The Gift

 

 

Dedicated to my beautiful children Nidhi and Varun, my adorable nieces Aditi and Saatvi and my lovable nephews Adi, Giri and Shashi. Love you guys!

 

The Gift.

I was overwhelmed. The holidays usually did that to me. There always came a time in the frenzied activity around the planning  for the perfect getaway or a perfect get together, the perfect holiday family picture, buying the right gifts for the right people, putting up the lights and tree and doing our bit for charity when I had had enough. Strangely, this year it was not the feeling of being ‘Queen Bee’ that got to me. Quite the contrary, a feeling of emptiness flooded my heart.

A few events on the personal front (call it life, if you may) over the past few months had usurped my time and sapped my energy. Before I knew it, it was Christmas eve. We had not put up the tree. There were no lights, no gifts, no parties, no picture and there definitely was no vacation. The holidays were going to be a train to Nowhere land for my children. Was I a lousy mother? I had let myself get so preoccupied with the changes in my life that I had forgotten to plan the fun.

My children were teenagers now. I had wanted the few years before they left the nest to be filled with memorable bonding times.Memories of a sparkly, inviting home, days spent on an unforgettable cruise and lavish parties needed to be engraved on their minds. Times they would look back to fondly, when they were older. Of course, since they were teenagers, they would be equally content if they had just their phones around. All the more reason for a mother to plan constructive activities that sealed family ties and grounded them into reality. Yet here we were, faced with the possibility of nothing fun to do in the most happening time of the year.The thought of creating holiday  memories of just watching TV and playing video games irked me.

As I sat in my living room replying to holiday messages, pictures of families with smiling faces in fancy places that flooded social media made sure I  did not disembark at any point while on my guilt trip. To top it all, my daughter had come down with the flu the day before. Last minute shopping or an impromptu get together with friends was out of the question too. My holiday spirit was dead.

I moped around for a bit before I warily (moms with teenagers will relate to the wariness) entered my daughter’s room to check on her. She looked much better than before. She beckoned me in with a smile and handed me the iPad. “Here mom, watch this. This lady is sooo funny.” The lady was Superwoman aka comedian Lily Singh whose YouTube videos had garnered a few million views. Boy, was her take on her Indo-American heritage  hilarious!

Our guffaws drew my son into the room too. He came in carrying a batch of cookies he had just baked. Yum!! I had been so busy moping earlier, I had not paid attention to the pottering sounds that had emanated from the kitchen. As we dug into the crunchy sweetness of the gingerbread cookies, we discussed the vagaries of immigrant parenting, the likes of tiger moms and the absurd success of the arranged marriages of our generation. The conversation that ensued felt open, heartfelt and funny. The laughter eclipsed the emptiness I had felt earlier and reignited my dying spirit. I felt a simple yet strong sense of connection to my children and I know they felt it too. For in the days that followed, they often congregated on my bed to opine about people from Queen Latifah to their elementary school teachers. I learned new age scrabble words from them as we played ‘Words with Friends’ and they learned about some of the games their father and I played as children growing up in the streets of Mumbai.. And fortunately for us, our budding baker continued to bake a few more scrumptious treats.

What a blessing the days with nothing to do had turned out to be! This year would forever be etched in our memories as the year where I learnt the art of just being, our prodigal teenagers crawled back into our bed and my son discovered his passion for baking. I was grateful for these spontaneous joyful times that entailed no meticulous planning.

This past week, in a home devoid of the frills of traditional holiday rituals and festivities the spirit of the holiday-of gratitude and togetherness, throbbed in our hearts stronger than ever.

-Vidya

Wishing all my readers a very Happy New Year. Deeply thankful for the opportunity to reach out to a few hearts and make loving connections.

 

 

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Oasis

I dedicate this post to all my lovely friends in Charlotte. When we moved here four years ago, I was naive enough to think my heart was full with strong friendships… I did not need any more. You guys have woven your way into my heart. Truly grateful for your presence in my life. Happy Thanksgiving all…..

Oasis

 

I imagine this world, ours,

a golden globe of bliss,

classy, opulent,

perfect.

 

No tears of sorrow flow

no wounds of heartache fester,

no bullets of hatred stream

no shrapnel of deceit remains.

no sadness…

Maybe this is what Heaven feels like?

 

Heaven just replaced Northern lights

on the bucket list, of

places I wish to see.

I pick up the knife.

In that dark moment

I hear a whisper

“Would you know joy if there was no grief?”

I would not.

 

Only an imperfection can give birth

to the idea of perfection.

In lack, do we value abundance

Only in the angst of loneliness

do I appreciate the laughter of company?

In moments of pain I am vulnerable.

It is in that vulnerability

I value the beauty of my lover’s touch,

my friend’s words,

a stranger’s smile,

my child’s hug.

a pet’s nuzzle.

 

In the barren winter land

I value the summer when

rose bushes are in bloom.

In the blaze of the summer heat

I find comfort in the nip

of winter air.

Just like one would appreciate

an oasis only in the desert.

In fleeting times of pain

countless blessing do I find.

Blessings that matter to the heart,

that are otherwise dim specks

overshadowed by the sheen of opulence.

 

My Heaven is right here.

I pick up the knife

to cut a slice of the apple

crisp, succulent.

 

-Vidya.

 

 

 

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Election 2016

We are at the finish line of this historic race, my friends. With agonizing impatience I watch the gap narrow between the two front runners as they both gain momentum. It’s unreal I say yet ‘In Godspeed’ I wish for the one I hope will make a difference.  The sad truth is I root for one not because they embody every value I stand for but because they are a little less likely to destroy the vision of hope I have created for our children. In unison with the crowd, my heart cries ‘CHANGE’ though in the very same breath and in unison again with the throngs, my mind wonders ‘What have we come to?’

I stop cheering and glance at the young lady standing next to me. She smiles nervously and through the nervousness gives me a glimpse of the heaviness her heart carries. She is a young mother of three and for reasons beyond her control, she must abort her unborn fetus. Her heart knows this is what is best but she is afraid, in turmoil as she hears constant screams of ‘Murderer’ from people who do not live her life. She wishes they could just leave her be. I reach out my hand to hold hers.

To my other side, I see a frail old man. His eyes tell me the story of a hardworking man of color who has had to battle prejudice and racism in his young days. He is proud of the way he has built his life. The battles did not scar his integrity at all but fears for his future dent his pride. His integrity cannot pay off his medical bills. Rising premiums and deductibles have weakened this once strong man. I give him my other hand and he responds by tightly holding mine.

I watch as this respectable senior in turn offers his hand to the young boy next to him. A young spirited soul who cares deeply about the world. He struggles to his place here though because of his orientation.

‘Do not judge’ he pleads repeatedly. ‘I feel pain and joy just as everyone else. I am just like you.’

The strength of my hand gives the young woman next to me the courage to reach out to another- a war hero and seeker of the Islamic faith. ‘I love this country just as much as you do’ his convincing eyes say. ‘I have fought to keep its’ beautiful people safe and its’ ideals high. At the battlegrounds, I have prayed to Allah to infuse me with the strength to make this great country proud of me. My faith makes me a better soldier.’

As the human chain grows, the cheers fade. A realization dawns that in the warmth of another’s heart we have already found what we were looking for. It does not matter who wins the race. Change does not happen when the people we elect wish it. It only happens when each of our hearts make space to accept another very different from us. When we cease to blame and judge and choose to live and let live we choose cohesiveness over divisiveness. It truly does not matter whom we vote for unless we make the shift within. Tomorrow morning when we wake up dear friends, if we ignite the candle of acceptance in our hearts we have already chosen hope.

-Vidya.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Language of the Heart

Dedicated to a generation of moms whose babies know the letter ‘ i ‘ before they understand the alphabet.

 

Every heart speaks a language and the heart of every mother understands and speaks the language of every heart in the family. The needs of the heart- its language change in every stage in life yet a woman quickly adapts and becomes adept at what her loved ones seek. Her heart knows and provides. That is why a woman’s  heart feels joy and  pain even before her loved ones do. It beats in sync with theirs.Yet a woman’s journey is always lonely. None can understand the beautiful amalgamation of turmoil her heart carries.

 

The  Language of the Heart

A solitary tear glistened on the screen of the iPad Rumi held in her hands. She gently put the iPad away on her night stand for she knew the swollen clouds of sadness that swept her heart would not be easily quelled. It was a good thing she did for pretty soon, the torrent of tears that streamed down her cheek matched the heavy downpour of rain outside the window of her bedroom.

Rumi was tough, not one to be disheartened or ruffled easily. She was seasoned to handle stormy times. After all, she lived in a house where teenage, middle age and old age co existed.

‘Why do you weep, my heart?’, she searched for answers within. The response she received was muffled under a thick blanket of gloomy silence. Her mind embarrassed at this display of weakness went back to the proceedings of the evening. It was after dinner that she had begun to feel her spirit sag. Yet, she could not recall anything that anyone in her family- her children, husband or in-laws had said to hurt her.

In fact she had been quite pleased that every member of the family had been present for dinner that day, for a change.  All activities and games for the kids had been cancelled due to the storm, the cable TV service was disrupted and the internet was down. They even sat down for dinner at the dining table today instead of in front of the television. As Rumi eagerly chatted about the interesting facts she had learned on the online courses she was taking, she soon realized that neither her teenage children, nor the adults were interested. They seemed distant. They would much rather listen to iTunes, Cam Newton, Anderson Cooper or Penny she thought begrudgingly. Well, at least no one’s arguing she consoled herself. Though her heart knew this was not the way it was supposed to be. There was no connect, the togetherness seemed awkward, forced.

Rumi reflected on the times, not too long ago, when smart phones, Netflix and wireless technology had not yet made its way into their house. Dinner times were much more noisy and also much more work. She had to feed the kids, cut their rotis into little pieces, distract them into eating their veggies as she sung for them, clean up their spills and wipe down the little munchkins as sometimes they ate with all their limbs. It was then- when their questions never ended and with wide eyes and curious minds as they learnt their numbers while counting their peas or learnt the sounds that animals make as she mooed and bleated her way into making them eat their carrots – that her heart felt alive. Simply because they were present in the moment with her.

Rumi had always known these delightful baby days would not last, that their growing up years were bound to be a frenzy with school, sports, activities, homework and social commitments, that the teenage years were bound to be turbulent with the raging hormones. That she was prepared for. What she did not realize was how soon technology would consume their lives. She had always thought that dinner time would continue, maybe they would argue more and listen less yet they would always gather around the table where she would learn about their lives,their newfound dreams and their zest to make a mark in the world. Hopefully the children would clean up after themselves and in fact help clean up with her. What she didn’t realize was dinner time as she had imagined it to be, would be non existent. Between their homework schedule, prime time television, Pokemon, texting and Netflix members would eat as and when it suited them or even if they did eat together, their minds would be elsewhere. What they heard would be sounds of the television, not the voices of each other’s hearts.

These days her kids would rather ask google than ask her. Her husband  would probably be more aware of a friend’s emotions than hers because the friend chose to announce it on social media. Sadly though, that this was the state in every house. Wherever she went, restaurants, malls or airports people spent all the spare time checking their messages and emails. They were more in tune with people 5000 miles away rather than with the person next to them. How could there ever be togetherness when everyone was so distant and lost in their own smart phone worlds. Every one with a smart phone knew it the minute Hillary stumbled at the 9/11 ceremony that she had. What value did that mundane fact add to the quality of one’s life? Yet people continued to fill up their lives with these such frivolous details. How often did people these days notice their neighbors in the community stumble or take time out to find out how they were doing?  Why, her kids didn’t even know many of the neighbors around.  We have reached a time when free wi-fi is one of the most endearing features of a place. When dinner for two also includes the 572 friends on your Facebook profile. The only time one stepped out of this world of internet ‘Maya’ was when on a day like today the technology was totally down. And then when they did, they didn’t know how to enjoy it. For unfortunately, the human heart can connect and speak another’s language only when it is in the present moment. The language of technology has muted the language of the human heart.That is why in an ever so populous world people feel lonely, anxious and depressed.

That night  Rumi cried as the clouds of loneliness engulfed her heart. She realized her heart yearned to hear the familiar voice of a loved one’s heart yet in a house full of people, all it heard was deafening silence.

-Vidya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Mr. Bachchan

Dear Mr.Bachchan,

On behalf of all the daughters in India- Thank you for your beautiful and inspirational message. Though I do deeply feel, Sir, our ability to empower our daughters would be incomplete unless we address the other side of the issue our society faces. Are we doing enough to raise our sons so that we can extend the privileges of following their heart to our daughter-in-laws’ too?

You see we have reached a delicate state of affairs at present. Most parents now do raise their daughters to be the powerful forces they were meant to be. That is why we find successful women in all walks of life even in arenas that until recently were dominated only by men. Yet do we teach our sons to accept these forces as equal partners in their life?

While we dream with our daughters and teach them to reach for the stars why is it that as soon as they are wives and mothers we tweak the rules. We then expect them to expertly balance the home with their careers single handed. We have great pride in our daughters who have broken barriers and reached great heights yet the image of a good daughter-in-law deeply ingrained in our mindsets is of one who serves her family. Do we teach our sons that they need to share the burden on the domestic front, that it is not right to drop their bags and lounge on the couch when they come home from work? That their children’s success also depends on their own involvement in the kids’ lives? It does not matter if she has made excruciatingly difficult decisions at work, as soon she’s home, a woman is usually the one who has to deal with the decision of what is for dinner. The heart of every single woman who works outside her home throbs with pangs of guilt because she wonders if she is doing enough to nurture her family and kids. At the same time stay at home mothers, do question themselves as to whether they contribute enough to the family. Either way they beat themselves up because though we have taught our daughters to walk in a world of men, we haven’t done enough to relieve the enormous pressure on our daughter-in-laws’ to be the perfect caregivers.

It’s time we also teach our sons to be nurturers, to be women. It’s time we teach them that if dinner is not ready on time they are responsible too. That a pile of dirty laundry lying around the house does not reflect on the woman’s incapability but on the incapability of every one at home who does not share the burden with her.

If our daughters have learnt that they need to make choices in the light of their own wisdom, then our sons need to learn to accept and respect these choices. Every woman has the innate wisdom to know what works best for her family, her situation so she deserves to be respected for her choice whether she chooses to work outside the home or stay home to be with her children.

Our sons need to know that to exert control over the people you love is not what makes a man but to loosen those reins of control and create a space where the family can express itself without fear is what makes a truly great man. If we teach our daughters to marry for love, then we need to teach our sons and daughters what is love. It is a shared space where each person can be who they truly want to be.

You are right Mr. Bachchan when you say that the length of the skirt does not define a person’s character. After all, clothes are just a covering for the beautiful temples that house our spirit. But as a mother I do worry that if the clothes my children wore had necklines that plunged too low, hems that rode up high or were low waisted rather no waisted pants that revealed a crack, then what society would see when they looked them would probably be just a size, a figure, a body type not the budding talents or gentle souls that they are. It would take away from the magnificence they hold within. Jab tak puri duniya apni soch nahi badalti ,“log kya kahenge” is easier said than done.

And lastly whether they are sons or daughters we need to teach them to each take responsibility of their own health, well-being and happiness. They need to know that their life is a creation of their own thoughts, that unless they are happy with themselves they will never be happy with another.

Maybe,Sir,  you could in your beautiful words write a letter to all the grand sons too.

Thank you,

Vidya.

 

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Trust

TRUST

 

Trust is a dwindling virtue these days, do you say my friends?

At a time where competition and greed run rampant we do each live like tiny islands isolated, carrying the burdensome baggage of loneliness, feeling we have to do what we need to on our own. A boss is overwhelmed because the duties he delegates do not bring in results fast enough, a mother is overwhelmed with the task of constantly monitoring her boys’ internet surfing, a young wife is overwhelmed with the idea of living up to the expectations of the people around her, a senior wonders if he will wither away alone, a teenage child would rather get advice from unreliable sources online than trust his parents or peers about his heartfelt turmoil, a husband would rather turn to alcohol than confide in his companion about his insecurities. So lost, so alone and so misunderstood we trust nobody, often not even ourselves.  It is an over populous world. Should not just our whispers be enough to cause a ripple effect and reach our voices to the other end? Yet we plague ourselves with the incessant need to stand on rooftops and scream out our worth and sadly find nobody listens, nobody understands us.

Maybe my friends, it’s because we are looking at the virtue of trust all wrong. What do we mean by saying we trust somebody? When a wife tells her husband she trusts him or a mother tells her son she trusts him she usually means that she knows what they do with their time when she is not around. When a boss tells his subordinates he trusts them he means they will deliver exactly what he expects of them. When a friend tells another she trusts her what she means is the matters they have discussed will not be a topic of conversation elsewhere. So you see in almost every scenario the trust we place in people is linked to our expectations of them. We conjure up images in our minds of what we think all the people in our lives should be like and if by chance they warp the picture we’ve created, well…then they have broken our trust and there is hurt and blame. Trust, as we see it, loosely translates to unmet expectations.

Instead my dear friends, how about we tweak our perspective a little? How about we fill ourselves with a little understanding that there is a gentle, powerful energy that permeates all our beings. An all knowing, ever loving dynamic force that resonates in all our hearts and knows what is best for each of us. Instead of sketching mental images of people yielding to our influence to build our basis of trust, sketch a picture of oneself placing our belief in this power within.

Then my friends, it will dawn on us that trust is a knowing that in the grandiose scheme of life, all is well, always. It is a knowing that there is never a perfect time, perfect place or perfect person. Everything is perfect as is. Trust is a knowing that our spouse, our kids, our friends and the all of the people in our world are souls on their own journey and truly cannot be controlled. That they each have their own destinies and purpose. It is a knowing that you cannot change anybody but yourself. Trust is surrender to the grace that will permeate our every pore if we let it.Trust is knowing you are enough yet never alone; we are always looked after, no matter what.

And the next time we tell somebody we trust them let us empower them with our love and faith in their ability to tune in to their own intuitive FMs and do what is right. Let us truly respect them by supporting their decisions even if it is not what we think it should be. Let us be little linked islands of hope, not tiny isolated islands of despair.

 

-vidya.

Inspired by a beautiful series of videos on relationships by BK Shivani. Truly eye opening.

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The Bombay in Me

I dedicate this post to my dear friends and neighbors in LIC,  MIGS,  Parle college, C U Shah college of Pharmacy. Thank you for the many moments spent singing, dancing ,wining and dining. Cheers!!

Bombay- a city with many faces. The glitz of Bollywood, the putrid smells of Dharavi, the undying faith of the devotees at Siddhi Vinayak, the familial thread that ties the million commuters of its local trains, the distinct delish taste of its street food, the beaches that line its coast, the Victorian architecture of South Mumbai, the concrete jungles of its cosmopolitan suburbs and the biggest of them all its rich welcoming diversity. A beautiful, bustling metropolis by the sea known for its Bond like attitude of “never say never”. A city that never sleeps, whose gates are thronged by millions of dreamers who believe this city is the Mecca of their dreams. The city I grew up in, that nurtured the seeds of a childhood I would not trade for anything in the world.
Looking back, I realize I learnt so much from simply being around people from diverse backgrounds. For years I sat on the wooden benches of my school’s classrooms with friends who spoke different languages, ate a different cuisine and had different skin tones. We were all Indians, yes but the culture in each of our homes was very different. While learning our fundamentals of trigonometry, geography, science and grammar, we also learnt the biggest life lesson of all without it being actually taught: at heart we are all one. Every evening when I gathered together to play with my friends, it really didn’t matter to us how big another’s house was or which religion they practiced at home. The only thing that mattered was that they brought a sense of light heartedness to the game so we could all have fun. There was no place for whiners.
Every festival in Mumbai was celebrated with equal fervor. Whether you were from the south, west, east or north of India, you were welcome to the new year’s eve bonfire on the building grounds to burn the old man and in doing so you also burnt your differences. It didn’t matter on the day of Holi- the festival of colors either. If you dared to be out and about you would be smeared with color and stung with water balloons irrespective of your age, caste or creed. Together, every year we welcomed the beautiful idol of Ganesha in our community and participated in all the rituals and cultural performances irrespective of whether we were Hindus or not. We all bowed in front of the elephant headed God and prayed with equal faith that our desires be met. The fireworks at Diwali, the dancing during the nine nights of Navratri, the visit at Christmas to the nativity scene at a chapel close by all brought a shared sense of celebration to the neighborhood. I guess it is at that tender age we learnt by observing that He is one though His forms and the paths toward Him are many.
There was also a shared sense of pain and anguish when terrorist acts and riots killed many over the years. What hurt one family hurt another too. People worried not just for the people they loved but for their neighbors as well. Whether the fury of nature unleashed itself on the city or it was a bomb blast unleashed by the fury of man, violence and suffering never discriminated amongst people. Why then do we discriminate when we love? After all, at a deeper level we are all connected.
L.I.C colony, the place I grew up in, was nestled amongst an orchard of mango plantations. What a delight for the little kids in mango season when they would climb huge trees to get ahold of the mangoes only to be chased by the stern looking ‘mali’ with his stick. He never wasted his time to single out kids to find out if they were Malayalis, Sindhis, Goans or Gujaratis. If you were caught, you were punished. A lesson he could definitely teach a certain Mr. T.
What a fun filled childhood it was. I would often hang out at a friend’s or neighbor’s place the choice being made was dependent on the food that was cooked there. Bhajiyas at Srilatha’s , hot gheed rotis at Nupur’s, neer dosa at Shilpa’s, sindhi kadhi at Anju’s, chole at Vaishu’s, rasogullas at Sudeshna’s, Dhoklas at Shirley’s, Pau bhaji at Anisha’s, Maharashtrian thali at Supru’s, Bengali lunch at Tuli’s, Christmas cake at Sharon’s are all aromatic memories that delight me to this day. And of course as I grew the list of homes to visit just got longer.
Bless all the moms who fed our bodies and souls with yummy food. To my mother’s chagrin I often remarked how tasty the food at my neighbor’s house was. Sorry Amma… I now know that you make the world’s best idli sambhar but then the grass was greener on the other side. Of course, its’ payback time! History repeats itself as now my daughter chooses to say the same thing.
Since dance is such an integral part of my life, I could not be more grateful for the opportunity, exposure and diverse platforms I got to perform in. From Malayalee samaj annual days to intercollegiate youth festivals, street plays and musical theatre where we performed various dance styles from Bharat Natyam to folk, where we got to learn beautiful songs in various languages from ‘Dhitang Dhitang bole’ to ‘He chal turu turu’ and developed an appreciation for various styles and genres of dance and music.
Of course, my happy bubble burst temporarily when I got married and realized the complexities of being a “Tam-Brahm” daughter-in-law. Until then I guess the only tam-brahm thing I did was eat idli-dosa, learn Bharat Natyam and take an oil bath in the wee hours of Diwali morning. But by then the realization that ‘every culture is beautiful’ was firmly imprinted in my heart. And when your heart is in the right place then it is always open to learning so I did from my new family that was happy to teach. Though I do sometimes regret the fact that I still do not understand the beauty and depth of Tamil literature or the abyss of Carnatic music, it is ok because really the learning hasn’t ended. Though I am a Mumbai born confused Tamilian (MBCT) , kind of like a Jack of all trades ,master of none….I know growing up the way I did has fostered a very healthy respect for others so unlike myself and a spirit of tolerance that helps me maintain beautiful friendships and enrich my life. The more different someone is, the more I can learn from them. How wonderful is that!
And just now as I sit on the steps and listen to my munchkins talk about foods from kimchi, tamales streusels and falafels, music from Eurovision, K pop, Bollywood and languages from Scandinavian to Chinese, my heart does a little jig and salutes the spirit of Bombay in them.
The spirit of tolerance just on a more global scale.

-Vidya.

Thank you to my beautiful friends in Pune and Charlotte who helped me continue my journey of learning and fun. I feel as Bengali as you all in Probasi and as Marathi as some of you in the Marathi mandal and of course eighteen years of marriage have taught me to be as Tamilian as can be.

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