Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Real Me

I know I talk too much. I say whatever is in my mind without tempering it for whoever is listening. I don't think too much before I speak because I have thought a lot over the years and now what I have to say is a product of all that pre-thinking. Now whatever comes from my mouth is the real me. The real me.

I know I do crazy things. I do whatever I feel like without worrying about who's watching. I do not pretend because I have spent a lifetime pretending to be happy and being politically correct and I am done with that. Now whatever I do is a reflection of the real me. The real me.

I know I am not all that good. I make too many mistakes. But I have decided to let guilt and shame take a backseat in my life. They can complain as much as they like but when I am driving the car called life, I can choose to ignore them and let spontaneity be my navigator. Now where I go reflects the real me. The real me. 

As I talk, do and go, some people like who I am. Some hate me. I look at only those who like me, who think I am someone worth loving. The rest I pass by as I do the trees and mountains and rivers on my way. I stop where I feel happy. And wherever I stop reflects the real me. The real me.  

After hating this mouth, this body, this mind and these intentions for years, I have finally found the ability to love me. The real me. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Happy Speck!

Here, where we live,
for a brief five minutes or so,
mountains turn pink.

And a bright star, a planet perhaps,
winks at me and my little girl
for as long as we can bear to be outdoors in the cold.

And the moon lights up the sky
turning the valley silver
as we peep gleefully out of the window.

And the river flows noisily
All year round
like an impish happy young girl.

And the sun becomes friendly for a few hours
burning fiercely until it heartlessly cools down
like a lover who's lost interest.

And the clouds paint wild pictures
in bold strokes
welcoming and bidding goodbye to glorious days.

Here, where we live,
mountains rule the world
and I am reduced to a speck of dust.

A happy speck.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This World and That!

In this world, rules run amok
Don't smoke, and hey don't fuck...
In that world, no one gives a damn
Propriety, sobriety, all a sham.

In this world, act on a cue
You are what others see of you...
In that world, be stripped clean
Pretenses don't mean a thing.

In this world, watch your stuff
Save this, hoard that, it's never enough...
In that world, there are no doors
What is mine, darling, is as much yours.

In this world, I fit a role
Have a past, gotta have a goal...
In that world, time's gone astray
You die and live today.

I don't fit in, if you say
Then you must know what's amiss...
I am of that world
Though I live in this!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Getting Off the Merry-Go-Round

When you first get off the merry-go-round after being on it for as long as I had been, it takes a fair bit of time to find your footing. At first your head spins and your feet stumble. People mistake you for a drunk because of that stagger- and that dumb smile pasted permanently on your face doesn't help either. You stop too long to smell the roses. You climb too many cliffs recklessly. You sing and dance unexpectedly. Not used to getting anywhere except around the same point, you lose your way often. Not used to having a goal except self service, you wander too much in the by-lanes, searching for a more meaningful goal.

But one day, your feet steady up, your head clears and your heart understands that happiness need not be chased. It will walk with you if you walk strong. It will follow you if you become the leader of your life. It will grow with you as you savor every instance of beauty that life has to offer. And it will stay with you even as you discover, sometimes painfully, the reason why you exist.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Can't Stop Looking

I see these mountains everyday
This snow
These meadows
This happy river
These clouds
This blue blue sky
This road
These goats
These bare temples
This kull
These quiet villages
And your eyes...
But it's as if I am seeing them for the very first time.
And I just can't stop looking.

Everyday, my heart is as empty as when it all began.
Everyday, my heart is as full as it can ever get. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Makes Magic?

Every day I wake up and prowl the Internet for stuff to read. I check Facebook and a couple of my favorite blogs, and meander in the by-lanes they send me to, picking and choosing what to read. Some days, I am overwhelmed by feelings I just can't put a finger on. Those days I read a lot of poetry, hungering for one that will articulate what I can't. On other days, when I am not feeling too good about things, I long for quick entertainment. Then I look for celebrity trivia and other nonsense. Sometimes I feel like being surprised and awed and fired up. Then I read science stuff. Sometimes, I read up on current issues that my friends seem to be fired about.

I read everything I start to its very end, however bored I may be, because as a novice writer myself, I know that sometimes gems are hidden in the depths. But gems are rare. Mostly, I come out untouched, unscathed, even by a well-written and well-thought through piece.

But sometimes, to my utter delight, it's different. I come out a little wide-eyed, or with a flutter in my heart. Some poems, some articles have the power to do that to me. Lately, I have been wondering why that happens. What makes magic?

So this is what I have figured. First, of course, content matters. It has to be about something that appeals to me, stuff I am interested in. And second, of course again, it has to be well written. Language mastery is essential. But the one thing that is common in all such powerful writings that move me is honesty. Above all. Not cleverness. But honesty.

Being honest in writing is a hard thing to describe. Honesty doesn't mean secrets bared. Even the most factual unemotional articles and poems can be honest. Honesty in writing, IMO, is about being faithful to the intent of what you are writing. And it's a tricky thing because for a piece to be honest, every word, every sentence, has to be honest. A singular intent throughout.

When I am writing, I constantly check for signs of dishonesty, because it creeps in if you are not careful. When writing, I am swayed by many things- how will people reading what I write react to it, what will they think of me, do I sound cool, does it make me look smart etc. I am also distracted by some phrases- I just want to use them because I like them or because they sound cool. These and others like these make what I write dishonest. I make a lot of effort to weed out this stuff after I am done writing, using the microscope of intent. And almost always, it makes me feel better about what I have written.

Here's to reading more honest stuff, stuff that sets my heart aflutter and makes my eyes go wide. Here's also to writing more honest stuff, setting somebody else's heart aflutter. Here's to making magic. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Everyone but her!

In the morning, I wake up to the muted clitter clatter from the kitchen. I know mommy is making my breakfast and school lunch. Often I can guess what she is making by the smells that come wafting into the bedroom. Sometimes, I hear her singing one of her many favorite boring "village" songs. Sometimes, she whistles. I keep lying in bed thinking nice thoughts. Whenever I hear her footsteps, I close my eyes and pretend I am sleeping. Sometimes she thinks I am really sleeping, but sometimes she knows I am pretending and makes me laugh by saying something funny. I always give her a hard time getting out of bed. She starts nicely but when I refuse to get up, she gets tough and uses her threatening voice. There is no need actually, because everybody knows I will get out of bed soon. In the bathroom, I take a long time and then make a mess brushing my teeth. I leave toothpaste all over the sink and splashes of water on the floor. When she sees it, she glares at me and tells me tooth fairy will be angry. That's not true. Everyone knows tooth fairy only cares for clean teeth, not clean bathrooms. Then she changes me into my uniform. I make a lot of fuss and complain about this and that and everything. She threatens to send me to school without clothes. Everyone knows she won't do that ever. Next comes the hair, which is the worst thing because it really hurts. She says she is doing her best to be gentle but everyone knows she can do a better job. Every time I cry out, she asks the same question "Who asked you to grow your hair, you or I?" No need to ask that question when everyone knows the answer. When I keep squirming and crying, she threatens to cut my hair. I become quiet because from where we sit in the dining room, I can see the pair of yellow scissors hanging in the kitchen. I eat my breakfast quickly because I like the stuff she makes. She always wants to know how it tastes. No need to ask because everyone knows she is a great cooker. The last thing I have to do before leaving the house is wear my shoes, but I keep waiting until I hear her say she will send me to school without my shoes. Everyone knows that's not going to happen either. In the car, she tries to make conversation, but I keep looking out. Sometimes I smile at her but I never answer her questions. Everyone knows I don't like to answer questions in the morning. When we get to the school, she holds my hand and takes me to the bag aunty. I hear her say "Bye darling, have fun" but I don't respond. Everyone knows there is no fun when I am away from my mommy. Everyone but her. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

WTF is wrong with me?

I have a problem. Every time I need help from someone, I cringe. I imagine all sorts of things the other person might think of me, such as I am selfish, or dependent, or weak, or I am using them and so on. In the process of imagining all this, I actually become that selfish dependent weak person. Now, I don't like being that kind of person, so as far as possible, I don't ask anyone for help. If I must seek help, I am so apologetic that the other person has to counter it with their it's-no-big-deal responses, making the whole situation very awkward. And after someone has helped me, I just can't let go of this feeling of immense obligation that is not good in any healthy relationship. And this is true for everyone- strangers, colleagues, my good friends, even my close family. And it has been like this for as long as I can remember, right back to when I was a young child.

Yesterday, I mentioned this issue to a very good, older, wiser friend, but instead of sympathy or understanding, I got a massive dose of scolding. She told me that I was totally messed up, had a shitty attitude and was most selfish and patronizing. Her point was that I wanted for myself all the joy that one derives from helping others, and didn't want to give anyone a chance to receive that joy from me.

It was a shocker. It is indeed true that I love taking care of people. Nothing gives me more happiness than that. And I never feel that the people receiving from me owe me anything in return. If indeed I am denying people the same kind of happiness out of some misplaced sense of guilt, I would be foolish at best and downright mean at worst.

But is it really true? How come I understand intellectually what this friend said, but can't believe it deep down? Why do I doubt that some people may like to do something for me just as I like to do for them? What is it that doesn't allow me to accept simple acts of kindness or friendship gracefully and as my right? Why can't I believe I am deserving of such acts? What drives me to be so darn independent that I never ever have to ask for any help from anyone? What am I protecting? What do I fear deep down? How lowly do I think of myself?

What the fuck is wrong with me?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Keep Your Mouth Closed Gift Horse!

I turned 48 yesterday. By doing that, I outlived myself by eight years

I was 16 when I first understood that my illness could rob me of happiness for the rest of my life. Until then, it was something I dealt with bravely every time I encountered it, without giving it any more importance than a short-term obstacle. It is hard to articulate how sad I felt the moment I realized its true power over my life. And what brought this realization was not the disease itself, but the medication I had to take to survive it. Those were not the days of Google, but being the daughter of doctor teachers, I had enough reading resources to figure out that the steroids I had been put on will soon rob me of my looks and youth I took for granted (as they surely did).

But that was not all. Somewhere around then, I got fixated on the idea that I would live to be at most 40. I don’t recall where it came from and why it seemed so plausible, but 40 was the magic number. So here I was, a 16-year old girl, sure she would die at 40. Not hard to understand why this young girl would hang on to every bit of joy she could gather, however socially unacceptable its source.

Then one day 40 arrived, and I was very much alive. That girl was wrong, but then again…

I first began to breathe freely at 40. It's a fact that I haven’t had a life threatening asthmatic attack since I turned 40. And because I could breathe freely, I started considering my body my ally for the first time and began to care for it. At 40, I started dancing for the first time and teaching others to dance. It was at 40 that I made a huge leap in my career (accidentally). I also decided to be a mother again at 40. It was indeed a magical age, almost as if at 40, I transformed into another person.

So here I am, eight years past that given 40. Now I take every day as a gift, and like any smart person, I never look this gift horse in its mouth. I take what comes my way with gratitude. I cry a lot, I laugh a lot. I am a good girl when it makes sense to me, and I am very bad when I feel like. I thumb my nose at silly rules. I flow with the flow without caring where it takes me. I don’t question why I feel instant connection with some people- I accept them into my life with wonder. I wake up with excitement every morning for another lovely pointless day. I do not know the answers to so many questions, and that’s OK for me. I am done being a seeker- let the effing answers seek my questions for a change. I love taking care of others but I am no saint. I am selfish, irresponsible, prodigal and full of myself. 

But I am alive, and Goddammit, I am 48! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Problem is...

Problem is...
I know everything.

I know why I run
And why it's not a good idea in the long run.

I know why I want to see my world in soft focus
And how that does nothing to blunt its sharp edges.

I know why I break rules all the time
And how it will break someone's heart one day.

I know why I ask too much of good things
And how that is not such a good thing.

I know why I want to be different
And how that makes me just the same as everyone else.

I know why I dream of prowling lions
And the secrets my mind wants to tell me timidly.

I know why I feel lost sometimes
And how losing myself in others is not going to help me find myself.

I know what scares the shit out of me
And how laughing in the face of terror doesn't make me any less a coward.

I know I know I know it all...
And that's the biggest problem of them all!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Touched, Untouched

What is this thing they call love?
This magical ever-lasting selfless condition?
I am untouched by it...
A love virgin
An old maid.

But when I look into your eyes
The madness
The softening.
And when I sink into your arms
The madness
The beauty.
And when I lose myself
The madness
The ecstasy.

What is this thing we have between us?
This magical fleeting selfish obsession?
I am deeply touched by it
I own and and am fully owned...
Your young bride!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

To My Second Rainbow

This post is for the quirky little girl who turns six today!

Everyone knows I am a foodie. I love to cook and eat good food. But what is lesser known is how much of a foodie this little girl is. When I come back from trips abroad, her only questions are about what I ate there, especially during the flights. She must be the only person in the world to be so fascinated by airline food!

Her dreams are often about food too. Once she she was very tired and went off to sleep before dinner and the first question she asked when she woke up at 3am was what we had for dinner! I am often seen scurrying about in the kitchen early in the morning because the little Missy has pre-ordered a special breakfast or school lunch the previous night. In the afternoons, she raids the fridge non-stop. I have come down from my bedroom many times to see all types of food stuff wiped clean by the hungry hog, the most notably shocking among them being a whole bottle of pitted olives!

Frustrated by the mess she makes inside and outside the fridge, we recently started locking the fridge and hiding the key. One day, when none of the adults could find the key, she found it for us. You see, finding the fridge unlocked, she was the one who had locked it and "hidden" the key!

Her food choices don't stop to surprise me. Once I made trout and green beans, and she ate up all the green beans and didn't touch the fish, which she was so fond of in Singapore! Once, she sat with RS in Singapore and ate up half of his sarson ka saag (pre-cooked microwaved stuff) and now keeps asking me to make the green stuff RS has. Her latest craze is Himachali karhee. One afternoon, she ate up a huge bowl of karhee that we had kept for dinner by filling her katori over and over again. During this recent trip to Kullu, she had karhee for almost every meal!

Aloka has the sharpest sense of smell I have ever known anyone to have. She smells everything. If I buy her a new dress, she smells it first before looking at it. If I cook something, she smells it first before eating it. Before reading a book, she smells it. Every soap is evaluated by its smell. She has a nice collection of soaps because that's what she likes to buy at stores. Freshly ironed clothes are smelled with pleasure, freshly washed clothes are deeply inhaled. I am not allowed to throw empty packets of detergents because she likes to smell them again and again. With her eyes closed, she can tell which shampoo I am using on her hair because she recognizes the smell. When she gets in a car, she comments on the smell. When she gets in a building, she tells me what the smell reminds her of. She knows when I am wearing a different perfume than my usual. It is hard to hide anything from her thanks to that darn sense of smell.

Her love-hate relationship with her nani has changed into more-love less-hate one in the last few months in India. She spends most of her time in her nani's room, watching TV, playing with her iPad, doing her homework and even sleeping at night. She can recite tables of 1-5 thanks to her nani who used the good old fashioned way of rote learning to teach her what I could not using my newfangled ways. I often hear them laugh like mad over some silly joke that nani has cracked or hear them talking excitedly about a game they play together on mom's iPad. Aloka has figured that as long as she follows most of nani's rules (no eating on the bed, no jumping on the bed, reduced volume of her iPad etc), she can have a lot of fun with her most fun-loving grandma!

But Asha, our house-help, isn't so lucky. She bears the brunt of Aloka's naughtiness in action and words. Now that she can speak Hindi fluently, she practices all her naughty sentences on Asha (e.g. Tu gandi hai Asha Aunty, Mommy dekho Asha Aunty ne mujhay pagal kaha, isko daanto yeh mujhay marti hai etc).

Aloka is fascinated by most young ladies, but mostly by her cousin sister Nishu. She follows her around when she is with her, and when away, talks all the time about her. Nishu is her role model- she wants to dress like her, talk like her, and be like her when she grows up. In any group, Aloka gravitates towards girls of Nishu's age more than she does kids her own age. And her aversion to men is legendary.

In another post about Aloka, I had written that she doesn't walk, she skips. That's still true, but now there is another addition to her list of favorite actions. She can twirl non-stop for as long as 30 minutes without getting dizzy. It's another matter that her grandma gets dizzy just seeing her rotating like a planet gone out of control!

Ever since I remember, I always wanted to be mother to a daughter, a child I could dress and feed and teach and have fun with and mostly, see her enjoy a childhood I missed. Aloka made my dream come true, and how! She is everything I dreamed of and more, a perfect quirky addition to my quirky family. She is truly the second rainbow in my crazy sky!

Related post:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Blackberry Blues!

I arrive in Singapore at 7:30 in the morning and it's rush rush rush to the first meeting in town at 9:30. I barely manage to get a prepaid sim before rushing off to Prashanti's for a quick bath and catching a taxi to town. After that, the day is a blur of taxis rides and meetings. In between, I send a quick message to Atreya telling him that I have arrived and that we should fix a place to meet. He doesn't respond, but that doesn't bother me- I know that he is in another camp for yet another exercise.

At around 6 in the evening, after all meetings are done, I begin to get impatient. By now I have called Atreya a few times but in vain. I have also sent a couple more imploring messages reminding him that we are to meet for dinner. When I get no response, I engage in Singapore's national pass time- shopping! In between, I keep calling him, hoping he will take my call.

By 8, I am at my tether's end. I have shopped more than that I had any plans of, I am hungry and tired, but mostly, I am angry. I have travelled thousands of miles to see him and he hasn't even bothered to send me a message, leave aside return my calls. I send a message to him expressing my disappointment.

It is then that I panic- what if he is sick or hurt and nobody knows how to contact me? I call the emergency number I have, but the young man who receives my call tells me he is no longer in National Service. I then call Rahul, Atreya's best friend and get a landline number for Atreya's camp. From there, I am directed to another number and finally I speak to someone who tells me that Atreya Sir has just left the camp. He then adds, "Actually Atreya Sir lost his phone this morning"!

Then everything falls in place. He has no phone and no way to contact me on my temporary phone. And here I am sending angry messages to the poor boy! So I decide to go to Prashanti's house and wait there- where I am staying is thing Atreya knows for sure. And I was right- that's where I meet my boy finally.

Here our a couple of pictures showing how the tone of my messages changed over that frustrating day! Really ashamed of that last one! LOL!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Modern Girl

Resting in his arms, hot and sweaty
Hearing him go on and on about how he prefers
tradition to modernity...

She gets up, looks in his eyes, and says with a frown,
Mister, good to hear you extol the virtues of an ox-cart,
But don't forget you just hitched a ride on the fastest train in town! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Because I am a Woman!

First a story, then a poem.

The other day, I was talking to a mother about her daughter who had recently contributed her first ever earnings to a project that aims to educate girls from Himalayan villages. This young lady is now leading a group of young volunteers in a third world country and has no plans of leading a safe comfortable life that she can easily afford. Digging a little deeper, I learned that as a teen, this young woman had suffered a horrific attack on herself, which nearly destroyed her. It took her over six years to fully recover from the trauma- which she did by reading about other people who have suffered, writing about herself, and talking to wise people who guided and mentored her out of her pain. Having overcome her own trauma, she now spends her life helping others in trouble.

I stopped in my tracks. I had been struggling with my ambivalent thoughts about the role of education of girls in a society so seeped in tradition and resistant to change, as I see here in this small village that is my new home. I had nagging doubts about the effect of educating just a few girls in such a society. I was cynical about bringing lasting changes from disjointed and intermittent interventions. I was looking for Earth-shaking transformation, and not finding enough hope for that. Desperately wanting to believe, I was confused by my continued disbelief.

What I had forgotten, and what the story of this young lady reminded me, was that transformation begins in the smallest unit, one person, first. What I had forgotten was that there is great power and potential in each human being. What I had also forgotten about was the great healing capacity in  discourse with the wise, in person or through books. But mainly, what I had forgotten was how I myself was transformed and how my transformation would have been impossible if I didn't have the tools to make it happen.

In that instant, with that story, my doubts vanished and I was converted.

Soon after, I came across this poem, Because I am a Girl, by Kamla Bhasin. I read it in Hindi (see images below) first and then found its translation online. What a powerful meaningful poem. I prefer the Hindi version because it connects deeply and has (at least) one powerful line, most meaningful to my conversion, that the translation misses (ज्ञानी से बतियाना है ).

Hope it will inspire everyone who reads it, but what the heck, even one inspired person will do! 

Because I am a Girl- by Kamla Bhasin

A father asks his daughter:
Study? Why should you study?
I have sons aplenty who can study.
Girl, why should you study?

The daughter tells her father:
Since you ask, here’s why I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

Long denied this right, I must study
For my dreams to take flight, I must study
Knowledge brings new light, so I must study
For the battles I must fight, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To avoid destitution, I must study
To win independence, I must study
To fight frustration, I must study
To find inspiration, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To fight men’s violence, I must study
To end my silence, I must study
To challenge patriarchy I must study
To demolish all hierarchy, I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To mould a faith I can trust, I must study
To make laws that are just, I must study
To sweep centuries of dust, I must study
To challenge what I must, I must study
Because I am a girl, I must study.

To know right from wrong, I must study.
To find a voice that is strong, I must study
To write feminist songs I must study
To make a world where girls belong, I must study.
Because I am a girl, I must study.

~Kamla Bhasin
This poem originally appeared on, which invites you all to find out more about Kamla Bhasin’s women’s empowerment organization in New Delhi, India, Sangat.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shame in Mine?

When I discovered that Heather (a young Hindi-speaking American volunteer at Jagori) had seen Bhag Milkha Bhag, I started sharing what was topmost in my mind about the movie- audience reaction. I told her how surprised I was to see a very quiet crowd in the Chandigarh theater. There was no excitement or emotion even in the scene where Milkha won the race in Pakistan. I was the only one shouting and clapping (much to my niece's mortification), but even my excitement could not energize more than ten people around me.

Heather's experience in the fanciest movie theater in Jaipur had been quite the opposite. She said the entire crowd, consisting mainly of young men, was up on their feet and shouting in all the racing scenes!

Just as I started thinking aloud about the possible reasons for this difference in crowd reactions, she shook me out of my pointless analysis by saying quietly that the same crowd of young men in the theater had clapped and hooted in the scenes when Milkha's sister was raped by her husband. 

I remember looking into her kind eyes and seeing pain. Did she see shame in mine?

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: Divya Dutta makes Farhan cry with her performance
Picture from:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

She too can do it!

Our next door neighbors here use their house as a summer home. Last month, the entire family descended from Jammu and stayed over for about a month. Aloka was delighted to meet their 3 year old granddaughter Tuku, who in turn became Aloka's biggest fan, copying everything she did.

One of the things she copied was doing the hula hoop. Her version is to die for!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Truth Teller

I was lamenting the other day
Did you hear me?
About my barren loveless life,
About plowing on with a broken heart, 
About promises that were forsaken before they could be claimed,
About beauty that faded too fast to be mourned,
About fear of rejection and relief in self hatred,
About that manic strength of spirit that won't let me accept defeat
But which then drained me of warmth and turned me to stone.
I was lamenting the other day, like I often do
But did you hear me?

You weren't listening, I know in my heart
But listen, be still as I tell you today...
Of love that feeds on nothing but itself,
Of promises that are made and kept in the moment,
Of beauty that is resurrecting itself from ashes, like phoenix
Of courage to trust and surrender completely, 
Of self love and acceptance of everything good and bad,
Of this manic dance of spirit- see me sway out of control!
Of this gentle awakening of a long lost woman. 
Listen, I am telling you a new truth today,
Hear me, hear me! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Easy Tasty Chicken Sandwich Filling

This recipe happened out of sheer necessity, not of sandwiches, but of not wanting to waste chicken roast I used to cook on most Sundays in Singapore. My Sunday roast was quite popular with my kids. Between the two of them, the legs and wings would be finished in no time. What was left was the less tender breast piece.

The first time I thought of converting the remaining chicken into a sandwich filling, I mashed every bit of the chicken and the left-over roasted potatoes and peas using a big spoon and added mayo till I had the consistency I remembered seeing in sandwich shops.

Since I moved to India, I never get good whole chicken, so roast chicken as a meal is no longer an option. So now I do the following:

  • Roast chicken breast separately in salt, pepper and olive oil (wrapped in foil, 200 degrees for 40 minutes)
  • Shred the meat to pieces or chop using a knife.
  • Add a couple of spoons of mayo (more or less depending on the quantity of chicken). I sometimes add some butter too if the chicken is too dry and I don't want the strong mayo taste to stand out.
  • Add finely chopped onions (half of a medium) and a bit of capsicum.
  • Add 3-4 drops of lemon juice (more or less depending on the quantity of chicken). The idea is not to make the mixture sour, but just to give it a bit of a kick. 
  • Add coriander or parsley (if I have any).
  • Mash together till it is creamy enough to be spread on bread directly. 
Spread over good bread, it makes for a great sandwich filling. Since its premixed and non-messy, it is great for picnics.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Although this poem had many words/names I didn't know (I had to look up fillibuster, Wendy Davies and Rick Perry), I was riveted from get go. Love the line "A failed erection the worst of their strife".

Ever since I returned to India, this man-woman thing has been gnawing at me. For years, I have lived and thought of myself as a human being, unaware of being a woman in my day to day activities. But here, in this village, I am reminded of my sex again and again. I know that things haven't changed, only I have become more aware of this nonsense and am sensitive to it. Nowhere does it strike me more than when I visit a temple, which believe me is rare. That some places and activities in temples are reserved for men shocks me no end. That I can't enter some rooms because I am a woman disgusts me. Making places special for men is so obviously an expression of their insecurity, but look how smugly they tell me about these rules. Thankfully, there is no man controlling what I do with my life and body even remotely. I don't think I can handle that shit anymore. Here's another reason I love being single. 

Back to the poem- really, what will it take for all women to wake and to finally take these fights? Enough is enough. When will we be done with this male power play? After all, aren't we half the world? 

By Sarah Firisen

As a woman, I know so much pain
Not the least pre-menstrual weight gain
Menopause is no fun
Birthing pain can quite stun
And we do it and rarely complain

Men get to glide right through
A failed erection the worst of their strife
We have the right to refuse
But they still get to choose
When it's time to be husband and wife

Men get paid more, the ceiling's still glass
I'm still judged on the size of my ass
My gray hair is old
They're distinguished they're told
And they're still the world's governing class

But through all this we just grin and bear
Even though lots in life don't compare
But enough is enough
Men, we women don't bluff
What is broken it's time to repair

The control of my body is mine
Not your's or some being divine
Some graying white men
Just won't tell me when
My uterus is no longer mine

So back off, Wendy Davies was right
Should we all fillibuster all night?
Now what will it take
For all women to wake
And to finally take on this fight?

For the women of Texas to say
"Rick Perry get out of my way"
It's not your choice, it's mine
And I'll make it just fine
We're all done with this male power play

Sunday, July 28, 2013

As morning turns to evening to morning without a break

I am lost in the flow of life.
Morning turns to evening to morning without a break
And I turn into breeze
Soft, fragrant and free
Reckless, fearless, high
Holding on tightly to this happiness in my fist
Beaming like a child, gleeful
And losing myself in this amazing sway
As morning turns to evening to morning without a break.

But sometimes a voice speaks roughly in my ears
What the fuck are you doing with your life?
What is your goal? What do you want to achieve?
Have you forgotten how cruel life is?
Have you forgotten its scalding burn?
How dare you not slow down and atone each day?
How dare you float?
How dare you flow?
How dare you love?
You are a fool to think you can hold it in your fist
Like air, like sky, like sand, it will slowly bleed out of your hand
It's evanescent. It's a mistake. 
As morning turns to evening to morning without a break.

I am tormented.
Do I live like life is slipping away and every minute precious?
Or do I live like life is eternal and every minute precious?
Do I forget everything but the mad joy of being alive?
or do I remember everything else sane?
Do I allow myself to feel more than I ever thought was possible?
Or do I stop myself from repeating the same old mistakes?
Do I live do I live do I live?
Or do I just curl up and die?
Is this way of living more like dying?
Or is that way of dying actually living?
I am lost...who will show me the way?
As morning turns to evening to morning without a break.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Control. Freak.

I am the least controlling person I have ever known. Just saying.

(This non-controlling attitude applies to everyone except my kids. Where my kids are concerned, I am very directive and downright bossy.)

I accept other people for what they are. Even if I don’t like them or what they do much, I don’t try to change them. I don’t even give them “feedback” because this much overused corporate concept implies that you know better or are superior to the person opposite you. If the person is not there specifically to learn from me and has not explicitly sought feedback, I keep my mouth shut.

If I have opinions that differ vastly from another person’s, I state my thoughts only if I think it is necessary, like if I am asked about it or if we are having a discussion on the topic. But if I feel the other person is just being himself/herself, I let them be what they are, as is their right.

I accommodate people in my life rather easily. I keep some parts to myself, some time, some activities, but I allow people to mingle with the rest of me. As a child, I knew no boundaries between myself and others, and sometimes I feel that state of mind lingers even now in some ways. As a result, I don’t insist people do things the way I do. If it inconveniences me, I mostly take it in my stride. I don’t mind if I have to work a little harder to find things or do chores. I even don’t mind if I have to change my habits to accommodate habits of others.

If I must change someone or something, I do it with actions - by showing how I like it done, but without much pomp and show. And if they don’t get it despite that, I move on. I rarely find myself using harsh words to get things done my way.

I know all this sounds very self-promoting. Why am I indulging in all this self-praise? Because there is a flip side to this way of being, and it’s frustrating, to put it mildly.

Just because I don’t enforce any rules on them, people start to think I am myself undisciplined. Just because I am not confrontational, people think I have no opinions of my own and need to be educated. Just because I make efforts to accommodate people, they think they are unobtrusive. I have people lecturing me about things I have meditated upon for years. I have people trying to mold me out of the form I have spent years creating for myself. I have people thinking they need to fill my ocean because they see it as a void.

Hell, just because I am not controlling, people want to control me! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Desert Rose

When you, a seeker of gardens, come across a desert, you can walk away and pledge never to return. When you, a lover of flowers, can't find any in the sand, you can walk away and seek greener lands. But when the desert is yours, a primal land, and you love flowers and seek gardens, then even as if you find greener places and even as your eyes feast on pretty flowers, the memory of the desert will haunt you and dry you out. The only way for you, born of the desert, seeker of flowers and gardens, is to water that desert for as long as it takes to green. And if it so happens that only one shoot sprouts, then the only way for you is to make yourself so expansive, so receptive, so gracious, that even that little shoot gives you the shade of a huge tree.

And you can rest, finally. Or not.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Are You Ready?

Are you ready, Ms. Cynic
To drop all notions
of how meaningless love is
and what's the most it can mean to someone?

Are you geared
To accept that there are people
and things about them
That you, Ms. Know All,  just can’t comprehend?

Are you prepared, Ms. Prudent
To let go of this stuff, this self
you hold on so tightly to
As if all of your insignificant life depended on it?

Are you willing, Ms. Self Control
To at least imagine 
Madness as a possible way of life
And a valid reason to die?

Are you ready, Ms. Been There Done That
To accept, at least to yourself,
That you haven't been everywhere 
And haven't done it all as yet? 

Friday, July 12, 2013

13 Years Ago

First, an honest admission. I struggled to write this post, which is sort of against my blogging principles. I believe that if something is not ready to be out on the blog, then it should stay where it belongs- inside. But certain dates are special and they deserve a gift of a post. So, here is one for a very special day.

Today, 13 years ago, I became single. All paper and court work for the divorce was done by proxy in Delhi while I was in Singapore, and it so happens that I didn't know that it was all over on that particular day. My brother had sent me an email informing me gently that I was a free bird, but I did not see his email until the next day. So, I spent the day as any other day, miserable as was usual in those days, but clueless about the momentous event happening back in Delhi.

A very good friend once told me about his theory about how long it takes for a person to get over a divorce- half the number of years you had been married! Imran, it didn't take 8 years, more like 5, but the warning was very useful, and much needed. But so much else happened in these years that I had no warning of.

In the last 13 years, I truly became the person I am proud of being. I always knew I was no weakling, but the extent of my strength became visible only after I had to live my life by my own with none of the support I had always taken (and was given) for granted, such as family, friends and money. I always took motherhood seriously and knew what type of mother I wanted to be, but an understanding of what parenting really is dawned on me only after I became a single parent. I always had a seeking spirit, but it became laser focused only after I was left with nothing but unanswered questions.

For all this, I am grateful to the event that took place this day 13 years ago- I am who and where I am today because of what and where I was on this day 13 years ago. For all this, I am grateful to the man whose heartlessness of those days almost seems benevolent today.

Today, I want to thank him for forcing me to see and be myself as I really am, stripped of all pretense and pseudo identities. I want to thank him for freeing me from ties that were knotted up too early, too badly and in all the wrong places. I want to thank him for handing me an empty life that I could fill with wondrous second chances. And mostly, I want to thank him for this precious gift of total freedom and self discovery.

Finally, though I had trouble starting to write this post, it soon got easier and easier, and the end result is something I will cherish forever. On some days, principles can go (beep) themselves.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sharp Edged Differences

I have been wanting to write this post for some time now, but was hesitant for several reasons. For one, I didn't want to sound like some pretentious NRI. I also didn't want to pass shallow judgment and opinions on something profound and beyond my understanding. But then, this is what I feel deeply and if I don't write about what I feel, who will?

I moved back to India after living in Singapore for 13 years. This is not a very long period of time by any standards, and so I didn't expect to have any adjustment problems. I thought I knew what to expect and how to deal with it. I certainly didn't expect to be shocked by poverty of any sort. But strangely I was.

The first time it hit me was in March, when I paid my maid's first salary and then went to buy Anakin's dog food the very next day. Instead of converting the cost of dog food into dollars and thinking it was not that bad (as was my habit with every expense in the early days), I was struck by its comparison with Asha's salary. The price of a bag of Anakin's food, which would last him less than 20 days, was more than Asha's entire month's salary! I was so taken aback that, no kidding, I didn't buy dog food that day or ever since. Anakin has been eating rotis and rice and stuff since then. And the bhukkad loves his new diet.

The next time it hit me was when someone mentioned a mortgage payment they had to make to the bank urgently to avoid losing their land. That very day, disgusted with my iPhone camera's behavior, I had checked the price of the latest smart phones in the market. The price of the phone I was considering was more than the mortgage payment that was going to cost this poor family their only asset and push them into a spiral of poverty. Needless to say, I am back at forgiving and loving my old iPhone.

Now, this difference between the haves and have-nots should be familiar to an Indian who has lived most of her life in India, you would say. Yes, I would think so too, but it does bother me a lot and all the time. I often wonder why I wasn't bothered by these differences in Singapore. After all, some of our favorite meals in fancy Singaporean restaurants would cost a lot, often more than Mallika's salary.

I don't have a concrete clear answer, but have some inkling. In Singapore, even the poorest had a decent house to live in- IMO that's the first barrier taken down. But more importantly, they had aspirations to do better and had a fair chance to do so if they worked really hard. And people like Mallika, who didn't earn a lot by Singapore standards, were still able to save enough to make a difference in their families' lives back home. There were differences between the rich and the regular folks there too, but there was a constant fight against these differences. There were dreams and hopes for change someday.

Here, there is a certain docile acceptance of this difference. It is a fact that the two people I mentioned above would not at all be shocked by the differences in our standards of living/spending. They accept it as given. It is OK here for someone to spend on a phone as much as you would earn in a year. It is OK for someone to spend on weekly grocery shopping what you would spend on yours in six months. It is OK because rich are rich and poor are poor and that's acceptable to them.

Maybe it's this OK business that I am not OK with. Maybe it is this soft acceptance that feels like a sharp edged knife. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Secret of Sad Songs

There is something therapeutic about sad songs, I have always known that. Once, when I was recovering from a relationship that never took off except in my head, I healed myself with Talat Mahmood's sad songs, a singer I had never before, or after, heard with so much attention. I heard the songs so often that I had memorized the lyrics of each one of them. Even now, I have a soft spot for each of his songs, even though I can't listen to them more than once.

Recently, I met a person who said that he heard only sad songs for over two years after his marriage failed. He couldn't bear to hear any other type of music. Now he has switched back to romantic songs and has no interest in songs that were his friends for years. No rewards for guessing why.

But why are sad songs therapeutic? Of course, one of the reasons is that they resonate with one's state of mind. But I think they do more than that. Grief is one emotion that needs articulation before it can be accepted and absorbed, but it's hard to articulate when you are gasping for breath. Listening to sad songs is like having someone else articulate your grief, someone way more articulate than you. Personally, as someone who reads and writes poetry, it is like finding a poem that tells my story almost as if the poet knew me intimately.

And there is another thing- sad songs allow you to explore your grief from many angles and expose it so much that there is no hidden pain left inside undiscovered, no chance of your being surprised or hurt by a sentiment out of the blue.

Sad songs exhaust your grief. That's their secret, and magic!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Not today

Maybe one day
I will not laugh so much 
at the crass one-liners you tell and retell a hundred times,
But not today. 

Maybe one day
I will be distracted
when you lay bare the secrets of your simple life,
But not today. 

Maybe one day
No magic will happen
when your rough hands touch mine,
But not today. 

Maybe one day
I will be tired
of your untiring youth darling,
But not today.

Maybe one day
I will not want to be loved 
the uncomplicated full-on way that you love me,
But not today.

Maybe one day
I will want to claim my life back from you
for myself or for someone else,
But not today.
Just not today. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Only Regret

In the month before we left Singapore for good, I was busier than I ever had been in my entire life. And it was the worst type of work- filling forms, visiting lawyers, planning my finances, digging up old documents, readjusting my insurance plans, getting quotations from movers and the likes. Weekends were especially crazy because Atreya would be home and there were so many things to be sorted out for his move out of our home and into RS’s. The result of this extreme busy-ness was that Atreya and I hardly had any time to talk about things that really mattered, now that the change was no longer hypothetical and just around the corner.

One late Friday night, just as he had come home from the camp and devoured the special dinner I had cooked for him, we sat on his bed and began talking of the stuff that he needed to discard before he shifted to his new place. I don't know at what point we switched gears, but the conversation soon moved from tactical to emotional issues- we began discussing what we would regret most after the move. 

I had only one regret, shared openly and often, and that was not being with him for this one year that he would have to stay on in Singapore. I did not regret the loss of income, or career, or lifestyle. All this, if any, was long resolved and dealt with. 

When it was Atreya's turn to share his regret, I expected to hear him say something similar, that he would miss me, or the food, or our home, or the family, or all of it. But what he said was quite different from what I had expected. It saddened me, yet gave me so much hope for our odd little family.

He said that his only regret is that he would not be there to see Aloka grow up! 

Playing Monopoly (or as Aloka says, Meenopally)

Going out with Bhaiyya

Rakhi and Rakhi gifts

Acting the goat

Sleeping in Atta's bed
(Here is another post about this brother's love for his sister.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Comfort in Simplicity

Why is it comforting to know that I can't be comforted? No emotional meltdown for me this time. No unexplained tears. No complex unresolved thoughts to be paid attention to and untangled jointly. No scope of lingering sadness. No drama.

There is such comfort in simplicity, I never knew!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Beyond Strategies

Aloka's behavior has changed a lot in the last three months. I often find myself at my wit's end with her constant need for attention from me, and often from others. When she doesn't get the attention she wants, she becomes loud and rude, and who wants their child to be unlikable? And then there is the opposite. When meeting strangers, she becomes totally quiet, refusing even to greet them, and looking downright unhappy. It upsets me no end to see her so cheerless.

Concerned about it, I have been reading up a lot on kids' difficult behavior and worked out some strategies. I have put up a chart with actions I do not want her to repeat (not letting me talk to others, not greeting people, making a mess while eating etc). I have worked out consequences of such behavior (no ice cream, reduced TV time etc). And after reading an article, changed the way I appreciate or scold her (thanks for cooperating with me, I like it when we do not argue about things, can we please do this all over again and this time, let's be nice to each other etc).

But yesterday, it just struck me that I have got it all wrong. Mom and I were discussing how upsetting her behavior can be and I (as is my habit) defended her saying that she is reacting to the change and we should understand her. To that, mom said- "But how does our understanding the reason fix the problem?".

In that moment, I had a huge shift in my mind- our understanding the reason is only the first step. It is Aloka who needs to understand herself. Then I remembered another child who needed to understand himself 13 years ago.

At that time, I was going through the hell of divorce and not being a text-book good mom. I would cry often and openly. Atreya saw my misery and became extra protective of me. He would be upset if even my mother said anything remotely unkind about me in jest. It was obvious that he was very angry with his father for putting me through this pain, though he didn't say anything about him. 

A few months later, I had recovered enough to stop pitying myself and start thinking of this little person in my charge. So one night, maybe 6 months after the divorce, I asked him if he loved his father. The answer was a straight NO. I asked him what he would do if someone knocked at our door and it was his father, whom he hadn't seen for almost a year. His response- "I will not even look at him. I will slam the door on his face!" 

Of course I knew this was my little protector saying what he thought I wanted to hear. At that point, I asked him to suspend all thoughts and look deeply in his heart to find the right answer. He just shook his head. Then, I asked him to stop thinking of me, as if I was not even at home when his father comes knocking, and then look deeply in his heart for the answer.

Atreya, seven at that time, went all quiet. What he said next both broke my heart and gave me hope at the same time. He said "When I open the door and see him, I will hug him tightly"!

Of course, no father came knocking at the door and no child got to hug him tightly in 13 years. The child continues to search for the lost father even now (Don't Go Looking). However, it is my belief that because Atreya understood and articulated his feelings through this miserable affair, it did not have the power to overwhelm him. He turned out to be this fantastic person because of this understanding. 

What Aloka needs is the same. She needs to understand that this move has been tough for all of us, but perhaps the toughest for her. She needs to believe that she will have a great life here, even if it's very different from what she was used to. She needs to have confidence that though she has lost many people she loved, love happens again. She needs to know that life is beautiful, if you just give it enough time. 

Time to make her understand this basic fact, beyond strategies.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I have left all lofty, snobbish, intellectual matters in that corner there. I smile when I hear rustic rough words and laugh at the crassest of jokes. I don't care to be understood deeply. I don't care to understand deeply either. I don't need to write poetry to communicate- songs someone else wrote and someone else sang do that job. I don't over analyze what I am feeling. I don't have any expectations of unexpected depth either. I splash around in shallow waters and revel in it like a child. I don't link happiness to forever-ness. I do not demand magic or wait for it eagerly, but I am ready for it every moment of the day. When it happens, I let it beat in my heart for a bit and let it go. I do not judge, not myself, not others. I do not worry about holding on because I do not own and I do not belong.

This love has set me free.

Moonshine by Richard Murphy

All I can say to this is OMG, this is mind blowing. My thoughts 100%. 


To think
I must be alone:
To love
We must be together.

I think I love you
When I’m alone
More than I think of you
When we’re together.

I cannot think
Without loving
Or love
Without thinking.

Alone I love
To think of us together:
Together I think
I’d love to be alone. .
by Richard Murphy
from  Collected Poems
Publisher: The Gallery Press, Oldcastle, 2000

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tu Hai Rab Mera- Translated

Listen to the song here. It doesn't have the second paragraph for some reason. 

Tu Hai Rab Mera Rab Jaandaaye
Tu Hai Rab Mera Rab Jaandaaye
Mainu Kaafir Kehke Na Sateya Kar, 

Mainu Mod De
Mainu Mod De pave Lakhwaari
Mere Ishq Da Maan ta Rakheya Kar

Tere Dar Pe Baitha Main Banake Jogi
Jag Hasdaaye Te Hasada Rave 
Jag Kardaaye Koi Mahol Mera

Soniya Tu Na Aeve Hasaya Kar

Mera Makka Tu Hi Kaaba Vi Tu
Teri Deed Hi Chaand Nan Id Da Hai 
Saathon Parda Karke Woh Sajan
Saaddi Ruh Nu Dard Na Vandaya Kar

Hun Aur Na Meri Talab Koi
Main Kis Dar Ja Faryaad Kara
Dil Ne Tainu Haafij Manleya

Ho Na Panaah Rakh Dard-E-Sar

Tu Hai Rab Mera Rab Jaandaaye
Tu Hai Rab Mera Rab Jaandaaye
Mainu Kaafir Kehke Na Sateya Kar, 

Mainu Mod De
Mainu Mod De chave Lakhwaari
Mere Ishq Da Maan ta Rakheya Kar

I worship you like you were my God
Not only the world, even God knows that
Don't break my heart by calling me godless,
Turn me away a thousand times 
Refuse me, spurn me, rebuff me if you may
But don't dishonor the love I profess.

Like a madman, I sit and gaze at your door
This world laughs at me, but do I care?
I can brush off everyone's contempt
So long as you, my darling, don't scoff at my ways. 

You are my Mecca, my Kaaba too
For me you are a vision no less than the pious moon of Id.
It breaks my heart, it hurts my soul 
Don't hide your face from me, my love, I plead

I am left with no desire except for your love 
Tell me where can seekers like me go to beg without refrain?
My heart is like an orphan and you its unconcerned guardian
Why don't you give me shelter and relieve me of this pain?

I worship you like you were my God
Not only the world, even God knows that
Don't break my heart by calling me godless,
Turn me away a thousand times 
Refuse me, spurn me, rebuff me if you may
But don't dishonor the love I profess.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mine forever

I look at every woman, to see a bit of myself in her. But everyone's a stranger to me, living in a different world than me. Some look tired, some content, some nervous, some lost, some busy, some secure, some thoughtful, some shy, some giggly, some bold- but no one looks like me. I see no one with the same heart as mine, or the same eyes, or the same carelessness, or the same care. I don't see my reflection in anyone. I look everywhere I go thinking there has to be someone. But there is no one.

But I am no fool. I know that they are the ones who belong. I am the alien here.

I live alone in my lonely lovely gated world. A few people enter my world but don't get beyond the first gate. My secret is mine. That everything I touch, touches me back. That everything I feel, senses me too. And that everything I love, becomes mine forever.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Better than this Bad

To be more than this less
To be bigger than this smallness
To shift the power from these crazy nerves to this brain
A little closer to my grain
To create more than these gossamer dreams
Scene after senseless scene
To be calmer than this wild
More knowing than this child
To look away from the mirror to the window
To have something else to behold
To burn a little less in this relentless fire
To have a more sublime desire
To be kinder than this brash
Oh, to be better than this bad.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Saint Frances and the Sow- by Galway Kinnell

Another one of the poems that called me back and revealed its deeper meaning only after the third reading. First the poem, and then its special meaning to me!  

Saint Francis and the Sow
The bud 
stands for all things, 
even for those things that don't flower, 
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; 
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; 
as Saint Francis 
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch 
blessings of earth on the sow, 
and the sow began remembering all down her thick length, 
from the earthen snout all the way 
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, 
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine 
down through the great broken heart 
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering 
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: 
the long, perfect loveliness of sow. 

by Galway Kinnell
from New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell 
published by Houghton Mifflin, 2000

I don't know who reminded me, retold me, retaught me, in words or in touch, but reminded I am, and flowering again from within, self-blessed, every inch of my long perfect loveliness, even the spininess spiked out from the spine down to the great broken heart, forgotten for years in service and self denial, awakening again. You, who put your hand on my brow and retold me, I hear you clearly. And I believe you!