade ago. Just a warm dull physical pain right in the middle of my heart. It might be due to the lack of exercise or some approaching ailment; but I want to believe that it’s the pain one feels when you are about to meet a person you had loved and lost. I am apprehensive and I am scared.

And I am happy too that the mountains have not forgotten me. That it may take years – of suppressing all longings and desires, of choosing something else over them – to come back, but these cold mountains will always be there.

For me.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Literacy Vs Education:

It’s a very thick line between being literate versus being educated. A person who just knows about stuff on the surface is a literate person but somebody who actually understands something and practices it is in reality, an educated person. Oh yes, sometimes it takes ages and peeling off layers of ego to shift from the first to the latter.

Let me give you an example.

I know two women, both in their late 20s and early 30s. S is a graduate and risen in her career due to her brilliant work. She loves kids to death and is touched by human stories. She pays for the education and welfare of a girl child somewhere in rural India. Whenever I broach the topic of environment, she gets bored and tells me categorically that she is not interested. That human life and humanity is more importance to her than environmental issues. Yet, when we discussed about not bringing in plastic bags in our houses, she readily agreed. Now even after 5 years, her house is plastic free. Though she is not overly fond of animals, she has made friends with a neighbour’s dog and tries to help out stray kittens and dogs. Moreover, she’s conscious of wastage of water, over use of electricity and other environment related things.

And then there is N. N is a journalist from a good institute and therefore doing well in her career. She told me that she likes wildlife and environment and wants to pursue that from her career perspective. Yet, when I told her that she should stop taking plastic bags, she just laughed. I even gave her a foldable cloth bag which she has never used. Her house is littered with plastic bags of various size and shape. Like all others, she takes a plastic bag when she buys even a toothbrush. She hates stray dogs, cats, crows and even squirrels. She wants more resorts to open up near wildlife reserves to help wildlife lovers like her.  And she switches on the light in the morning instead of opening her window.

To others, N is far more intellectual, educated and aware than S will ever be. But for me S will always be a better human being and a higher soul than N and others.   

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Looking Ahead:

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I will be what I am or will be where I am.

In the conventional way that our lives are led and the way society behaves at large, I am an abject failure. I am nearing my forties, I don’t hold any post or designation that is of any significance to anyone, I haven’t done anything remarkable in my career, I do not have any savings or assets to speak of and I have steadfastly refused to settle down into a family life.

And with the way the world and life around is going, I often get scared of myself and my situation. Looking back, there are many many things I would have done differently if I had just thought things through. I would have listened to my father and mother more and made different choices in life. I do not know who I would have become but I definitely would have achieved most of the above.

But here I am. My mad search for that elusive something and a desire of not being chained to anything has led me to this state where I have nothing. Some concerned friends tell me to go back and restart...but I have come a long way ahead in my search to now turn back. And strangely, despite having nothing, everything feels right.

Looking ahead, I still cannot see my path or goal clearly but something tells me I am moving in the right direction. All I have now is Faith.

And perhaps ten years down the line, I will come to a stage where I might again say that never in my wildest dreams did I know I will be what I am or be where I am.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Corner Book Shop:

I miss the corner book shops. The little shops with small sections on every topic - sometimes so small that you would wonder whether you can ever find any book here.

One of my favourite such book stores is Facts and Fiction in Delhi (though I don’t know whether it still exists or not). Panels painted in green and situated at a corner of the Priya Complex, this bookstore had a wonderful feel the moment you stepped inside it. Books were stacked up in shelves and on the floor with hardly much space to move about. There was no order in which the books were placed within the sections which made browsing all the more interesting because you didn’t know what to expect next. Hours would just pass by while you read, re-read reviews at the back trying to decide which ones to leave behind. The proprietor or the manager was gruff and a man of few words but he didn’t need his computer to know whether a particular book was there in his store or not. If you asked, he would suggest you which books to pick up. Surprisingly the store had the exact type of books which you would want to pick up and many more.

In those days of no internet or rather not much use of the net, I intuitively picked up books which have made great impact on me, most of them from this corner book shop. Some of these books which I randomly picked out on my own are Into the Wild, Into thin air, Touching the Void, Brian Weiss’s Only love is Real, Horse Whisperer and many more.

It’s strange how you find the right books at the right time of your life... which I could find only at these tiny corner book shops. I don’t like the big sanitised bookstores because I don’t know from where to start and where to end and mostly they don’t have the ones which interest me. Online bookstores are great for their services and cheaper rates but you can buy only if you know what you want. No unexpected or happy discoveries here.

It’s been quite some time that I last went into such a bookstore. I have made a list of to-read books which I promptly order online one at a time. If some of these bookstores have gone out of business, then you know that I am partly to be blamed for it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding You:

Buddha is my Master. It is to him that I go when I am in need or to just be.

It has taken me more than three decades to finally find him. Three decades because my spiritual search had begun when I was just a child. This search led to me to experiment with almost all religions, read philosophical books, question everything that was there to question and do many other things. What I didn’t realize was the fact that the answer was there with me from the very beginning. The signs were always present….only I chose to continue to question.

The life of Buddha in my history school books had always fascinated me. Jainism which was so similar never did. I remember practicing the tenets of Vipassana unknowingly as a kid, a reason why I took to that form of meditation like a fish to water. I have always been strangely pulled to the ruins of Nalanda – the seat of Buddhist learning in ancient times. The first time I went
to Ladakh, I walked into a monastery and lost track of time just sitting there.

Yet I went around looking for a place or a spiritual master who could help me centre myself in my state of restlessness.

Last year, in the high mountains of Arunachal, I sat in an empty monastery while it drizzled outside. A strange sense of home-coming filled me and I silently asked the image of Buddha in front of me – are you there with me? I clearly heard a voice - maybe my conscious, maybe my
imagination – saying ‘I’ve been with you always.’ Tears rolled down unchecked that day.

Later that day in the local market, I found a small statue of Buddha made of black stone with his hands folded near his heart.

It was then that I knew my search had finally ended.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


And yet, as his own death drew near, Sakyamuni turned again towards the north....“ Come Ananda, let us go to Kushinagar”. Like the rest of us, perhaps he longed for home.

These words by Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard suddenly made me despondent. I want a home to go back to. I want a place, a city, a land where I can escape to, call my own. A place where I can go to at the time of my death.

The town where I was born is the town where my parents are right now. This is the place I call home as of now. But beyond that it’s a strange place for me. I wasn’t there when it grew up from a beautiful little hill station to a congested chaotic capital town.

The place where I grew up, I can’t go back to because nothing of my childhood remains. That mohalla and its people have changed beyond recognition. The house with its small garden where I used to spend still comes in my dreams sometimes.

Delhi has been an experience, of growing up for real, a place where restlessness rules even now. A place I would not like to return anytime soon.

Bombay has been a struggle for me on a lot of fronts and with each struggle I have grown to love the city and the city me. And I don’t see myself leaving this city anytime soon. But despite all this, whenever I come back from my travels, I always think, I’m back in Bombay. It’s never been – I’m back home.

Somewhere sometimes the Mountains beckon me, somewhere to the far east. But something tells me it’s not time yet to go home.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bestest Food:

No, it’s not what you have eaten at the new French restaurant or the Biryani at the Muslim joint or even the sandwiches at the sandwich and juice counters in Town. The best food that you can ever taste is a simple home cooked meal in a village deep within India.

Have you ever tasted hot Bajre ka roti with loads of ghee and jaggery on a cold winter day? Or simple kichhdi and zunka in the midst of a cotton field? Have you ever tasted local chicken made in local spices in the mountains up north? Or just wheat rotis and sukha aloo sabzi with onions and salt in a mud house deep in the forest of central India? Having travelled the length and breadth of this country, I can say hand-on-heart that there is no taste like food of Rural India.

There are some reasons why the taste of such food is unbeatable. First, they are made from local crops/grains with local home grown spices. Crops that have been grown traditionally have a distinct taste which we don’t get in the packaged rice and ‘fortified’ atta we are used to eating here. A local rice variety called kutki is sticky when made, but is so delicious that you could eat it without adding anything. Not just taste, these local crops especially millets are much more nutritious than the city varieties and they tend to fill up your stomach in lesser amount.

Second, it’s made on chulha, on firewood which adds a flavour to the food. Thirdly, the people don’t restrict themselves when cooking for others. Even if it is just plain daal and rice, they make it in large quantity and with so much love, that it has to show in the food (however clich├ęd it may sound, it is 100% true). People in villages might not earn much and have limited resources, but their hearts are open and do not think twice before giving you something without wanting anything in return. And it is true of every village whether it’s in East, West, North of India or South. While in the city, we offer visitors types of black tea to show off our taste; in villages you will be offered black tea because the house didn’t have milk or sugar.

And lastly, a perfect rural setting, warm homes and people and close to nature away from the chaos of city life makes the food stand out in its simplicity and earthiness.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Turning 40:

I think 90% of women have had a panic attack when they turned 30. For most, it’s a time of stalk taking of life and future planning. For whatever reasons, I never felt the need for all of that. Looking back, each decade was so markedly different.... like a book in parts.

Teen age was full of fun, giggles, carefree days, tons of anticipation and deep innocent friendships.

The 20s, as the saying goes was turbulent. Life was in extremes most of the time....either too romantic or too ruthless, either brimming with happiness or down in the slumps sadness. Whatever decisions I took, it only added to my unfathomable restlessness.

30s has been a period of discovery, a time of many ups and downs and critical changes. And through it all, I came to know me so much better. That in itself gives one so much strength as most people lead an entire lifetime not knowing who or what they are. Needless to say, turning
30 was the best thing that happened to me so far.

Now, just a couple of years away from the so called ‘middle age’, it does seem like a big milestone. I am beginning to feel settled in life and thoughts though things are far from being settled as
yet. For me, that is a big step in hopefully the right direction.

However good it may turn out to be, I have a feeling I am going to panic after all!