Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sex- A poem by Amit majmudar

There are some poems that make me burn up and take flight like a Chinese Lantern. They say what I always wanted to say, and I stay up stunned and resonating. Here is one of those. Enjoy!


The one book where we never lose our place

spreads its covers to a gooseflesh Braille.
We are bookmarks slipped into each other.
In that book, we read each night of a couple
who go without touching for hours on end;
then, the dishes put away, the toddler
powered down and set to charge for tomorrow,
they thumb a lock and make a greenhouse
where once there was a master bedroom.
Orchids push open the drawers. Honeybees
bother the reading lamp.
The carpet threads itself with grass
twitching higher in a sunset-sunrise time-lapse
as the house regresses to a forest,
the plumbing to brooks, the chandeliers to stars
and “mommy” and “daddy” to the first lovers ever
under a glazed glass dome the size of the sky,
no duty save sensation,
the scar from her Caesarian
his Tropic of Capricorn. At last the throbbing
vines that roped them flush to the bed
slink back into the box spring.
The greenhouse shatters into mist
to reveal a plaster ceiling. They pull apart,
fall open like the covers of a book,
their years together pressed, preserved,
petals they can place on their tongues

Monday, December 8, 2014

I Love Living in this Village!

As I drive around this village, I see how harsh living conditions are. It is visible everywhere- in the fodder grass drying on the trees (I know how much hard work is involved in cutting the grass for cows and then drying it for the winters), in the fields that are worked upon all year round (back breaking work with little return), in the ragged school kids, in the condition of clothes drying on clothes lines, in the mud houses barely holding together, and in the roads that are never more than stones and mud. Life here is hard and harsh.

But as I drive around, I feel my heart uplifting. I love living in this village. 

I love the grass drying on the trees. It, to me, is a sign of family values, for no one person can collect so much grass all by herself. Families toil together for months to collect this much grass. It also is a sign of love and care for their precious cows, gentle creatures, who give back as much as they take in.

I love the fields that change color based on what is being sown or harvested. It, to me, is a sign of give and take from the Earth, something I was so far removed from for years. I envy those who touch the Earth so closely and are touched by it. How very blessed they are. And how disconnected are the likes of us!

I love the ragged children. They have none of the goodies that city kids have- no vitamins, no tabs, no TV, no books, no play grounds, no cloying parents to oversee them. Nothing. Yet they have such light in their eyes. And they make me feel so special just because I stop to talk to them or teach them occasionally in school. They make me believe I could make a difference in their lives, and how rare and beautiful is that!

I love the worn out clothes that people wear. On days when I am wrapped in layers to beat the cold, I see young kids and old folks walking around in threadbare sweaters and chappals on their feet. That, to me, is a sign of such wholesome health, because you can survive here in that attire only if you are active all day and hardy as a bull.

I love the mud houses with their rooms in a row, slate roofs and huge aangans. These are the only type of dwelling that merge seamlessly with the mountains and rivers and trees around us. I have always believed that everything nature makes is beautiful and everything man-made is ugly. But mud houses prove me wrong. 

I love the unmade broken roads. It is because of them that we slow down and I can look around at these pretty sights in my village. It is them that remind me that we are nothing. Our tar sprayers and road rollers can do whatever they want, but come monsoon, roads will be washed off. We are insignificant against the elements that rule our world here. 

That is why I love living here in this village. It makes me at once insignificant and impactful. It makes me feel connected to the source of life.  It makes me see as I have never seen before.

And I can't stop looking.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holes in the Soul

Love is like anger in many ways. It is self-righteous- it comes with a belief that "since I feel it, it must be right". Much like anger, it is self-fulfilling- every action, every emotion, just fuels it and proves it right. And much like anger, it hides other important facts- about yourself and about the other person.

But the power of relationships have little to do with "love" you feel for the other person, except at the very start. And when relationships sour, it is not because people change. It is, in fact, simply because people don't change.

The loving husband, who one day becomes abusive, is just being who he always was. The starry-eyed girlfriend, who now can't stop finding faults in the man she once adored, is just being who she always was. The once devoted lover, who now seems indifferent, is just the person she/he always was. The meanness, the lack of consideration, the indifference, the selfishness, the abuse- these don't spring up from nowhere. They were always there- in individuals who got together by falling in love.

The secret to a good relationship is within each of us. It is not a complex secret really, but a simple fact that you need two good people for a good relationship. Only two complete people can make a complete relationship. Empty people create empty relationships.

No lover can fill holes in the soul. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Very Short Cut

Here's to the pleasure of belonging to a mixed family!

Growing up, our family had a Sunday routine of first visiting the paternal grandparents in Lajpat Nagar, followed by a visit to the maternal grandparents in South Ex. This routine was followed religiously every Sunday, except when we were travelling. What a nice thing my parents did, I realize now, but that's beside the point.

My bauji and bhabhiji were "theth" Punjabis and my nani a proud bengali. Both showed immense pleasure if we, the grand kids, spoke to them in their language. While my sister and I made efforts to learn a smattering of both the languages in order to please the grand folks, my brother couldn't be bothered. He was at once lazy and clever.

That's how he greeted his grandparents on Sundays.

At Lajpat Nagar: Bhabhiji, kee gull?
At South Ex: Nani, kee gaul?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Minor Point?

You need to be in minority to understand what oppression truly feels like. Oppression of words/slurs, of violence, of having choices taken away. You have to have fought for your rights to understand how precious and delicate these rights are. You have to have felt the paralyzing fear of losing everything you held close to your heart to understand those who have lost.

I am so proud to be a minority because it makes me a better person, because it makes my blood boil when others are oppressed, because I have the capacity to empathize with people regardless of their religion, sex, or economic status.

And if you are wondering why I am a minority- it's because I am a woman. And not just that, I am an independent, happy, single woman! Truly a minority. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Little Magician

Aloka is turning into quite a magician. Here is her very original card trick!

Aloka: Nani, pick a card. Now check it carefully. Remember what card you have, okay?
Nani: Okay. 
Aloka: Now put it back with the other cards. 
(After nani puts the card back, the little magician shuffles the cards in her little hands with great difficulty)
Aloka: Now pick another card. Don't look, just pick a card, okay?
Nani: Okay, okay I won't look. 
(Nani takes a card without stealing a glance)
Aloka: Now look at the card. Is it a different card from before?
Nani: Yes, quite different!
Aloka: See, that's the magic!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Tale of a Passport-Sized Photo

Today, I went to get my passport size photographs taken for opening a new bank account. To save time, I chose a shop right opposite the bank. It is important to say this because really, there was nothing at the outside of the shop to encourage a customer. It was a tiny hole in the wall place, with a dusty hand-written board that said PHOTOSTATE (yes, with an e). The only indication that it was also a photo-studio were a couple of framed pictures showing through the glass door.

I walked into the shop, no bigger than 6 feet by 8 feet. The man inside was busy stapling a bunch of sheets that he had obviously photostatted. After a brief nod to my request for photos, he ignored me totally. There was a bench with a very dirty velvet cover that I did not want to sit on, so I stood around, waiting for him to get done with stapling. It had to be a rushed job, because he was totally consumed with it and refused to multi-task to any extent. After sometime, he asked me to sit down on the bench, which I did with trepidation.

While waiting for him, I looked at various things inside the shop. The first thing that struck me were very bad pictures of people framed up. There was one of a stunned looking man, another slightly blurred one of a serious looking old woman, another over-exposed/faded one of a couple of kids, and one of a young man. That picture of the young man was the most amazing of all. It was totally blurred. I could make out the shape of the face and that the young man had a mustache, but the picture was majorly out of focus. An obvious mistake- even a child would tell you that- but lo and behold, it was framed in an ornate frame!

The second thing that struck me was a collection of really old looking cameras in a showcase. I mean each looked at least 10 years old and very dusty. Why would anyone display these cameras? I was reminded of Kanto, our gardener, who recently bought a second-hand canon camera and was so proud of it (until it broke down a month later). Maybe, this shop sells second-hand cameras, I thought to myself, but makes no bones about them being very second hand.

As I sat there admiring the pictures and cameras, and trying hard not to think of my clothes getting dirty on that bench, the stapling was done and the man took out his camera from its packaging. Quite an elaborate process that- first he took out a bulky black bag, then a cardboard box from inside it, then unwrapped some bubble wrap and finally took out a point-and-click camera. That's certainly a first-hand camera, I thought to myself. My photo was taken in a single shot and the man briefly smiled looking at the picture, implying the picture was good (or did it mean it was suitably blurred?).

By now, I was in a hurry to get done. At my age, I don't care to see how I look in passport pictures- as long as it looks like me and meets its bureaucratic requirements, I am OK. So I didn't even bother to check it before it was printed. After a few minutes on the computer, he finally printed the set of 8 pictures and patiently cut each picture with a pair of scissors.

This photo of the photo doesn't do justice,
but you get the drift.
When I finally took a look at my picture, I was taken aback. This was not me! This was someone 10 years younger with flawless skin and no wrinkles! And two shades fairer! I am telling you no foundation I had ever used (and I have tried many) has had that kind of effect on my heavily pigmented middle-aged skin.

When I looked up enquiringly at the man, he smiled broadly and said "Thoda photoshop kar diya hai"!

That's the pleasure of living in a small town. And that's exactly the pain.

P.S.: Well, dear Mr. photographer, when you were at it, couldn't you have made those eyebrows a tad darker too?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Humsafar- Translation

Whether you are a fan of the Pakistani drama Humsafar or not, here is its title song, a ghazal worth listening to. It describes a love-hate relationship beautifully- resonates in parts with my experiences in life. Here is my attempt to translate it with the help of another translation I found online. My contribution is in softening the original translated text. Sometimes that took changing only a single word, and sometimes I rewrote the entire text. 

Tar'k-e- taalukaat pe na roya tu, na mae
Lekin ye kya ki chaain sae soya na tu, na mae
When our relationship ended, there were no tears in our eyes
But how is it that afterwards, neither you could sleep soundly, nor I?

Jab tak bikaa na tha tau koi poochta na tha,
Tu nay mujhay kahreed kay anmol kardiya!
Until I was sold off, no one valued me
You bought me and I became invaluable instantly!

Suna hai gair ki mehfil main tum na jaaogay
Kaho to sajaluu aaj ghareeb khanay ko
I hear you’ve decided against going to my rival’s party,
Should I decorate my humble home, in case you might visit me? 

Woh humsafar tha, magar us sae humnawayee na thii
Ke dhoop chavun ka aalam raha, judaii na thi
Though he was my life partner, yet with him I felt no harmony, no camaraderie 
We blew hot and cold all the time, yet did not once part company.

Na apna ranj, na auurun ka dukh, na tera malal
Shab- e -firaq kabhii hum nae yun gunwaayi na thii
I did not grieve for myself that night, nor for others, and certainly not for you darling
Never had a night of parting been frittered away in such bizarre gaiety!

Mohabatuun ka safar is tarha bhi guzra tha
Shikastaa dil thae musafir, shikast payee na thii
The journey of our love was strange, to say the least
The travelers were both heartbroken, yet neither conceded defeat.

Aadawatein thee, taghaful tha,  ranjishaen thii magar
Bicharnay walay mae sab kuch tha, bewafii na thii
There was negligence, unpleasantness and often bitter animosity,
The beloved who forsook me indeed harbored all of these, but not infidelity!

Bichadtay waqt un aankhun mae thi hamari ghazal
Ghazal bhi woh jo abhi kisi ko sunayee na thi
At the time of parting, those eyes sparkled with my melody,
Strangely, the melody that I had not yet sung to anybody!

Kabhi yeh haal kii donun mae yak- dilii thii bohatt
Kabhi ye marhala jaisay aashnayee na thii
There was a time when our hearts were joined in absolute unanimity,
Now is such a time that we deny even an iota of familiarity!

Kisay pukaar raha tha wo dubta huwa din
Sadaa tou aaii thi lekin, koi duhaaii na thii
Who was it calling – the day that sank into the horizon so rapidly?
I heard an echo for sure, but no, there was no wail of agony!

Ajeeb hoti hay rah`e sukHan bhi dekh Naseer
wahaN bhi aa gaye akHir jahaN rasayi na thi
Naseer look! The poet's path is lined with irony,
Even a wordsmith has been reduced to mumbling incoherently.

Borrowed heavily from:


Without doubt, this last year has been the happiest year of my rather long eventful life.

I live in a place that brings a smile to my face the moment I wake up and look outside, a dream come true. I live with my mother and daughter, a blessing I did not even have the guts to ask for. I spend my time the way I want to, a true privilege. I have new and old friends who love me like I have never been loved before, a gift I could not imagine would be mine at this age. I have met a person who inspires me, such a rare treasure. I continue to work but have no boss, a real deal if there's any. And I have a son who is thousands of miles away, yet my closest ally, best friend and pupil!

And all these gifts have changed me totally. For the first time in life, I do things for myself without guilt or shame. I feel beautiful. I feel entitled. I feel young. I laugh a lot. I break rules and fight for the freedom to do so. I talk and talk and talk. I cook. I dance. I love. I live.

To all those hard struggle-laden barren years, I say thank you. Thank you for giving me so little earlier that I can take in all this with gratitude now. Thank you for the rough bone-rattling journey that brought me to this place of restfulness. Thank you for the empty cup that is now brimming with all the good stuff.

Cheers! 49 times! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Transient Happiness

I know happiness is transient. That's why it must be cherished even more. I don't want to hold on to it because I know it can't be held. I just want to feel it and remember it.

It is a cold February night. Atreya is lying on the mattress next to my bed. Aloka is fast asleep next to him. They must be uncomfortable in that tiny space squeezed against the wall, but they sure are warm. Atreya and I talk about all kinds of things. I am relaxed. He is relaxed. We are family. And we are under one roof.

Atreya, mom and I are sitting in mom's room, watching The Green Mile, a movie we have seen a few times before. We are sharing what we feel about the characters and the story. Mom has her letter linker open in front of her and she plays the game every now and then. Atreya asks to eat something good and I get up to make pasta. Mallika is cutting vegetables I need. Aloka walks in sleepy. I make her lie down on mommy's bed and she is fast asleep in a few minutes. Atreya later carries her upstairs in his arms, huffing and puffing- she is not so tiny anymore!

It is early morning in August, the morning after our party to celebrate old and new friendships. We are all drinking tea. Mom and Meenu are on the swing. They sing songs alternately. Sonu, Manju and Shikha are listening with attention. Aloka is trying to squeeze in between the two, and when she is shusshed, tries to get Manju's attention. Anakin is restless- he wants to be part of the group and he wants biscuits. The khudd is flowing below noisily, incessantly, and the mountains gaze upon us benignly.

The sun is about to set. We see a rainbow on our mountain. Mom rushes in get her camera. I run upstairs to my iPhone and click pictures from my terrace. I come down and show my pictures to Sonu and Manju. Mom shows hers. There is some banter about whose pictures are better. Sonu and Manju mimic my "Awesome", "Wow", "Fricking view". We are all laughing. The beautiful evening and the people around me fill my heart.

It is a beautiful sunny September morning. The rain and storm of last evening have washed everything clean. The mountains are gleaming. We are out on a walk to Aganjhar Mahadev. We see Sonu on her scooter coming back from somewhere and when she sees us, she parks her scooter and joins us for the walk. Mom is walking ahead of me. Aloka and Sonu are running, with Aloka trying to catch Sonu. I can't run but I am grateful that my little girl has a running partner. In my mind, I run faster than everyone and no one can catch me- my hair flying, my lungs breathing freely and my legs untiring!

Friday, September 19, 2014

If you have to!

This is a poem I wrote when I was pining to have a baby in 1991.

Little darling!
Song of my life!
Don't tug so hard
at the strings that hold me together.
Sweet child!
My very own!
You will arrive when you have to
If you have to.

All my decisions are futile
My courage, my ruthlessness, my cruelty
And so is
this persistent craving.
Sweetest one!
Elusive flower of my garden!
You will come when you have to
If you have to. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Miracle Babies!

I have told this story to many people and always noticed a certain disbelief in the listeners' eyes. I understand why. The story is dramatic and if you don't know me well, rather unbelievable. But it's true. It's the story of the birth of my son Atreya.

I was 16 when I first had to take steroids to control my irascible asthma. Every year after that, I would get sick in April and would be on steroids for 3-4 months. During the rest of the year, some 7-8 months, I would be on heavy doses of oral broncho-dilators.

When I was around 19, I understood that the medication I was on would not make it possible for me to have kids. It just didn't seem possible for me to be off steroids for the required 10 months, a necessary condition during pregnancy, and even if I avoided them somehow, the heavy dose of broncho-dilators was bad for the fetus too. So, I closed the chapter and stopped thinking of having a regular family. That was fine at that time, because although married since I was 18, we were young and busy and rather poor.

Then at 25, something happened. I suddenly became obsessed with babies. I would be watching TV and something as mundane as a young boy wrapping his arms around his father's back would set me crying. I started stopping to play with every baby and young kid I would meet. I felt tugs in my heart that I could not explain. I had visions of a baby crying in the heavens (yes I mean that) and asking me to let it arrive. The baby cried a lot. I cried even more.

But as is my wont, I don't take defeat easily. I decided to have a baby. My mother, as always, accepted my decision despite all the problems she knew I faced. My doctor, a good friend of my mother's, told me to come see her when I have reduced my regular broncho-dilators from four tablets a day to one tablet a day. And she said that the only safe period for me to conceive was a month after I stopped steroids, ie August- not earlier, not later. That would give me about 8 clean months until the next April when I would again need steroids. But she said all this with great reluctance, and added rather harshly that I was being a fool and that if something triggered an asthma attack during my pregnancy, I should not expect her to prevent a serious problem.

Now, I had no clue how to fix my problem. I was seriously ill and had been most of my life. Broncho-dilators kept my airways open until April every year, after which prednisolon took over. I would be gasping for breath without these life savers. How could I reduce this dependence?

At that time, my MIL convinced me to try acupuncture. For almost a year, I went to GK daily to get acupuncture done by a doctor, spending all my money and free time in the quest for reducing this drug dependence. I started taking long walks in the IIT campus, where we had an apartment, to lose weight and increase my lung capacity. And for the first time, started focusing on myself, watching for triggers and avoiding them. And what a delight when I finally could reduce the broncho-dilators to one a day.

Now on to the next challenge- conceive in August! I mean how ridiculous that sounds. People try for months or even years before they can conceive, and here I had just a month, which means just 3-4 days in which to succeed. If I didn't conceive, I would have to wait for next August. Like hell I would wait!

Let's not get into the details of those 3-4 days. Suffice to say we were like rabbits. We happened to be in the Valley of Flowers on a trek in August of 1992 and I believe Atreya was conceived on the way back in Rishikesh. When I tested myself using an off-the-shelf pregnancy kit back in Delhi, my heart was in my mouth. When I saw the result, I left my lab at IIT Delhi without a word to anyone and went straight to my gynae, without an appointment. I still remember the disbelief in her eyes.

Well, I had the best 36 weeks of pregnancy- no nausea, no illness, no asthma. I felt fitter than I had ever felt and so happy that it gives me goosebumps to remember that state. Then around the 36th week, Atreya decided he had to come out, so he stopped breathing and was birthed by C-section on April 14, my mom's birthday!

Such a smart baby, because by April 18th, I was in the throes of the worst ever asthma attack.  I was so sick that at one point, my mother called my dad, who was in Srilanka, telling him to be prepared for the worst.  Had Atreya been inside me at that time, I don't think either of us would have survived.

Now, isn't this the most delightful unbelievable miracle-laden story. Atreya had to be born. I had to be his mother. The impossible had to be made possible. So, all obstacles vanished for the time required. The mountains parted and made way for me to walk through them. What a miracle!

Both my babies, Atreya and Aloka are miracle babies. I wasn't and was supposed to have them in my life. Truly they are gifts beyond reckoning from a very compassionate universe. They define who I am and tell me, am I not so very special to be defined by miracles? 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Partner in Crime!

I love my mother Chandrama Anand. She becomes a part of all my ventures, foolish or wise, and supports me as if I could never be wrong. She is ready to travel with me wherever I get the urge to go to, often at very little notice, and enjoys every place we go to. She loves everything I cook and asks for second helpings with a twinkle in her eyes- no better compliment. She takes in my friends and becomes a part of their lives, accepting them as they are, with all their goodness and oddities.

She has taken this rootless me into her house and made me feel I belong right here. She was never lonely when she was living alone, but now makes me feel it was me she was waiting for to fill her life. She lets me look after her simply, accepting everything I do (or don't do) with grace, with no drama or discomfort. She accepts every gift I get her, big or small, and takes care of it as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

This special woman makes me feel special, something I never felt earlier. It's an art, I'm telling you.

The Freedom of Choicelessness

Today, I read a post on FB by an anxious parent wondering if he should enroll his young child in an expensive school, spending a lot of money for good education. I remember similar anxiety for Atreya when I first moved to Singapore. But my decision was made for me because I figured out very soon that I will never be able to afford an international school for my boy on a single salary. Anxiety had to take a back seat and I put him in the nearest neighborhood school that cost me next to nothing.

Over the years, he changed schools a couple of times but stayed in the public school system, a highly competitive and stressful environment, even by Indian standards. Sports are given lip service. Obedience and rote learning are considered virtues. Kids as young as 4 year olds are sent for tuition classes and continue to do so until they pass out from high school. 80% of kids wear glasses to read because of the lifestyle. On the positive side, infrastructure is good. Teachers are qualified and labs well-equipped. And kids are safe.

But at that time, none of this mattered. I had no choice, period.

Even when I could finally afford to move him to an International school many years later, we didn't make the move because I had figured out by then that when some doors are closed on us, we learn to open other doors by ourselves. Sometimes, not having external resources and choices is a good thing- it forces you to dig for resources hidden within you.

Atreya spent the first six years of schooling unmindful of the stress around him, mainly because I was unmindful of it. I had other things to worry about. I did try to help him with difficult concepts in maths and Hindi, but he was left to his own devices for most part.

In his secondary school, I stayed the same but Atreya changed. He became serious about his studies and started enjoying beating the system by hard work and love for what he was learning. When he passed his O levels, he broke all records of the neighborhood school by getting distinction in 7 out of 8 subjects, without any tuition of any sorts. Till last year, 4 years after he graduated from the school, his picture was hanging outside his school and his record remained unbroken (it probably is till today).

But more than this academic achievement, what makes me proud is the kind of person Atreya is today. He is intelligent, disciplined and hard-working like no one else I have seen, considerate towards others and in touch with his emotions. What he is today is partly due to the harsh environment he had to face at school and partly due to the opposite kind of environment at home.

I could use the money saved from expensive school education to travel extensively and buy a house where we lived happily for many years. Even the decision to adopt Aloka was possible because I had control over my expenses. Life lessons came along the way. He saw me struggle and work hard and enjoy my work and take care of people who worked with me, and that was perhaps the best tuition he ever got. He learned to live life without someone watching over him all the time and in the process, became responsible and independent. He traveled with me to far-off places and developed love and respect for nature and the environment.

The type of school he went to did perhaps stunt some aspects of his personality, we would never know, but what he gained is not to be scoffed at either. Could he have been a sportsman if he had attended an International school? Possibly! Could he have chosen to explore his creativity in music and art? Possibly! Would he have learned to manage his time and become disciplined there? Who knows! Would he have grown up to become a kind and thoughtful person? Who knows.

My advice to the young man worrying about his kid's schooling- just be a good dad. Engage with your kid. Show her how to to live by living a good life. Share your struggles and victories openly and often. Be kind and fair. Don't make money the counter to measure your happiness. Choose to love life and she will learn to do the same. This is the only choice worth making. All else will take care of itself. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

RSO first batch

Today, I made my first batch of RSO. Writing this post to document some of the events and emotions as I went about it.

Mom, Sonu, Aloka and I went to Banjar valley near Kullu to collect the buds. It took me some time to know exactly what I needed, but in any case, we had to be quick about the collection, so a lot of material was collected, including leaves and seeds.

Back home, I separated the buds from the rest, which took mommy and I about 2 hours to do about half of it, and then later, I had to spend another 2 hours to finish the separation.

I then put the buds for drying in the basement. First I used the fan, but later decided to use the blower/heater and it worked great. In 2 days, the buds were quite dry.

The leaching process was quite ok (used Tony uncle's old turban to strain), but I struggled with the boiling off of the alcohol. I used the water method- placed a pan on top of a large bowl of boiling hot water. At first, the pan I used was very thick. So I replaced it with a paraat. Later, I realized that the bowl needs to be filled with hot water to the brim. So did that. And later, changed the water bowl every 5-7 minutes, so that the paraat could stay hot. The actual evaporation process was quite fast, once it started that is. At the end, I overdid it. The oil became too thick. Lesson learned- have to watch the pan like a hawk and take it off as soon as the bubbles disappear.

As a result, it was quite a struggle getting the oil into syringes. Mom was such a great help. In the end, we had to add some alcohol to thin the oil. I am not so sure about that part. Will surely avoid this dilution in the next batch.

All in all, I am very pleased with the effort and result. But I am anxious about its use.

Will Kismat aunty feel ok taking it?  I know the quantity I have is not enough to treat her cancer, but I have other fears. Will it give her an unnecessary high? Will she sleep better? Will it help her get better? If it were me using it, I would be bolder with its use. But with someone else, the responsibility is harder to shoulder.

I hope and pray this is the right thing to give her at this stage. I hope and pray that it will help her with insomnia and pain. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Change in Me

When I was 18 and married to a man I believed I loved, I learned an important lesson in life- that nothing is perfect. And another- that you get used to imperfections. And another- that you can choose to be happy even when things don't pan out as you would like them to.

I saw my ideal of happiness die bit by bit everyday. And I saw myself adjusting my idea, and ideal, of happiness every day. I stayed in love, even when everything I considered loving to be had evaporated. I stayed happy, even when everything that would have made me remotely happy was taken away from me.

And through all this, I was not passive. I accepted everything that was happening with rigor. I accepted lack of love with honor. I accepted shame with courage. I accepted illness with dreaminess. I accepted heartbreak with a smile. I accepted failure with a mad drive to win. And I plowed on doggedly. Plowing on was my weapon. The fact that I was trapped- by my youth, by my lack of resources, by my lack of choices, by my illness, by my pride- was the very thing that set me free.

Now, at this stage in life, I don't accept imperfections. Not in myself, not in those I love. I demand high standards from myself, and from those I love. Today, I do not allow my ideal of happiness to be diluted. I do not stare in shock at horrors committed against my ideals, only to blink away their memory. I stay shocked and I act and I remember. I do not compromise on my principles. I do not allow any nonsense cloaked as "love" or "pride" to win any battle against my dignity.

Today, I am free of the trappings of youth. I  have more resources than I ever wished for. And I am at a stage where I don't have to defend my choices to anyone. Yes, I still have pride, but not the kind that holds me down. Guilt and shame are no longer close friends, just acquaintances. See, the very things that set me on a mad journey towards freedom and dreams 30 years ago have vanished. And not just the circumstances, but the person herself seems changed.

Today, when I am 48, mother of two children, having lived for the last 14 years on my own terms, having succeeded beyond expectations and failed horribly in a hundred different ways, I have learned another important lesson- that nothing is perfect, but that doesn't mean one should stop wanting it to be. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Just Another Human

Not a thing to be possessed
Nor, on the flip side, protected...
I am not a belonging.

Not to be ashamed of
Nor, on the flip side, be proud of...
Not to be judged.

Not to be held captive
Nor, on the flip side, be given freedom...
Not to be owned.

Not to be stared at
Nor, on the flip side, be ignored...
Not an object.

Not to be handed over
Nor, on the flip side, be kept...
Not a burden.

Not to be suspected
Nor be considered inconsequential...
Not a fool.

Not to be put on a pedestal
Nor, on the flip side, smashed to pieces...
Not a trophy.

Not an object, a fool, a burden, or a trophy
I am a woman
And like you, just 
another human. 


Today, my brother turns 50.

When I said to him "What a great day", he said "What's so special about that. It's just another birthday".

He is like that. Very practical and self effacing.

But it got me thinking. Although 50 is just a number, it is a powerful one. It's not really halfway into an average lifetime, because, tell me, how many of us can hope of living up to 100!

But something makes 50 powerful, more powerful than 49, or even 51.

50 is when my mom says Kashmir was different when she visited many years ago and I say how many years ago and she says 50 and I am like wow!

50 is like that. It gives us a sense of history. It's palpable. It is awe inspiring.

It is something lots of people care for, like statisticians and public health folks. Actually, I am sure that if dad were alive today, he would have cited statistics about how many people live up to 50.

Happy birthday Arun. 50 years ago, our mom gave birth to you. It was a special day, for you, and for us. Have a great day and a lovely life ahead. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pop Anatomy!

During the 12-hour drive back home from Srinagar, mom and Aloka played many games, one of then being the anatomy game. This is how it went. 

Mom- Aloka, how many kidneys do you have? 
Aloka (confidently)- Two! 
Mom (with pride)- Very good. And where are these kidneys?
Aloka pointing to the middle of her chest- Here!
(Pop goes the proud nani's bubble. After a lot of laughter, the game continues. )

Mom- Aloka how many lungs do you have?
Aloka- Two! Right lung and left lung.
Mom (again with pride)- Wow that's great!
Aloka- One for eating and one for drinking.
(Pop, pop! There goes the bubble again)

Mom- What is the gall bladder for?
Aloka- What's that?
Mom- It's an organ that produces juices that help the liver...
Aloka- Juices? Nani, what flavour are those juices? Cranberry? Orange?
(Pop, pop, pop! That was the end of the anatomy class!)

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's a Girl!

Yesterday, I was at once shocked and delighted to hear my driver say with a long sad face "uskay beta hua hai ji". (Alas, she has given birth to a son). 

Then I realized he was talking about their cow! At least in some species, daughters are awaited eagerly...

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I have been hearing this song for over a year now, but only recently understood it because of my better understanding of Punjabi. And once I understood it, I have started loving it. Not because of its musicality, which is not particularly great, but because of the lyrics. And not because the lyrics are very poetic or deep, but because of the intent behind them. 

This is a song of a woman of confidence- confidence in herself and in her love. Here is a woman who is not afraid to declare her love for fear of rejection. Here is a woman who is not waiting for her lover to come to her, but is determined to get to him. What a wonderful sentiment. 

First the song, then my translation of it in English. 

Boohey Barian ena li kandan tap ke
aawangi hawa ban ke
boohey barian hai, boohey barian...

Chand charda te saarey loki paye takadey
doongey paniyan ch pher deewey paye baldey
kandey lag jaangi, kacha ghara ban ke
main awangi hawa ban ke
boohey barian hai, boohey barian

dil diyan rahan utey peher nahin lagdey
mukadaran te likhey hoye mit nahin sakadey
mainun rab ne banaya teri layee oye
mathey tera naam likh ke
boohey barian hai, boohey barian

bazi ishke di jit launngi sohnia 

main rab ton dua mang ke
boohe barian hai boohey barian...

I will come to you like breeze
Unhindered by closed doors or windows
Flowing over walls and hills. 

See how people come out to watch the full moon
See how they float their clay lamps in the river
I too will cross the river to come to you, floating freely like an earthen pot
I will flow to you like breeze...
Unhindered, unhindered

There are no barriers my love can't surpass
No one can erase what's been written as my destiny
You see, God has made me just for you
It's as if your name is written on my forehead...
Unhindered, unhindered.

I will win this battle of love my darling
I will demand you from God
Unhindered, unhindered. 

Hear the lounge version here:

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Mommy singing her favorite song "Mere sajan hain uss paar, mein iss paar, o mere manjhi abki baar..." At this point, Aloka interjects to say "modi sarkar"!!!

It was so funny that I had to ignore the tragedy!


Mom, while teaching aloka sarvnam (pronouns in hindi), was making up sentences and asking Aloka to identify the sarvnam. I overheard this from the kitchen where I was making evening tea. 

Mom- Veh jaa rahay hain. 
Aloka - Veh

Mom- Tum yahan ao.
Aloka- Kahan aaon nani?
(Lots of laughter once Aloka understood it was just a sentence)

Mom- Mein bas kar rahi hun? 
Aloka- Why? What have I done?
(Some more laughter at Aloka's inability to separate content from intent)

Mom- Convert this to sarvnam. Aloka pagal hai.
Aloka- Mom, mom, nani is calling me pagal. I will not learn from her.

And thus ended the hindi lesson!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Spat

She waits
He is late.
She is angry
He is defensive.
She needs an apology
He is unrepentant.
She has her reasons
He has his reasons.
She shuts him out
He raises his voice.
She is hurting
He is smarting.
He walks off
She sees red.
She calls him, twice
He cuts the line, twice
She messages
He does not respond.
She feels powerless
He feels oppressed.
She threatens
He smokes.
She is hopping mad
He, escapist, is calm.
She complains to his friend
He feels smothered.
She feels unloved
He feels unloved.
Her eyes redden
His heart is breaking.
He calls
She declines the call.
He messages
She doesn't respond.
She waits
He waits.

They will make up, eventually, we all know how it goes
But the heart can only take so much, before it refuses to bow. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This is a House of Women

This is a house of women
Not one, not two, but of three generations.

In this house, we don't live in fear
Of anyone's anger or lack of cheer.

Here, no one uses their voice to subjugate
And hands have long forgotten that they can be raised.

Here, we don't go to bed angry or dismayed
Kindness trumps revenge any day.

Here, everyone learns, the young, the old, the in-between 
Becoming better humans, more loved and more loving.

Many games are played here, except those of power 
No one's a messiah, everyone's a savior.

Here, friends are welcomed with open arms
Doors are open, food is good and warm.

Come, step into this house of happy women
Not one, not two, but of three generations! 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hello Grief!

Today I chanced upon this poem by Matthew Dickman- just the right words for today! I saw the poem as a movie, descriptive, graphic...I love the representation of grief as a "purple gorilla". I love her gentle admonition of the poet's handling of her grief- the crying in the check-out line, the smoking and drinking. The whole poem is beautiful in its honesty. And it is me all the way.

Reminds me of a poem I had written sometime back. First Matthew's and then mine.

Grief- by Matthew Dickman
When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the check-out line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? She says,
reading the name out loud, slowly
so I am aware of each syllable
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.

from American Poetry Review, 2008

Companion (Mine)

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 grinding 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.