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.