Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mother of Two!

Since becoming a mother of two, I understand my own mother so much more deeply than I did 3 years ago.

Seeing Atreya and Aloka together and happy gives me the most happiness. I don't ever want to see them fight or disagree. I want them both to take care of each other after I am gone.

Of course, all this may not happen at all or at some point in their lives. I know it from my own experience with my siblings. People grow and change, experiences differ, goals diverge. For so many years, I wondered why my mother doesn't get it, why she tries so hard to get us all together, why she is so simple and simplistic.

I wonder no more.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


A major change is about to happen to our lives.

Every year I determine to change at least one aspect of my life through prayer and action. In 2007, it was about Aloka. In 2008 and 2009, it was about KP being profitable.In 2009, it was also about Atreya achieving his goals. In 2010, it was about my work- I determined and focused on achieving a breakthrough in my professional life. Enough of just breaking even and surviving another tough year. I was determined to achieve a breakthrough for KP and myself.

The events that have happened recently are not what I had expected or planned for. But who am I to disbelieve that this could be the breakthrough I had prayed for?

Why Vacations are Great!

So much happened during the SA holiday that it is not possible to write everything. I have decided to capture a few of my realizations and experiences over several posts.

Vacations are great for many reasons. Some reasons are obvious, like getting a break from routine and seeing a new place. As a mother, I discovered another advantage I had not expected. Vacations are a great way to discover hidden traits about your children.

I discovered that Aloka goes a little crazy when she is tired (usually in the afternoons). By crazy I mean crazy, not cranky or difficult. Just the opposite in fact. She starts laughing, singing, dancing and talking loudly and generally gets out of control. The only way to deal with it is to let her do her thing for sometime and then calm her down with a story. She will then invariably go to sleep. I honestly didn't know this about her before this vacation.

I discovered that Atreya is a solid young man with a huge amount of confidence. He is not afraid of taking a stand or making mistakes. Very unlike me when I was his age. When we were "lost" in Stellenbosch, he refused to give up even when everyone was doubting his ability to read the map and take us back to our hotel in time. His faith in himself was solid enough to withstand all that silent opposition. I know a lot about him but didn't know this about him before this vacation.

An old poem: Speaking Truly

I have been writing poetry since I was young. My first poem happened when I was about 11. I don't have it anymore or any of the rest I wrote as a teenager. What a loss. Not because they were good, but because they would give a peek into the type of youngster I was.

I have all the poems I wrote from 1984 onwards. I wrote this poem in 2002 after I had just met a good friend of mine from India and faced her stoically about my divorce. This was the result.

Speaking Truly

I tell people I don’t think of you anymore
That I am strong, and matter of fact
That you don’t really matter
For I have come too far for that.

I tell people I am quite the same
Not broken or incomplete
That there are still reasons to laugh
That one gets over the grief.

I meet friends with dry eyes
And bland smiles that are hard to question
With a quick shrug on my shoulders
That’s ready to perform when summoned.

I tell myself I am not blinded, I can find my way
Even though you turned away your eyes
Even though my hand is no longer in yours
But these are all lies…these are all lies.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why I pack my own face cream!

5th day of our Mongolia trip, my face is dry and flaky. I curse the dry air of Gobi desert and the 99% humidity of Singapore that my skin is used to. After borrowing mom’s fancy face cream for the 100th time, I casually look at its label. Olay face wash!

Basic Tendency

Everyone has a basic tendency, a state they tend to slip into in their weakest or most unguarded moments. My basic tendency is of self loathing and self doubt.

I "remember" this tendency starting from my earliest memories. It is a like a deep pit, this tendency. Before you get anywhere, you have to first pull yourself out of the pit. To live a life of confidence and dignity, I have had to work that much harder than most other people. And when I fall, it hurts so much more because its a long way down.

Situations that push me back into the pit are my definition of hell. My divorce was so hard on me for this reason. I was deep down in the pit. I could not transfer my anger over to my ex-husband because there was no anger, only self doubt and self loathing. It took me 3 years to pull myself out. Then came the anger, but by then, anger was not important.

In my professional life too, I have to watch out for this tendency. There is a fine line between humility and diffidence, between being open to feedback and being too self effacing, between being contemplative and self berating. I have to watch out for these fine lines and others all the time.

An understanding of this tendency has come to me only recently. It is so much easier to analyze others- pop psychology is easy and fun when applied on others. It takes a lot more to understand one's own self. With this understanding has come a protection. When a situation pushes me to the brink, I am aware of what's happening. It's as if I stop myself before I fall all the way inside. Knowledge is the cushion.

Buddhism talks about 10 states of life. Hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, heaven, learning, realization, Boddhisatva and Buddhahood. Everyone possesses each of these states, and each state is mutually inclusive. That means I am as capable of being a Buddha as I am of being trapped in my personal hell. It also means that I can constantly elevate myself to a higher state. Every time I chant, I wipe out a part of the basic tendency and elevate myself just a bit.

I came to this life with this basic tendency. It started way back and who knows how much way back. When I go into my next life, I want to start at a higher place. That's my goal.

Friday, November 26, 2010

South African Frustration!

With regards to Aloka's visa to South Africa...

Embassy official: You have stated here that you are divorced.
Me: Yes
Embassy official: Do you have custody of the child?
Me: Err....I was divorced in 2000, and my daughter was born in 2007.
Embassy official: Yes, yes. But can you prove that you have custody?
Me: Why is that needed? She was born 7 years after I got divorced!
Embassy official: Huh! You have to prove that you have the right to take her out of the country. So please bring your divorce papers.
Me: I don't think you understand. I adopted my daughter while I was single. So what has my ex-husband got to do with it?
Embassy official: In that case, can you show me the adoption papers?


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Sanyasi and the Buddhist

It takes a special person to commit himself to the search for truth, set aside all worldly pleasures, and live a life of abstinence and meditation, surrounded by like minded evolved people. I know one such person, a sanyasi, and respect him tremendously.

But it takes a different type of person to commit her/him self to the search for truth, and continue to live in the real world, embracing all the pleasures and pains of an earthly existence- finding truth despite them and within them.

I read and think a lot about the principles of Buddhism. It is absolutely elevating and inspiring to think about how each one of us is a Buddha, how there is no God outside of us, how we have the power to change our karma, how the environment is a reflection of our own lives, and how there is abundance in the universe, waiting for us to tap into it. I often go into a trance, pondering over the beauty of this truth.

But I have a bigger task ahead, beyond the trance. As a Buddhist, I have to bring this view into my daily life, deal with issues like the effect of recession on the business, a hard-to-please customer, disgruntled employees, people who I have disappointed and people who disappoint me, my failures as a leader and my challenges as a mother.

Applying the Buddhist principles to these issues is way harder than contemplating upon them in meditation. Whereas the trance was magical, the application of these principles is scary. It requires courage to face up to my problems and to challenge each with conviction of one's own Buddhahood and faith. Each day I am faced with my weaknesses and doubts. Each day I have to counter negative defeatist thoughts and remind myself that I have the power to be whatever I desire to be regardless of who else is in my life. Each day I have to stop blaming others and take responsibility of my situation. Each day I have to stop myself from falling into my habitual escapism. Each day I have to reflect on my motives and correct them. Each day, I have to test the limits of my faith and commitment.

Who requires more courage, guts and faith- A sanyasi or a Buddhist?

Monday, November 22, 2010

No Regrets

At some stage in my life, I decided not to have any regrets. It meant not just not saying "I wish I had done that instead of this or I wish this is how it had been", but actually living it. It meant finding something of value in everything I have ever done in my life, including what others may consider "mistakes" or "problems". Here are some of them.

1. I don't regret being sick with asthma most of my life. Because I have been sick, I have empathy for others who are sick.
2. I don't regret that I married young. Because I married young, I had stability, which was much needed for a drifter like me.
3. I don't regret spending the best years of my life with a man who didn't value me. Because he didn't value me, I had the desire and drive to become worthy of other people's respect and love.
4. I don't regret leaving a cushy job for a shaky start up. Because I took that risk, I have learned many skills and had countless opportunities.
5. I don't regret going through the hell of divorce. Because I went through that hell, I discovered the beauty of Buddhism.
6. I don't regret being single for the last 10 years. Because I was single, I had the opportunity of becoming close to Atreya and having his companionship.

7. I don't regret being a child who always craved for more love and attention. Because I felt that way, I had the determination to bring Aloka into our lives and to envelop her with boundless love.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Password Revelations!

Since 2000, when I moved with Atreya to Singapore, all my passwords have the word Atreya included in them in some combination or another. It is representative of the central place he had/has in my life.

But I didn't expect any similar behavior in return from him because he is a teenager with lots happening in his life. So I was delighted when I found out that his cycle lock opens with 9823, which is part of my phone number. My phone number, not his own, not a girl's!

And the latest revelation really floored me. I wanted to use his laptop because I had left mine at office. The password to log in....Aloka!

Scissors Paper Stone!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Life's beauty

Sometimes I wonder why we love life when it is so full of of pain and loss. For many, it often doesn't balance in favor of joy. We lose our loved ones and nothing really is constant. What then makes it worth it? Then, just like that, in some moments, the answer becomes clear. Life’s beauty- in emotions, experiences, relationships and spiritual quest- is the one thing that makes all the pain that comes with it worthwhile. 

Here is one such moment, captured by my mother.


I was sitting out for my pranayam. The black sky was littered with stars of all sizes and brilliance. It seemed as though they were communicating with each other in their own secret lingo. Their twinkling appeared so organized as though they were orchestrating some concert. I was looking out for the moon which had yet to appear on stage. I calculated that it would be delayed by at least half an hour if not more. Because yesterday it was already out on the horizon at 4 45 am when I came out for my morning ritual. Yesterday it was a beautiful bright scythe with its concavity facing upwards.

It took me full 45 minutes to finish my pranayam and still the moon was conspicuous by its absence. As it was still quite dark I gazed at the sky above the outline of the mountains where I expected it to make its grand entrance. I thought I saw some bright spot just at the margin of the hill. But no it was a star rising up with a twinkle, laughing at me. I kept scanning the sky along the margin of the mountain and then I saw a hazy orb of brightness slowly emerging from behind the mountain. Strange that the orb was inverted than what I had seen yesterday. I was exclaiming at this phenomenon when this orb kept on creeping up becoming quite circular yet hazy. Surely it was the moon but why was it like this today when yesterday it was practically a thin slice. Then I saw a very bright light at the right lower edge and soon followed by a similar bright spot at the left edge... That explained the mystery. Now appeared the upward looking cusp of the bright moon which was even thinner than what it was yesterday. It was holding the hazy ball in its cup and ascending up in the sky in its full glory. The mountain glowed with an aura of bright haze all along its border. This aura would be there one minute and then vanish; again the aura would appear and then disappear. Then I kept waiting for that bright aura to appear again but instead I noticed a dark shadow all along the border of the mountain. But now it was within the border of the hill not around it in the sky.

Strange indeed. That is how God appeared for me this dawn of 7th October. God appeared in the form of this spectacular moonrise which filled my heart with awe and wonder. My hands automatically folded in reverence and my head was bent in love and affection and worship.

Chandrama Anand
7th October 2010
 Mouli, Dharamshala

Friday, October 29, 2010

How Aloka was named

March 30, 2008

We were driving in Spiti, mom, Atreya and I. With us was Kapil, our driver, and Mahinder, his friend.

Kapil had just narrated the story of his brother and wife who had recently been given (!) a baby girl by his mother-in-law. The baby belonged to another family (in an adjoining village) that had many daughters already and couldn’t handle another. Hearing this, I had said to him “Kapil, I have been wanting a baby girl for so long” and he had responded “Didi, why didn’t you tell me earlier? I promise you that you will have a baby girl very soon”.

However ridiculous the whole exchange sounded, I was elated. After years of being told by complicated people that I can’t adopt because I am too old or too single, here was a simple statement from a simple man and I believed him. I believed him.

We reached this lovely out of this world monastery in a town called Tabo. Mummy had wanted us to stay in Tabo but couldn’t arrange a hotel. So we had a couple of hours to spend here before driving off to another town for the night.

It was the most beautiful sunny day with the bluest skies possible only in the mountains.  The air was fresh and chilly. We were all acclimatized to the height by then and thus feeling fit.  The PM’s daughter had just arrived at the monastery, bringing with her an atmosphere of excitement. My ears were buzzing with what Kapil had said a while ago and my heart was in a funny place in my chest.

The monastery was a brown colored mud-washed low structure. It was more than a 1000 years old. No photography was allowed inside. We were shown rooms after rooms with low ceilings and complicated idols and images. The guide rattled off the facts and I wasn’t interested in what he was saying until we came to this room with paintings of goddesses all over the walls. There were 12 paintings I think. I asked him to name every goddess and he came to the 10th (or so) painting and said “This is Aloka, Goddess of Light”.  

Atreya tells me that I turned to him at that point and making a serious determined face said to him “This is it. Aloka. She will be called Aloka.”

My sweetest mother accepted this, just as she has accepted every decision I have made in life. We began referring to my then unknown (and unborn) daughter as Aloka.  From then on, many SMSs were exchanged between mom and me referring to Aloka (e.g. “Mom I want Aloka.” “Puja I have talked to so and so about Aloka.”).  

That is how Aloka was named.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Same Thing

Last night 
I hugged my son good night
As usual
But it was different.
We held on to each other for a long time
As if we would fall to pieces if we didn’t
And the concern, almost selfish, was not all selfish.
He worried about me
And I about him.

What a blissfully sad moment.

What makes me a good mother?
What makes him a good son?
The same things that made me the black sheep of the family?
The runaway
The reckless
What was that?
Whatever it was hasn’t changed much in years,
The nakedness of my heart, perhaps
The rawness of my soul, maybe

The same thing that drove one man away
Keeps his son next to me
The same thing that emasculated one man
Makes a man of his son
The same thing that destroyed a family
Keeps this one together


For lack of a better word,
I call her loneliness.

She creeps in on the busiest of days
when I don’t have a moment of spare
Stands boldly in front of me and forces me to stop

The cantankerous machine comes to a grounding halt
Screeching, squeaking, complaining
Yet, surprisingly, a little relieved…

I welcome the companionship she offers- like an old friend
The sadness she carries on her- like a halo
The deepness she comes with- like the ocean
The quietness she is wrapped in- like the night

But since I can’t stop for long
I allow her to sit beside me
My sister
And I crank up the machine again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brother Sister Project

I wrote this poem many years ago. Arun recorded in his voice a couple of months ago and gave it new life. I love his deep voice. And its a rarity to hear serious things in his voice for a change!

Listen to the poem here:

I am grateful for this thought

I am grateful for this thought
This passing glimpse
This memory of a dream

My eyes are brighter for it
My lips sweeter
And my heart lighter

The utter hopelessness of it
Does not bother me
The impossibility of its transpiring
Does not dampen my spirits
The gaping distance between hearts
Does not take away this cheer from me

I certainly am easy to please
For I am grateful even for this thought
This passing glimpse
This memory of a dream

Puja, Jan 7, 2003.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Real Captive

The minute it was confirmed that the formalities were over, I took Aloka in my arms and urged mom to go quickly to the car. I pulled mom’s arm and said “let’s go let’s go now”.  She wanted to say formal goodbyes to the lawyer and others, but I didn’t have patience for all that. All morning I had patiently resisted holding Aloka, watching her from the corner of my eye as I dealt with the uncertainties of the Indian legal system in a courageous daze. Now that I had her in my arms, I couldn’t wait a second to get away.

Only inside the car did I allow myself to be overwhelmed. The smelly little peanut, dressed in a ridiculous bunny rabbit woollen cap and pee drenched pyjamas, was in my arms and was mine, mine, mine! I couldn’t stop looking at her. There was no resistance from her side, she just lay there in my ample lap, looking in my eyes and puckering her lips. My daughter, now that I have you in my arms, I will never let you go, I whispered to her.

The truth is that although her tiny body lay captive in my arms, she was not the real captive. It was I!

Tough Love

I am a single woman, working and living with my two children in Singapore. My mother is a single woman too, dad having passed away 4 years ago. She lives a retired life in the hills of North India.

We see each other two perhaps three times a year. She comes to visit me once or twice a year and I go visit her when I am in India on business.  We are very close and talk to each other on phone every other day. I idolize her. My deepest desire is to be like her one day.  

I know of many Indian women whose mothers come and live with them for extended periods of time for all kinds of reasons. One of them calls her mom over whenever her husband travels and another has hers come over when the maid gives trouble. I listen to these tales incredulously. I can’t call my mom over unless I plan a trip with her to, say, Mongolia, Burma, Sabah, Bali or Turkey. No kidding. I am planning a Trans-Siberian train trip for next summer!

Although I miss my mother incessantly and am deserving of a mother’s constant care in anybody’s books, I do not demand that she be with me. Once or twice when I demanded, circumstances (visa, dad’s health) didn’t permit her to come and once she told me plainly that she wanted to live in her own home. I stopped demanding. But not before some gut-wrenching, frustration-laden, self-destructive, self-pitying, tearless, I don’t-need-anyone sessions with myself.

The honest truth is that by leading her life in her own way, and letting me lead mine in my way, my mother has helped me grow into a full-fledged person. By not running to me every time my world crashed around me, she has taught me to hold myself together under any situation. By not being physically present to support me all the time, she has forced me to find a support structure of my own. And the lesson I have learned in the process is that though life is tough at times, it is not really that tough. I can handle it.

Yet I don’t feel abandoned in any way. That she is there, in a small Himachal town, leading a powerful, simple and fulfilled life, is my biggest source of strength and hope for myself. I hope I can give this type of tough love to my kids one day.