Poornam- Complete

This post is written to the word prompt “Complete” in a weekly contest organized by DYWT (Did You Write Today?) FB group. Though I do not know much Sanskrit, when I read the prompt, the shloka “Poornamadah Poornamidah” was all I could think of. I could hear the words reverbrating in my core. Poornam stands for “Complete” or “Whole” in Sanskrit and for a deeper understanding of this powerful verse from the Ishavasya Upanishad, please see the attached link to its meaning at the bottom of the post.

POORNAM – COMPLETE.

Our presentation for today’s art and creative writing summer workshop for elementary school kids is titled “The Emotional Arc Of Storytelling.” Through the theme of roller coasters, my colleague, Pavani, and I plan to bring to light how good storytelling needs to have ups and downs, twists and turns, and loop-de-loops in the plot for a more complete experience. As I begin to chart my lesson plan, the innocent faces of some of the younger students in our class comes to mind. Would they be able to grapple the concept of infusing emotion into their narration? Maybe, ‘Emotion’ is too strong of a word for them. Would it be easier to use the words ‘Feelings’ instead?

Then a doubt creeps into my ever curious mind. Are emotions and feelings synonymous?

As is the norm these days I google the difference between emotions and feelings and I find my answer in a study from Wake Forest University.

Feelings arise in the conscious mind while emotions manifest in the subconscious mind. They are not interchangeable terms. Emotions are universal bodily sensations while feelings are personal interpretations of emotions. Love, hunger, pain are feelings while anger, happiness and disgust are emotions. The article is complex and even before I finish reading the article, my minds sucks me into an ever turbulent black hole of questions. What then is depression?

Is it an emotion or is it a feeling – a personal interpretation of sadness, of unworthiness? And naturally, another question pops up.

Why did Sushant Singh Rajput end his life?

Every day articles about the young actor’s battle with depression and his dying make their rounds on social media. They reflect the shock impact his suicide left on the people and they bring up the same queries. Why did someone so handsome, so talented, and so successful find his life unworthy? His life so seemingly complete and brilliant to us yet to him felt incomplete.

Did the current state of the pandemic stricken world with its chaos and uncertainty have something to do with it? Will life ever return to normal again?

A ping on my phone brings me out of the everlasting loop of thought.

“We closed on the house! Finally!!!” texts my friend.

“Congratulations!” I reply back, genuinely happy for her. She has worked hard to make this happen, managing two jobs and a family. She’s moving to a house bigger than the current one. Selfishly, my happiness stems not just from friendship but also from relief. People buying bigger homes, moving up the socio-economic ladder gives a semblance of returning normalcy to the present situation. Isn’t that what we all strive towards? Bigger dreams that encompass an abundance of health, wealth and happiness.

Four months ago, when the world began to shut down, fear prevailed. I was grateful to have a roof over my head, two square meals a day and people I loved safe. I listened to spiritual greats every day and meditated without fail. Nothing else mattered. I was content to be alive with what little I had. From that gratitude stemmed the realization that I do not need much to be happy, that sitting in stillness and being in touch with that deeper part of myself makes my life complete.

Yet, here I am now, with the fear of the virus slowly dissolving. I have returned to my pre-pandemic definitions of success and happiness – bigger home, vacations in exotic locales and a great looking body. The lessons learned in the pandemic have been transient. Why else would SSR’s suicide shock me? And why else would a friend’s increased purchasing power make me happy? After all in the interim I had learned that material wealth and fame does not guarantee fulfillment. Yet, just as quickly as I have learned, I seem to have also forgotten that untainted joy stems from within.

“Om Poornamadah, Om Poornamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate,

Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavashishyate.”

(That (the source) is complete, this (creation) is complete as well. After completeness is taken away from completeness, only completeness remains. )

In essence, the divine source is within me and by my very nature I AM COMPLETE.

The phone rings.

“Hey, How’s the lesson plan coming along?” Pavani asks.

Ah- It’s time to get back to The Emotional Arc of Storytelling.

“Just starting, I’ll ping you once I’m done,” I say.

As I go back to my lesson plan, Pavani’s words in the document bring a smile to my face – “Roller Coasters are a great metaphor for life. We go up, we go down, but we don’t have to crash. We can learn to enjoy the ride.”

In a few moments prior I have like a roller coaster gone all around the twists and turns in my mind, from emotions and feelings to depression to joy and completion. I am yet unsure of whether depression is an emotion or a feeling or why it is so rampant and if life will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. But, what I do know is I do not need anyone or anything to complete me and the knowing that the power is within is the anchor will steady me during the turbulence.

Thank you team DYWT. The prompt gave a realized completion to my thoughts. And of course, Thank You readers. I am grateful to you all for journeying along with me in my musings.

-Vidya Murlidhar

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Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

Mesmerized, my son and I watch the television screen. Somewhere in the vast plains of the Savannah, a leopard lies in ambush to capture his prey. In the dimming light of the late evening, his spotted coat blends in with the surroundings. Crouched low, he inches forward in stealth towards a herd of gazelles, who oblivious to the imminent danger, quench their thirst at the watering hole.

We lean forward in our seats as the leopard nears his quarry. Quiet, lithe, brutal hunger in his eyes, he prepares to pounce. Just then, a faint rustle alerts the herd. They take off. Gazelles of all ages. Terror in their hearts, swift in their stride and with a deep desire to live. But can they outrun the leopard?

A fierce chase ensues as the savage beast bounds across my screen flying like the wind determined to kill. I feel my pulse quicken. Which one of the group will he target?

I watch helplessly as a calf, confused and frightened separates from the herd. Deftly, the leopard swoops in on his prey. The calf struggles, fights back but is pinned down in a moment. It is no match for the predator’s prowess. A quick bite on the calf’s neck ensures its life is slowly sucked away. Breath by breath. A tender life short lived.

The leopard famished, victorious stands majestically with a paw on its vanquished kill. This poignant visual of the hunter and the hunted so reflective of Lord Tennyson’s sentiments in his words “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”

I cannot help but feel the pain of the mother who has lost her fawn that night.

I hold my son close and I know all across our country mamas of color, young and old, hold on tightly to to their sons as their television screens replay the merciless murder of George Floyd, pinned helplessly down by a white officer, his knee on the victim’s neck. Their hearts bleed as they watch the life ebb out of him breath by breath. The hunter and the hunted. Could it be their son next?

Indeed, nature is savage in her ways. The leopard kills to sustain, yet, what justification can the police officer offer for killing the vulnerable? Where do you go if the very ones you trust to protect you turn against you? Why was George Floyd killed?

This has to end.

Our country is hurting deeply as the disease of prejudice is preying upon us. Riots and vandalism may not be the solution, but staying silent isn’t either. Mamas of the world, we need to unite and fight this together. We need to speak up now for those who cannot and as we awaken from the slumber of the lock down and an epoch of indifference, each and every one of us needs to question and examine our own biases and beliefs so we can begin to heal together. We need to first believe and then inculcate the value in our children that every life is significant.

-Vidya.

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The Nest

Charlotte, Today 6:30 am.

The morning dawns, stormy and wet. It is yet another morning this spring when I wake up to the wail of gusty winds and the clamor of thunderous rain. Another morning when the paucity of sunshine reflects the gloom of the pandemic that hangs over our world. Another morning when the blossoming rose bushes, the swaying stalks of daffodils and cherry blossom trees in full bloom do not transcend to hope. This year, along with her innate unpredictability, spring has also brought upon us inclement times. Today, the torrential downpour only amplifies the dread and worry in my heart.

I yearn for the steaming warmth of a cup of coffee and walk into the kitchen. One glance at the kitchen sink and an instant feeling of overwhelm clings to my heart. The sink overflows with dirty dishes.

I should have taken care of this last night,’ I admonish myself in a tone filled with remorse. ‘But didn’t I run a load of the dishwasher after dinner? There were just a few ice cream bowls to be done. Did they multiply? I’m so tired of this.’

A couple of baking tins and a whisk stick out from the pile of dirty dishes. A lingering aroma of cinnamon and banana wafts in the air. I do not need Sherlock to deduce what has transpired last night. The kids have been baking again, at midnight. Mug cakes, banana bread and definitely Dalgona coffee.

‘Be careful what you wish for,’ I say to myself.  

                                             Dec. 31st, 2019, 11:55 pm.

The family is sprawled on the floor in the family room of our home, nestled under blankets. We have just returned from a fun filled trip to Universal Studios, Orlando. Our eyes are tired and glued to the television as we wait and watch for the ball to drop.

“Are you excited about the New Year?” I ask the kids.

My daughter sits up. “I am! Graduation, a new job, moving to California…I am looking forward to it” she gleams.

“I am too. It’s going to be so cool if I get into Governor’s school, Mom. My friends say it is an opportunity of a lifetime. My Calculus teacher thinks my chances are good. If I get in, it will be a fun summer!” my son, a junior in high school says as he nuzzles the puppy.

“I’m pretty sure you’ll get in too, genius. But come spend some time with me in Palo Alto, before you head off to Gov. school?” she suggests.

“Yes!!!” He perks up at the thought of spending time with his sister.

“Are you going to get a puppy when you move?” he asks her.

“Maybe, once I settle. I think I’ll adopt one.”

As they continue to dream and converse, I find myself mulling over the duality of emotions that arise within. I am a seasoned golf widow but an inexperienced empty nester. Next summer will be my first in twenty years without the kids. I am proud that my fledglings are ready to soar yet am unable to take my mind off the gnawing, growing loneliness their absence will create.

Ten, nine, eight, seven…the countdown begins. Cries of ‘Happy New Year’ fill the air.

Unaware that the joyous shouts are to herald in a new year, our dog zooms around excited. I hold my family tight and there’s only one thing I wish for in the coming year – moments of togetherness, which I know will be hard to come by in the next few years. I want to go on long walks, bake together, have endless discussions, and play board games. That’s all. I let my wish drift into the Universe with the faith that it will manifest.

                                   20th March -2020

We are in the living room playing a game of Catan. The family has been home together, socially distanced from our extended family and friends for almost a week now. Our daughter is home for spring break and in all probability will be here for at least a month. Our son has been accepted to Governor’s school. Our niece who moved to the city for a training just prior to the lockdown is with us too. Life is good. Our pantry is stocked, and we have enough hand soap and toilet paper.

“Mom, do you have any wheat? Could you trade wheat for a log?” my son asks after he rolls his dice on his turn.

“I could trade wheat for ore” I reply.

“I could give you an ore and a log for a wheat and a sheep,” he negotiates.

I look around the board. I need the ore to build a city. It’s a good deal.

 We continue to trade sheep, wheat, bricks, wood and ore with zest to build roads, settlements, and cities in an imaginary world. As we live vicariously through the game, it brings us hope and helps us believe that soon we will flatten the curve and tide over this strange time to build a new world.

“Let’s bake a carrot cake after the game,” my niece suggests.

“And we can whip up some Dalgona coffee too” my daughter adds.

Yum! The mere mention of the food and I feel the pounds add up at the waist.

The kids are honing their culinary skills. We’ve had chef style meals almost every day for the past week. This time has been a gift and is exactly what I had wished for at the birth of the new year.

                               Today May  10th 2020.

I stand in front of the loaded kitchen sink, fighting back tears.

 We’ve been together for weeks. Just as I wanted. There have been endless sessions of baking, playing Catan and taking long walks. We’ve transitioned easily to zoom meetings and online classes. On the face of it, inside of our home -our bubble – life is as I had envisioned.

Yet, much has changed. Even though my daughter will graduate, there will be no graduation ceremony. No farewells to friends, no memorable closure to a wondrous phase of her life that has just ended and no move in the immediate future. Governor’s school has been cancelled for this year and my son doesn’t know how all of this will affect his college applications. Our niece may never get a chance to meet her colleagues in the city or see her workplace.

 The nest will certainly not be empty for sure this summer, but the dreams of our children have been disbanded.

As I stand in my kitchen that rainy morning, tears begin to flow. I grieve not just for our children but also for my dear uncle who is battling cancer alone at this time. I grieve for the doctor in New York who survived the virus but succumbed to the sadness and devastation she witnessed on the front lines. I grieve for the battered victims of domestic violence, and for the waitress who has served so many but struggles to put food on her own table. As the death toll escalates, the turmoil and sorrow in the world mount.

Just like the dishes in the kitchen sink do. It all piles up.

The tears flow, and I cannot stop them. When will this end? How will it end?

I brew the coffee and head to my favorite couch by the window. The storm has passed and like a typical spring morning, the sun now peeks through the clouds. Raindrops glisten on the branches of the cherry blossom tree in front of the window. A little birdie is perched on a branch there. With her brown and red plumage, and her bright red beak, she is a sight to behold. She holds a twig in her beak. I wonder if the storm has destroyed her nest. Our eyes meet. Hers sparkle with resolve, mine brim with disillusion. She looks at me tenderly and says, “Storms come and go, but mamas need to continue to build our nests, nestle them with warmth and fill them with new dreams.”

Stunned, I ask,” What? How…where do I begin?”

“Baby steps, mama” she smiles and winks at me, “I’ll start with a twig. You can start with the dishes.”

.-Vidya

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Dungeons and Snipers

Imagine you are the lead character in a game of “Dungeons and Snipers.” A game where you must surpass many different levels as you roam the world to collect treasure and earn points.

You begin with three lives on hand.

On your exciting adventure, you scale the peaks of rugged mountains, dive deep into abysmal oceans and explore dense jungles infested with dangerous beasts to find diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls. You lose two lives in the process. Once, when you fall off the treacherous slope of the highest peak and another time, while battling a five-headed fire breathing monster in the jungle. What a bummer!

But you rally on… and manage to gather all the jewels and score points. Well played! You are now in the penultimate level and have to find your way through a mystifying maze of tunnels. You do. But the tunnel leads into a dungeon and you find yourself holed in with all this amassed preciousness and one life to spare.

Now, there is but one hurdle in between you and a win – a vast desert outside that has to be crossed. You are free to leave the dungeon anytime but at the risk of being shot down as the desert is teaming with deadly snipers. They are impossible to avoid, and they never miss their mark. Such a waste of your efforts if they get to you.

Hold on! You just find out that there is another way out. You can hide and wait it out. If the snipers don’t spot you for a period of time, they will disappear. You will lose all points if you choose to do this but at least you can cross the expanse of barren land with your collected treasure once the field is clear. What would you do?

Would you rather lose points or give up your life?

At this moment, isn’t this the predicament all of mankind finds itself in? A majority of us are living in lockdown conditions isolated from the rest of the world. We’ve navigated through life’s many ups and downs to reach here. Except we are nestled within the four walls of our homes, not dungeons, and with the people who matter to us, our treasure. We have, in the game of life, chosen to wait it out. To save not just ourselves but others too. Yet, there are many to whom the lockdown feels akin to being in a dungeon. They choose to take a risk and step out. We are at war, yet they refuse to follow the norms of social distancing. They would rather give up their lives.

Yesterday, I left the safe confines of my neighborhood for the first time in three weeks. Before leaving, I had wondered if it would be surreal to drive down empty roads, pass by malls that were just empty shells, whether I would find myself in the remains of a city once alive. Would I feel just like Old Man Brooks did in ‘Shawshank Redemption’ when he struggled to adjust to a life outside prison, after having spent most of his adult life in jail? Maybe, I was being dramatic, but the point is I wondered how strange it would be to venture out into a transformed world.

To my astonishment though, the roads were busy, soccer fields were filled with players and groups of people chatted – not six feet away from each other but closer – while their dogs frolicked. Nothing much had changed. It hurt. Was this fair to those who had put their lives on hold and to my dear ones on the frontline, who were putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk for the likes of those who did not care?

 This virus is deadlier than any sniper. It doesn’t care if you are black or brown, rich or poor, an atheist or a person of faith. It just kills. Yet, some falter and choose not to stay home. Maybe, because it is hard for the human mind to fathom an invisible enemy.  What if for a minute, we imagine that the virus has magnified itself a hundredfold, put on a black hooded suit? What if it holds an armed rifle in each hand and shoots on sight? Would people still be on the soccer field? I think not.

In the words of Gordon Brown, the ex-Prime Minister of UK, “This is not the time to say I’m doing all I can but to say we will do everything that it takes to beat this thing.” Each and every one us has to do our part to overcome the pandemic. As a meme that went viral reads, “This is the one chance you have to stay at home, watch TV and still be a superhero. Don’t mess up!”

#Stayhomeeveryone #Staysafe.

Dedicated to all the workers on the frontlines.

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THE JACKET

First published in INFINITHOUGHTS -SEP. 2019

                                                The Jacket.

On a blustery winter morning, I shuffle my booted feet and rub my gloved palms together as I wait at the light rail station in uptown Charlotte. The wisp of heat the friction generates does not appease my body, which yearns for warmth. Even under layers of warm apparel, I feel the frosty air seep in.

The train arrives and I jump into the carriage to find a seat furthest from the door. I am returning from a job interview that did not go well. Normally, the half hour train ride to and from uptown to my house is when I catch up on my reading. Today though, my body and mind need to thaw first before I can focus on the words of a page. After yet another failed attempt at procuring a job, my sunken spirit matches the low, dense air outside.

I look around, at the sea of people who enter the carriage after me and scramble to find spots. The huge tidal wave of scurrying humans subsides as most of them seat themselves, relief writ large on their faces. Those that don’t find seats are grateful just to be in a space away from the frigid temperatures and bone chilling winds. Through a clearing in the crowd I see an oversized woman on a wheelchair, not too far away from the door. She must be cold.  All she uses to cover up is a thin yellow sweater that she wears over a gaudy, floral blouse and purple pants. Her sneakers look worn. She clutches a black drawstring bag in her bare hands that appear wrinkled and dry. She’s probably homeless. How does she get by on days like today? As if she senses my prying eyes, she turns to look at me, her expression stiff. Embarrassed, I force a smile and quickly look away.

The train rides are often frequented by vagabonds. Maybe, that is why I immerse myself in books. To avoid making eye contact with them. There is always an uncomfortable tussle in my heart when I happen to glance their way. A tussle that swings between wariness and compassion. There are some to whom life metes out an unfair hand. They deserve our empathy. But what if a few seek the easy route? What if the dollar I hand out to the disheveled man at the traffic signal is used to buy drugs? In that case, does a gesture of momentary kindness on my part serve him or cripple him? I do not know.

I pull out my book, ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, but my mind is drawn to the stranger in the wheelchair. I look up from the page at her as she bends down to her side and pets her dog, a pit bull that sits beside her. A creature I did not notice earlier as I was busy trying to look away. The pit bull has on a thick olive- green jacket with faux fur around the hood. The buttoned- up jacket, that is clearly made for women, stifles his movements. He shakes with trepidation, like a crinkly leaf on a blustery day. He is bitterly cold and maybe anxious from the ruckus around him. The lady strokes his head with great tenderness and whispers words that I cannot grasp amidst the noise in the train. “It’s ok darling…it’s all going to be fine” are what my heart says she utters.  I watch their interaction, spellbound.

Tears well up in my eyes. In all probability, the jacket is her most prized possession. The rest of her treasure is in the drawstring bag. She loves her dog so deeply that she is ready to forfeit her own comfort for his. I understand. I have a dog of my own, Leo. He is the child I’ve come to rely on to make me feel significant. On days like today when I feel inept, inadequate, Leo’s vehement licks and vigorous wags tell me I mean the world to him. I matter.

 The stranger is wise. She senses my penetrant gaze and looks at me again. Our eyes meet and our souls connect. We have both experienced unconditional love in this lifetime.  I smile, a wholehearted smile that acknowledges her presence. She grins wide. Her mouth is missing a few teeth. Her eyes dance with warmth.  The twinkle in them convey the message that this is all she wants. An acknowledgement from a fellow traveler that says, “I see you. You matter.”

  • Vidya.

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The Making of a Diva

                                                           The Making of a Diva.

I gazed into the mirror, at my reflection, and let the vision from the eye that was open fall upon the kohl lined one that was shut. The blue grey shades of the eye shadow shimmered lightly on the canvas of my eyelid, bordered by the thick black line of the eyeliner. ‘Nice. Someday, I will learn the art of creating the smoky eye effect but for today, this will do.’ With both eyes now open, I let my gaze wander over the rest of my face. Features had been accentuated, blemishes hidden. The array of make-up products I had used had done their job. All I needed to do was fill in the luscious matte shade of burgundy on my lips. ‘Diva’ – an apt title for the lipstick I had chosen. As I looked into the mirror for one last time, I certainly felt like one. Though I must admit, I did not always embody this essence of being a diva. Discovering this essence has been a journey.

The art of make-up was one I had begun to dabble in only recently, until then I had been defiant to the idea of it. The wisdom of the forties had illumined to me the fact that the rebellious attitude towards make-up and fashion that I had harbored earlier was a defense mechanism I had come up with to protect myself. Let me tell you the story of how that happened.

You see, I am dark skinned and very short and there was a time in the crazy teenage years when I stopped seeing myself as the bubbly loving spirit that I was and instead wondered if someone with a flawed complexion and as scrawny as me could be considered attractive. It seemed unfair that while my growth spurt lasted a mere inch, everyone else towered around me. And in a country where fair skin is considered an epitome of beauty, it hurt to be dark. My family and friends loved me unconditionally and cherished my presence. Not once made me feel less worthy yet the conventional idea of beauty laid out by society had wiggled its way into my mind. While MJ crooned “It don’t matter if you are black or white”, to a young naïve teenager trying to fit in, it certainly did.

On one of those days, in a desperate attempt to change at least a tad bit of my appearance, I walked into a salon, also known as a ‘beauty parlor’ in my country. I had never been to one before. Now I would say the name is a misnomer. There is so much more to beauty than looks. But at that point in time, to me, it resonated that it is the external fixing that is done to a person’s appearance that miraculously enhances beauty. The ‘beauty parlor’ was a home run salon owned by a matronly heavyset woman who had a couple of giggly and chirpy girls to help her. It is a norm in my country, where every grown-up person in your life is referred to as aunty or uncle and many a young girl as baby. Aunty was perched in a cushioned chair with her feet resting on a little black stool reading a magazine while one of the helper girls was massaging her head. Her raspy voice boomed as she peered above her wide rimmed spectacles at me.

“Yes, baby. What can I do for you?”

 I looked around the dinghy, rectangular room with a makeshift changing area in the corner, a huge mirror and three rotating chairs in front of it. There was a massage table against the wall at the far end of the room. A waxy aroma that wafted across its span. A little cauldron shaped pot rested on a ledge by the table. J K Rowling had not invented Hogwarts yet – or else the scenario would be akin to a young Harry Potter walking into Dumbledore’s office wishing to learn a spell that magically transformed one’s appearance.

“Fa-facial..” I replied meekly.

“Ok baby… Come. First time doing facial?”

“Yes,” I replied and proceeded to do as she said. I changed into a jaded cotton gown she provided and lay down on the table, shutting my eyes tight. As she scurried around for the next few moments getting products ready to apply on my face, I waited agitated and uneasy.

Auntyji wore her glasses and scrutinized my face closely.

“Tsk tsk… so many blackheads… you need the gold facial. Expensive but you need it.”

I shut my eyes, clenched my fists and held on. If I wanted to feel beautiful, I would have to endure these experiences. While her stooges watched, she deftly massaged my skin with what seemed to be layers of masks, rubbing them in, letting them dry and peeling them out. Next, I was asked to hover my face steady, over a pot of steaming water with a cloth covering my head so as not to let the steam escape. It felt like my face was on fire. As the droplets condensed and dripped down my face, I soothed myself.  ‘Didn’t things always seem bad before they get better. The sting from the steam would open up my pores and rejuvenate my skin and I would glow just like those models in TV ads.’ As the steaming ordeal ended, aunty asked me to lay back down and brought a couple of sharp needle-like instruments. Terrified, I asked her what she was about to do next.  

“Not to worry. I must take out the blackheads no?”

As she pinched and tugged away at the blackheads on my nose, I felt excruciating pain. Tears welled up in my eyes. I’m not sure if I had felt such animosity towards anyone before but in that moment, I did and as she brought the tweezer to my nose once more, I gathered every ounce of fierceness in my body and raised my hand to slap her. I just wanted the pain to stop. She was quick to react and with her large, jiggly arms, she firmly caught my hand and pinned me down. The stooges giggled.

“Arre! Baby, this much also you cannot bear? You want to be pretty or not? Then these blackheads I have to take out. It does not look nice, no?”

 I lay there, stark naked in my vulnerability, desperate to wedge my way into the land of the glamorous, my mind spinning, It does not look nice? To whom? To another who was looking at me? I had to go through all this pain so that when someone else saw me, it would be a pleasing sight for them? So unfair! Were there not enough puppies, daffodils and roses for the world to feast their eyes on if they wanted to see something nice?

“Baby, you have to come back next month to remove the blackheads, ok? Otherwise no use, it will come back.”

‘Huh? Whaaaat? I would have to go through this again?  And again?’

 I looked at myself for a few minutes every morning and night and though the image was not perfect, there were certainly less painful things I could do with my time, like reading a book. It was true that I had wanted to fit into a mold that society had carved yet even after the facial, even after the coaxing and cajoling of the skin, I didn’t feel any different. Maybe my skin glowed, and there were fewer blackheads but otherwise I was the same person as I was before this experience. That’s when the rebel was born. There was a quiet defiance, a current of seething anger in my heart for rules that defined beauty in society. I decided that I would stay away from everything that changed my appearance externally, that the beauty industry was an ostensible one. Looking good did not always translate to feeling good. I had experienced that though I could not fathom what I must do to find my inner glow.

Years passed. Fortunately for me, my husband cherished a sense of humor more than a sense of style and I did not care to change. I was most comfortable in slacks and to his chagrin – his t-shirts and he just let me be. When the kids came along, for the longest time, I wore their presence as my accessory. Their spirit was an extension of mine and I basked in it. I felt radiant. I was wrong to think that motherhood is what makes one beautiful. I did not own our children and a time comes, as it did for me, for them to leave your space and find their own. Being a mother is just a role I played.

As I began to fill in the void the kids left with questions – Who am I, why am I here, what does taking care of oneself truly mean? There were other burning questions too about faith, culture, values etc. The search led me to meditation and though none of the answers appeared magically, there was a subtle change in the way I responded to life. It took months, and nothing changed externally but I was happy, for no particular reason. My heart felt warm and fuzzy, most of the time.

 One night, as I brushed my teeth, I looked in the mirror. I was still short, still dark and to add to it the aging effect of mid-life hormones were conspicuous – streaks of grey, thinning hair and the battle of the mid-riff bulge. Yet, I was ecstatic. That warm fuzzy feeling had eclipsed all insecurities. I had brushed away layers of inadequacy just as valiantly as I had brushed away the plaque. I was in my forties now and I loved, lived and wrote from the heart. Nothing else mattered. Maybe, this is what it felt to be a diva. To be fearlessly you.  

And that, in short, is my journey to finding true beauty.  

Though this awakening hasn’t broadened my sense of style. I still lounge around in my sweatpants and hubby’s Superman t-shirt, but I am no longer averse to the idea of dolling up on occasions.  Today I was getting dressed to do an author event. The excitement of doing something that I loved combined with a dash of make- up made me feel yummy.

As I turned around to step out of the room, my faithful little puppy wagged his furry tail at me. Ah, he approved. He knew under the mask of the skin toner, primer, foundation, highlighter and blush was the warm and funny spirit he loved.

I now know it too. I have finally learned to embrace myself just as I am. I am a quirky woman who graciously bore the pain of childbirth but is terrified of a pair of tweezers.

 I am a diva!

This post was first published in Life Positive in Aug 2019. Republished with the permission of the editor.

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Good Thing, Bad Thing, Who Knows?

  Published in Infinitithoughts – September 2018                     

My family moved to Charlotte five years ago from Pune, India. It was a herculean move that drained every ounce of my energy. I left behind a treasure trove of love and connections. Family I dearly loved and friends old and new who filled my life with laughter. The village I created for myself there was thriving. It was my silken cocoon. Breaking away from it bruised me all over. Yet, it had to happen. It was a move we had made for the future of our kids. Their happiness is more important than mine, I told myself.

At the turn of the millennium, my husband and I had along with scores of IT professionals immigrated to the US. Both kids were born in Chicago and had spent the first few years of their lives here. We moved to Pune when my daughter was eight and son was four. To them, America was home and nothing in India felt like their own. They lived as aliens in my homeland. Just as cruelly as I was yanked from the soil that I had sprouted from when we relocated to Charlotte, they had been forcibly transplanted into a foreign soil when we had moved earlier from Chicago to Pune. Except that they were saplings then, tender and supple. Even though they did not like it, they found a way to adapt. When we moved to back to the US, they blossomed but I, on the other hand, stood as an old oak would, rigid and resistant to the strong winds of change

For months, I would wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach, uneasy, unwilling to embrace the day. There was a dull ache I cannot describe, like a thin veil over my eyes that made my vision hazy. We bought a house, my dream home but even that did not lift the veil away. I hung on by a thread, the knowing that I had to get better for my kids. As a mother, I had always taken the role of being ‘Annapoorna’ (the Goddess of food) very seriously. What got me out of bed was a sense of duty to whip up healthy food for them. The cooking did not bother me but a messy kitchen and a sink full of dishes did. The cleaning overwhelmed me, and it is an area I struggle with to date. It is an aspect I cannot handle alone, and I missed all the house help I had in India. So, while putting out an array of dishes gave me transient moments of happiness, they were soon overcome with the misery of cleaning. I was in desperate need of an avenue that would take me back to a cozy bubble that was ‘me’.

The family though settled in easily; like a fish does to water. They were each in their own happy space. My daughter had her music and books, my son had tennis and Lego and my husband, golf. I was lost. Maybe, it was time to go back to work. I had a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and had worked in the industry for a bit before giving it up to be a stay at home mom. The thought of going back to pharma though only made the knotted feeling in my stomach grow tighter. The job and the industry repulsed me. I knew for certain I did not want to go back yet I could not fathom what I wanted. The resistance in my mind to the current situation reflected in my body too. I developed a series of food intolerances which in turn exacerbated the feeling of restlessness. The yearning to feel joyful and healthy again took me back in time to my childhood days. What was it that had brought me unencumbered joy then? Apart from the company of my friends, it was dancing and writing.  I had to get back to it.

As if the Universe heard my pleas, one of those days when I was hopelessly floating around, I came across a wonderful dance institute. The teacher was starting a new batch for adults. It was a sign. I joined and at turtle pace began to find my footing again. The dancing held the key to unlock my heart too. When we had moved I was so full of love and longing for my family and friends that I had shut my world to new friendships. No one could take the place of my old friends, I had decided. The class though brought back into my life the laughter and magic of genuine connections. My heart slowly opened wide to snugly fit in my new friendships alongside my old ones.

The writing took a while to take off. What could I write about, I wondered? Then, magically one morning I woke up with a poem imprinted strongly in my heart. It was a poem dedicated to two of my dear friends who were raising kids with special needs. These kids had always inspired me. They had an unfailing ability to enjoy simple moments in life like a gentle evening breeze, a plate of flavorful homemade food and a genuine smile. Moments that I, despite being a fully functioning adult, had trouble appreciating. These kids may have struggled with tasks that came easily to us but however hard times were, they never failed to open their arms for a hug. I aspired to have the clarity and appreciation for life that they did.

I penned the poem and that was the beginning of a journey that has since brought a lot of richness in my life. As I continued to write with the deep desire to discover what lay beneath the surface of those turbulent emotions at the abyss of our core, I made connections with readers all over the world. The veil then began to lift.  Writing was an anchor that grounded me. However choppy the waves around were, I understood if I held on I would be safe. Nothing was more comforting than a blank screen that I was free to create my art on. Somewhere along the way I discovered meditation too which brought back the much-needed airiness in my life.

When we moved to Charlotte, I thought I was being a martyr, sacrificing my happiness for the sake of my kids. Looking back, I see it was the best thing that happened to me. It pushed me to corners I would have never explored. And once I sifted through those dark turbulent emotions, I discovered buried treasure. The nagging unsettled feeling that I labeled as bad set me on an exciting voyage.

There is an old Sufi tale which goes like this. There was once a poor farmer who lived with his young son in a beautiful valley. Out of the blue, a fine-looking stallion walked into their farm one day. The envious neighbors proclaimed he was lucky as he could sell the stallion and earn a fortune. The humble farmer merely replied, “Good thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?” 

The next day the horse ran away. This time the neighbors hurried over to offer sympathy. “That’s too bad. You could have made so much money.” they said. The farmer’s plain reply, “Good Thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?”

The day after, the horse came back bringing along with it a few more horses. The neighbors once again lauded the good fortune of the farmer. Again, all the old man could utter, “Good thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer and his son were out grazing the horses, one of the horses kicked the young boy injuring him critically. The boy was crippled for life. The neighbors moaned, “Who will marry your lad now? This is very unfortunate.”

The farmer’s only reaction, “Good thing, Bad Thing – Who knows?” Soon a war broke out in the area and all the young strapping men in the vicinity were drafted to fight in the war. The farmer’s lame son was the only one spared. The only comfort the farmer offered his sobbing neighbors, “Good Thing, Bad Thing- Who Knows?” And so, life went on for the farmer.

Dire times often mask lessons that make us stronger. Our relocation to Charlotte taught me that. So now when things don’t go my way, I try not to think of it as bad. If I find myself battling a storm, I simply clutch on tight to my anchor and ride the waves whispering, “Good Thing, Bad Thing -Who Knows?”

-Vidya.

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YOU & I.

 

621624_523274787688872_678181686_oYou & I…

The rays of the morning sun light up the world around us. We are five years old and dressed in cotton frocks. Yours is white with red straps and a smocking across the span of its bodice.  Mine is yellow with black polka dots and frilly sleeves. We sit in a muddy ditch by the side of the tar road. What were our mothers thinking dressing us up pretty like that? We fill the little pockets in our sun dresses with jagged edged stones and smooth pebbles.

A hop, skip and jump later we are in the garden outside your house. The trimmed bushes and manicured hedges only lure us to pluck some of their leaves off. Our pockets are full, so we gather as much as our little hands can hold. We drop our loot in a nook by the edge of the garden and rush back to the row of trees that line the other end of your garden.

Every morning, a fresh layer of ‘Parijat’ flowers lies scattered on the ground all around the trees. The fragrance of the white flowers with bright orange stems beckons us. These night- flowering jasmines bloom in the stillness of the dark and leave the comfort of their branches when the first rays of the sun fall upon them. Neither our hands nor our pockets are big enough for these gifts from nature that lay strewn around us. So, we turn the hemmed edges of our dresses upwards and in delight, collect as many flowers as we can in our makeshift pouches. Backs crouched, we hurry back in a slow run holding our precious cargo, close to our bodies and hearts. Did we ever walk in those days? There was always so much to do, to explore.

Back in our nook, we put on a show, just for ourselves. This is Broadway at its rudimentary best. We play house and the first scene is of our family preparing a scrumptious dinner. You and I play multiple roles. and the loot we have gathered are used as props. The leaves are vegetables that we chop and sauté into an aromatic curry.  The pebbles are naan that we bake, and the flowers complete the feast as a bowl of saffron rice. The stones are money and we have used it all at the grocery store. Our make -believe world is made up of the elements that truly matter to us. Food does, bills…they don’t exist.

Now, you are raising a family of your own and I am raising mine. Our lives are not as simple as the world we created at five. Bills and worries are a big part of it. You’ve taught me though to remember that I do need sunshine and nature to satiate my heart.

You & I…

The afternoon sun blazes in all its’ glory. We are ten and dressed in blue denim shorts and colorful tie and dye t-shirts. No more dainty frocks for us, we choose our clothes ourselves. As we get ready to play a game of lagori*, you stack the seven tiles up neatly in the center of the playground. We are on opposite teams. It’s your turn to break the tower of tiles. You take aim and throw the little red rubber ball right at the tower. ‘BAM’…You’ve done it. The tower crumbles. Your aim has always been so precise. I am the sloppy one, the ‘kaccha limbu.’ * As the tower falls apart, your team runs away from us as far as possible. Our team has to hit one of you with the ball now, before you can stack up the tiles again, to score points. I aim the ball and clumsily throw it at you. It grazes your sleeve, I think. ‘OUT’ I yell, a victorious grin on my lips. You shake your head in denial.

“NOT OUT! It didn’t touch me.”

“IT DID. I SAW IT.”

“DID NOT.”

We get into our first major fight. You are the all-time lagori champion, the MVP of our ‘gali’* and get the benefit of the doubt. You win. Tears roll down my cheeks. I walk away to sit on the rock. A stony structure on the other side of our apartment building, our haunt. Despondent and alone, I vow to never play this game again. I find a twig nearby and begin to sketch stick figures in the mud. Just then you come along, with a little steel dabba* in your hand.

“Amma made gulab jamuns*, your favorite. Here, these are for you.” Your big, brown eyes look at me expectantly.

“Gulab jamuns! Yay!!!”

As the juicy sweetness of the spongy dessert fills my mouth, my heart dances again. What were we fighting about? I don’t remember anymore.

Now when we talk, we discuss the conflicts in our real world. Rifts with family members, bosses, jealous colleagues…there is so much to cope with. You’ve taught me though that sometimes the solutions are as simple as savoring the sweetness of a dessert. In tough times, I try to let the resentment in my heart melt into the sugary syrup of a gulab jamun.

You & I…

A gentle breeze brushes against us. The evening sun casts shadows that make us appear to be taller than we actually are. We are on a stud farm which belongs to your family friend. We are fifteen and dressed in jeans and pretty blouses, accessorized with dangling earrings and chic shoes. We are on a farm yes, but don’t we need to exude a sense of style wherever we are? We walk to the lake with Charlie, a lazy, yellow Labrador who belongs to the farm but has been inseparable part of our unit since the time we arrived here. We don’t walk very much as Charlie plops himself to the ground. 300m is his limit. We prod, push, even try to carry him but he does not budge. So, we stand rooted to that spot for a while. There is nothing much to do.

“I’ll tell you a joke.” you say, “Have you heard of the woman with three hairs?”

“No-No. Tell me.”

“There was once a lady who had three hairs on her head. She wanted to style her hair, so she walked into a salon. ‘There’s not much I can do’, said the exasperated stylist. “Ok, then just make a braid.” As the stylist began to do as she was told, one hair broke. “Eh! It’s ok. Just tie a ponytail” Unfortunately for the lady, the second hair broke too, when the stylist attempted to tie a ponytail. “Hmmm. Never mind then, I’ll just leave my hair open.”

We fall to the ground, in splits with laughter. Charlie raises his sleepy head and looks at us bewildered. Not sure if anyone will find this joke funny but we do. We find the absurdity of it hilarious. The world around us comes to a standstill. Only waves of our raucous laughter resonate for miles and miles.

Even now at times when I feel despair, I go back in time to that day…you’ve taught me to laugh at the ironical situations that life metes out to us..

You & I…

We are twenty. You touch up my lipstick and I tighten the clasp of your oxidized necklace. The night is still young as we dress in rustic ghagras and colorful cholis, complete with ethnic, chunky jewelry, ready to play dandiya-raas*. Raas -Lila was a dance that Krishna playfully indulged in with Radha and the gopis. We carry on the tradition today. For the nine nights of Navratri* we dance with friends in gay abandon. This year is extra special though because T is going to be at the dance. He is your first crush. As you turn to me one last time before we leave, your dreamy gaze says it all. ‘How do I look? Do you think he will like me?’ your eyes question.

‘Who wouldn’t? You are the best’ I beam in return.

As we head towards the venue hand in hand, I feel your heart pound in my sweaty palm. I tighten my hold over your hand in an attempt to soothe your anxious nerves and let go only when you when we see him approach. You dance with him well until midnight and then you and I talk about it until the wee hours of the morning. You describe his every gesture, his every nuance. I listen, lapping up all the itsy -bitsy details. I wish your love lasts forever.

I know now the tenderness of first loves do not last forever. You’ve taught me though to cherish heartfelt connections.

You & I…

Three years later. We are at the Mumbai airport. It’s 3:00 am. Your family is relocating to America. I am here to say goodbye to you. As I hug you tight, I try hard to fight back tears. I do not want the farewell to be teary yet it’s hard to fathom how my days will be without your presence. I feel your tears drop on my shoulder. There is only one thing that will keep us from breaking down.

“You remember the lady with three hairs” I ask, while I continue to embrace you.

And you giggle uncontrollably.

We part ways. I vow not to dwell on the void created by your absence but to celebrate the joyous moments of our friendship.

You & I…

Twenty-one years later, we are still the best of friends. You are 8000 miles away. We do not talk often yet when we do, it’s as if you have never been away. It’s a bond that will only deepen as the creases on our faces ripen. After all, you have taught me to rejoice the little moments of life. You’ve taught me to live life king size.

 

-Vidya.

 

 

  • Parijat – Night-flowering jasmines
  • Lagori – a game played between two teams involving a ball and a pile of flat stones
  • Kaccha limbu – a weak player
  • Gali – narrow streets of a city
  • Gulab jamuns – a sweet made out of milk solids.
  • Dabba – a box
  • Dandiya -Raas – a traditional folk dance from India
  • Navratri – an Indian festival that is celebrated for nine nights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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F-U-N

 

 

Imagine yourself at the venue of the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. You are in the audience seated at the edge of your chair, palms sweaty, brows furrowed and heart thumping. The air is rife with nervous excitement. It is the final round and your child is up on stage with a handful of other voracious spellers. He walks up to the microphone in eager, confident steps. As a parent, all you can do for him is say a heartfelt prayer in desperation and hope that when the soft voice of the ever-smiling Dr. Bailly pronounces the word, it is one your child knows. What you want is for your child to win.

Except you are now told that this next round of the spelling bee is unconventional. Whaaat? The child must not only spell but also define the word. He cannot question the origin or the root of the word. There are no alternate pronunciations. The child is judged on the profundity of his answer. The stage for this round is sprawling. It is life and the voice that announces the word is not of the charming doctor, but it is the gentle voice of God. You still want your child to win.

“FUN” – the divine voice announces. Your child looks perplexed. Such a simple word? The clock ticks away and your thirteen-year-old child, initially hesitant goes on to describe his interpretation of the meaning of the word.

“Fun –F-U-N. It is a vacation with my family and friends to beautiful seaside locations. Fun is a trip to Hawaii or Bahamas.”

Ah- He did it, you think. Your shoulders relax, and a smile graces your face. Only to hear the dreadful bell go ‘Ding’. It’s not the right answer. Baffled, you look around to see the same quizzical expression on the faces of all around. Why is this answer wrong? You are deeply disappointed.

As the next finalist walks up, you wonder what the correct answer is.

“FUN” says the gentle voice.

“F-U-N. Fun is a grand party with dancing and singing and hmmm…plenty of food and drinks?” The child sounds nervous. He tries to put himself into the shoes of every adult in the room and answer and sees this is the most common way to have fun.

‘Ding’ goes the awful bell again.

As the third finalist walks up to the microphone, his grim expression indicates that he is giving this some serious thought.

“F-U-N. Success is fun. Success in academics or sport. Winning is fun” he quips when it is his turn. A ‘DING’ echoes in the hall once more.

Why are these wrong, you wonder? As you look around, confusion is writ large on the faces. Everyone is as perplexed as you are.

“Let me rephrase the question” the magnificent voice announces. Its’ sound deep yet gentle envelopes you with a warmth. “What makes you happy?” asks the voice and the spotlight falls on the fourth child,

“Getting a new video game makes me happy” the fourteen- year-old gingerly announces.

“WHY?”

“Uh- I don’t know” mutters the child.

Ding!

The spotlight moves to the next child. Smiling, he answers “Going to a waterpark.”

“WHY?”

Before the child replies, an angry parent interrupts. “What’s going on? My child was not wrong when he said going to a party was fun. Nor was the other when he said a new toy makes him happy. These are kids, and this is what makes them happy. What’s wrong with it? I demand an explanation!”

“Let me ask you then… What is fun? What makes you happy and why?” the benevolent voice booms.

The parent yells, “A cruise with abundant food, wine and beautiful people! Why? Why? Because it lets me escape from the drudgery of my everyday life!”

Ding!

“HEY! Can You tell me what You are up to? Are You playing around with us? Can you please just leave and let our kids go back to the actual normal game? This is the final and they have worked hard to get here. It’s no joke.”

“Relax,” says God, “A group of intellectuals is where I thought I could make my point. That’s why I am here.”

So saying He shines the spotlight on a three year old in the audience who is seated on his mother’s lap.

“Little one, what makes you happy and why?”

The little boy flashes a beaming smile. He knows. He jumps down from his mama’s lap and with his chest puffed and tiny palms fisted by his side shouts out,

“Playing with my puppy makes me happy because he makes me laugh.”

“What a wonderful answer! You see this child innately know fun is in the simple act of giving love.  A very young child may not share a new toy but walk into a room and he will be the first one to run up to you to give you a hug. All you need is to be like them. Instead you spend the first few years teaching your children to achieve to find happiness and then, they like you spend the next few years trying to escape. Going on a vacation is fun if your intention is to explore a new place and embrace its culture and people, not if you are going to escape the life you created for yourself. Partying is fun if you party to celebrate togetherness not to hit the bottle to forget your problems. Success does not lie in accumulating trophies but in feeling joyful for what you have. It lies in knowing your worth and respecting the other. I’ll leave you now but, in my opinion, the child who understands laughter and connection are what brings true happiness is the winner.”

Wow! You have spent all your parenting life training your children to be adults. You now know you need to un-teach your children so the next time they are in the spelling bee on the sprawling stage of life where they must define fun, they have the right answer.  They say, “M- E. Me – I am fun.”

 

  • Vidya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gratitude

To my dear family, friends and readers,

This blog is four years old today. A journey that began on a whim on my 40th birthday with the urge to peek below the surface of those mid-life emotions and touch the fragile and tender core of my heart has brought  much richness into my life. Heartfelt   connections with all of you, a published book in partnership with my “chaddi” buddy  fun filled opportunities like author events, reading to precious little children and learning the craft from other fellow writers.  I have always loved to write but shied away from calling myself a writer until now. In this fast paced world where acronyms and emogees  transport your thoughts at a lightning pace, you have taken the time out to read my wordy essays and have truly made me a writer. For every article I  have penned, I have received beautiful personal messages. These words of encouragement are what keep me going. J K Rowling I may never be but I am now in a lovely space and I am where I am and what I am because of you. So thank you for being the wind beneath my wings as I dare to soar.

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