Independence Day!

It’s that time of year again! Out come the flags and buntings, the patriotic songs that play on loop on the radio, the themed contests on TV, the patriotic status updates and cover pics…yup Independence Day is here…time to feel proud of flag and country! Time to celebrate ‘coz no matter how sorry the state of affairs, for once we have only ourselves to blame 😉 Oh yeah! This is our very own ‘Independent’ mess thank you very much! The Brits have been gone 68 years 😛 Perhaps I’m being overly and unnecessarily flippant – it’s intentional! It’s my safety mechanism…trying to, and inevitably failing to make myself feel better by being humorous about the stuff that in reality has me crying inside.

I’m the first to admit, that although I go through the motions of changing my FB cover & profile pic (the entire extent of my patriotism…a little sad that eh? I consciously didn’t do it this year though!), like a lot of fellow Indians; in my heart all I’m thinking is, ‘What a load of BS’! Not Independence per se you understand. NEVER Independence in itself, just the patriotic avowals that one feels compelled to make, as if to prove that on this one day among all others, our love of country is supreme and overwhelming. Before you hang and quarter me for treason – I do love my country. It’s inexplicable really. There’s not much to love on the face of it – India seen through my admittedly cynical eyes is sadly lacking in most qualities I prize and hold dear and want my son to learn and live. And although we love to blame our politicians for every catastrophe this nation of ours suffers, I blame US. We, the People. We – who tolerate and compromise and manipulate and teach our future generations to do exactly the same while all the time blaming a system that none of us raises a finger to change, coz it’s just too hard isn’t it? How on earth can we be expected to fight injustice and oppose wrong if it means putting our lives at risk? What will happen to our families that we leave behind? Heaven Forbid! No! That was another time – when people were still selfless and motivated. When they truly martyred themselves for Freedom. I’ve often wondered whether it’s easier against a definite foreign threat. Is it? Is it harder to rally, to unite when the danger is from within? When corruption, deception and subjugation come in the form of Indian politicians and goons and often our next-door neighbours, as opposed to the British? If it is, why is it so?

How many of us Indians are prepared to die for India today if that be the need of the hour? And I mean really die – take that bullet in the chest kind of dying as opposed to talking about being ready to die at the dinner table. I know I’m not. Hell, I’m not even brave enough to take a stand publicly for what I believe in. Mine is a closet bravado – I’m a crusader only within the safe confines of my home. Am I ashamed of feeling this way? Not particularly, no. Does it hurt that I’m not ashamed of being unashamed – maybe sometimes…but not enough to get off my butt and do anything about it. Honest to goodness. Not nearly enough. So why blame the politicians? Why blame Government? When the very fabric of our country is old and mouldy, whats the point of using it to stitch new clothes and wishing they would last longer, fit better?

I love India, love her like I love my Mom…it’s automatic. But liking her is a choice that often fails me. And pride?..I wish I could say that I had pride in my country, but I cannot. Not honestly. I had huge hopes when we returned home, to a country on the verge of exciting times or so I naively believed, and yes if success is to be judged by the number of malls being built, the number of cars on the road, the bevy of international brands that have set up shop here, then I suppose, yes, we’ve been successful. But I’ve reached a time in my life where I know for a fact that material success, attractive and desirable as it is, is just a minuscule part of true well-being. I feel like we’ve become selectively aspirational as a society, like money is now our only motivator, so that if we’re driving a ‘beamer’, who cares that that the road is non-existent! I’ve lived in Bangalore for a year and I can confidently say that the craters on the moon would be easier to navigate! The same goes for our education system…it deteriorates by the day and I watch as we continue to choose mediocrity over creative enterprise, marks over abilities and stereotypes over originality. We’re in the 21st century and apparently, with China, the next emerging superpower (this always makes me laugh and not in a good way), but in my state of Goa, one of the most advanced states in the country, we still don’t have enough drinking water and electricity for every citizen :/ The less said about states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Orissa the better. Why even the capital Delhi struggles with these basic issues! But we’re going to turn Mumbai into Shanghai. Meh.

Living here these past 5 years has taught me that much of the change I see is superficial, haphazard and poorly executed; so Mumbai gets a spanking new Metro but leaky-roofed trains! It’s a personal opinion based on personal experience, so feel free to disagree, as I know a lot of you will. I do believe that we must ‘Be the Change we want to See’ – but like most people I too am, at best inconsistent and at worst apathetic…easily swayed by my own moods and circumstance 😦 All I see is tons of wasted potential and a complete lack of motivation in changing status quo…from everyone concerned – government and citizens alike. If you have hope – well good for you. I don’t – not particularly. Not unless there’s a radical change in us from within. Not unless we give up this meekness (that so often masquerades as respect) and find the strength to truly stand up for ourselves, and by that I don’t mean FB status updates and more dinner table analysis. I mean a consistent, conscious effort to obey the rules – something most Indians manage to do only when they’re abroad! I should know – I’m one of them. Better than most, worse than others.

So the next time you break a traffic rule (of course you will! Don’t even bother to deny it!), it means not bribing the cop, not throwing around your connections (of course you’re the minister’s best friend) and doing it even when you know it’s going to lead to a whole lot of  pain and wasted time ahead. Would you? Could you? I know my Hubby won’t. He’ll think it’s a colossal waste of time that will achieve nothing, change nothing! The tragedy is that although I’ll argue with him, deep down I’ll know he’s right. When we’ve become immune to horrific rapes and endless wars, what’s a little bribe to the neighbourhood cop? It’s a Herculean task and I’m afraid one that we will have to achieve each one for ourselves without much support and few role models.

This has turned into a first-class rant eh?! Truly, I didn’t want to seem so negative and yet these are my deepest fears for my India, that I love despite everything I’ve just said, all the angst I’ve just unloaded onto you poor unsuspecting readers! So although I say I have no hope, I guess I do, even if it’s the tiniest shred, buried deep under a ton of cynicism, I guess I do. ‘Coz to utterly disbelieve is the worst kind of death and I’m not quite ready for that yet. Not just yet. I think the need of the hour is no less than a Renewed Freedom Struggle…this time from internal oppressors and from our own shortcomings – from weakness of character and the need to conform; from rabid materialism and defining success solely in terms of income; from vacuous dinner table conversations and the all-pervasive haunting inertia that I fear will be the death of a country with a glorious past and an uncertain future.

I feel like India is poised on the edge of a precipice, testing Her wings…I hope She chooses wisely. I hope She does what I believe She was meant to do. I hope She becomes truly Independent. I hope She FLIES FREE 🙂

Week-32_High

 

The Savoury Bakes Workshop with Nandita Iyer

I’m beginning to rely on the inimitable Dr. Iyer for my food photography fix! Yesterday I attended my third workshop with her – Savoury Baking. Since I’m not fond of sweets this workshop was perfectly suited to my needs. I love savouries and the sight of a perfectly baked quiche is rapturous to say the least 🙂 Which is precisely what we did! Baked a quiche I mean among other stuff which included Golden Cornbread Muffins that packed a subtle jalapeño punch; a Cheese & Walnut savoury cake that was surprisingly light and luscious; and some crispy, salty crackers that are fast becoming my new addiction 😛

As I’ve said in my previous post, Nandita is a fantastic teacher and a very warm and fun person to be with. She holds the classes in her beautiful home and graciously shares her private space with us eager beavers! What I really love about the classes other than learning new dishes and meeting new people, is that I get to indulge my passion for photography! As a friend of mine said – Baking and Photography seem made for each other 🙂 They are so wonderfully complimentary! Am already looking ahead to next time 🙂

Here are the pictures, collages this time of the scrumptious treats we baked! And for the food enthusiasts among you, do check out Nandita’s food blog at Saffron Trail for details of future workshops, her youtube channel and some great recipes!

Very Vintage!

This Republic Day (26th of January), we headed to Junior’s school to ogle the Vintage cars on display. I confess I was the most eager of our trio to make the hour-long journey to school on a holiday…all from my new-found motivation to jumpstart my photography! Once there however, we were all equally excited 🙂 Maybe it’s just me, but nothing warms the heart quite like the sight of an old car! And these were POSH. Elegant, curvy, sparkling bodies with a latent grace that stole my heart and took me straight back to the days when they ruled the roads. I know there are some awesome machines in this day and age too, but these made me nostalgic for simpler times, when not only speed but form mattered; for the world of Poirot 😉

The pics don’t do them justice. They were displayed in the harsh afternoon light and there were swarms of teachers and students everywhere. Some I just took with my iPhone coz that seemed easier! My only regret is that they weren’t driven around the ground! Now that would have been a stunning site. My favourite was a blue Daimler that had once belonged to Motilal Nehru, father of India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. That blue was something else! Royal 🙂

Hope you like! Happy Tuesday People 🙂

The Birthday Story…

So here we go again…another year under a considerably broader belt 😉 Isn’t it wonderful how the years have been expansive in addition to everything else?

I had thought of what I wanted to say and it was pretty much the same stuff I say every year around this time. Then an hour ago, I listened to this talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie entitled The Danger of a Single Story and she blew me away with her eloquence and the simple lucidity with which she articulated her thoughts. She was brilliant and the subject matter intriguing. She talks about how we cannot know a place or a person unless we know all their stories – and there are many. How we can dispossess and diminish people by concentrating on just one of their stories, when empowerment and humanity are just another story away. What she said isn’t new, but the way she said it was powerful and I listened spellbound. She’s a fantastic storyteller. If you have a few minutes, give her a listen. You won’t regret it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

And so naturally I began to think of all the different stories that make me who I am today and that continue to evolve around and within me shaping my tomorrows. There are ongoing sagas and a million short stories. There is poetry and farce. It’s part soap-opera and part fairy tale. And at the very heart of it all is me – just another little speck of dust whirling away in the Big U – following my own orbit and trying to figure out ‘What Next? What’s the next story?’

And I find myself asking that now – what is that next story? But it’s mostly rhetoric, you know what I mean? It’s what makes this journey exciting – the not-knowing! So although there are a few stories that even now are unfolding and others that lie nascent – all I want to do today is be thankful for all of them. And I want to thank my friends and my family for allowing me into their lives, their hearts and their stories – cause that is what I am – the product of a million different tales. I am honoured and I am grateful. It’s been wonderful and it’s been worth it 😀

And if you still haven’t wished me – well that’s a whole ‘nother story 😉 😛

Have a Happy Day People ❤

Here’s to Stories & Storytellers everywhere 🙂

I’m Back!

I’m back!! Hopefully some of you have missed me 😉 while I have been having the time of my life on vacation 😛 No really! I missed you too!

There’s good news and bad news (isn’t there always?) – lets just get the bad news out of the way first shall we? My laptop has died on me 😦 Yup. It’s dead, and although I will be able to retrieve my hard disk and hopefully recover my data…I’m going to be without one for the first time in nearly a decade. Not easy and certainly not very nice. Still, thanks to the iPad, I don’t have to be cut off from my virtual world entirely. That would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions indeed! That’s the good news, sort of.

What irritates most is the fact that I’m stuck in Goa with a hard disk full of vacation pictures that I had planned to edit and sort while here, to go with my blog posts. Now that will just have to wait until the new laptop arrives, which will take a while 😦 so until then, I’m afraid I’ll just have to make do with the few pics I have on my phone…or not.

But I don’t want to put off posting any longer, so here goes! This May, we visited Lisbon, Albufeira and other towns in Portugal‘s Algarve region, and London. We own a holiday home in Albufeira, a compact 2-BHK on the Marina that my son and I had never visited before! What a wonderful time we had! Portugal is such a throwback to the Golden Age of Goa 🙂 From the beautiful, elegant vibe of Lisbon to the relaxed yet hip vibe of Albufeira; From the mingling of Oceans at Sagres to the fruit-laden citrus orchards on the way to Faro; every moment was exciting – full of discovery, wonder and fun 🙂 What I loved so much about Portugal was its simplicity – the warm and friendly people, the lack of obvious consumerism, the leisurely pace of life, the pristine beaches of The Algarve, the stunning pottery, vinho verde, the utterly enchanting Tagus riverfront, the wild flowers dotting the countryside, the pretty white cottages and villas with colourful gardens, the gigantic yet fragrant roses, the fabulous food, the formidable history, the juicy local strawberries, the hip vibe of Bairo Alto, Rossio and Chiado, the stunning tile work that is famous the world over…the list is never ending 😉 In a nutshell, it felt familiar and comfortable – it felt like Home 🙂

image
Blue all around!
Albufeira Beach as Sunset approaches...
Albufeira Beach at Sunset

Every morning I would walk down the Marina to the Ocean inhaling the crisp sea-scented breeze and sit staring at the waves and watching the gulls play. Never tired of the sight – the vast expanse of turquoise ‘neath an azure sky and the morning silence punctuated only by the squawking of gulls. It energised and soothed me at the same time 🙂 I knew that first morning, that I could do this for the rest of my days and never tire. Here is what I wrote after sitting on the edge of the Ocean on that first day!

“Walked along the Marina to the fisher men’s dock…such beauty and quietitude 🙂 I sat and watched the occasional humans walking, jogging and cycling past, I watched the noisy gulls skim the water surface looking for fishy remains?! But mostly I just stared out at the mesmerising blue-green…watching the deceptively gentle flow of the water as it flowed endlessly. Water has such constant motion doesn’t it? It’s never the same from one moment to the next, always a state of flux and yet so seemingly at peace with itself. I sat on the edge of the world or that’s how it seemed, and thought about how it was the perfect setting for contemplating life and then thought immediately about how in such a setting…there is no need for thought or contemplation at all! Everything pales in significance to the vastness and depth of oceans. No problem can compete, and one gets the feeling that a solution will ride in on the turn of the tide! Such is the ocean. You have to feel it to understand. I did. How strange that I thought of myself as a mountain girl while in my heart – the Ocean sings.”

We’ve decided to go back again next year for obvious reasons! Can’t hardly wait 🙂

Mr. & Mrs. Koel

I wish I had another Avian Love Story to share! But unlike parrots, Koels (from the Cuckoo family), are shy and these were very hard to spot! I heard the male calling first – his distinctive ‘Koo Koo’ piercing the stillness of an early morning. I ran around the house peering out the windows trying to get a glimpse, but all I saw were silent Crows 😦 Then, after a while, I spied him perched on the large, leafy Ashoka outside my kitchen window. Praying silently that he would stay I ran to fetch my camera, and had to stop (just my luck!) to change to the zoom. Miraculously, he was still there, his blood-red eye surveying his surroundings for…well I don’t know, worms, fruit, Mrs. Koel?!! I thought I spied a flutter higher up in the branches and caught a fleeting glimpse of what could have been a spotted feathery body, but it was too far away to see clearly and the leafy branches obstructed my view. I got a couple of shots before he flew away and then I resolved to watch the tree for any signs of Mrs. Koel and a courtship in progress 😛 

Two days and no luck, until this morning I spotted Mrs. Koel, on the same tree, on the same branch, reaching for a fruit!! I almost fell over with excitement, but had to rush again to fetch my camera and when I was back, she had retreated into the leaf cover 😦 Those times when I don’t Love birds, I Hate them!! Uuuuuuuuuuuugh!! I hung around for a while leaning out the window, eyes stuck onto the view-finder, but then Junior was up and it was time to get the morning routine started. Mrs. Koel though was never far from my mind 😉

I watched for her intermittently while going about my chores and suddenly there she was again, just as I was frying fish for Junior’s lunch…still hidden but revealed in her brown-grey spotted plumage when the branches swayed in the breeze!! 🙂 It was rather like playing Avian hide & seek 😀 I got some pictures, and although they’re not as good as I wanted, I’m just glad I managed to capture her on film so to speak. She was rather plump, beautiful and reticent, and I can see why Mr. Koel would be interested 😉 It’s a wonder I didn’t burn the fish 😛

When I told my Aunt about how I spent most of morning chasing birds, she thought I was Nuts! You need to get your priorities right she said laughingly – Children before Birds 😀 😉 I know where mine are 😛

I wish Mr. & Mrs. Koel all the best 🙂

Koel

Related articles:

January Lessons

See? You blink and the month’s gone! And this one has been, well, a ‘monster’ month in terms of events for me and mine.

It started out happily enough but things got pretty insane towards the end – two deaths in my family, one gruesome – a life cut short tragically; the other – from natural causes after a life well lived but still sudden and unexpected. Both these events taught me stuff – about myself, about my family and about life. Where do I begin?

Perhaps the most important lesson is “DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED. NOT PEOPLE. NOT LIFE.” It’s not new this one, but Life has a way of reinforcing it, as if to make sure you never forget. I try hard to live in the present and to respect myself and the people around me, and I’m getting better at not taking things for granted – it gets easier with time. Still, getting over a punch in the solar plexus is NOT easy and I wish there was an easier way to learn some lessons. This was way too hard and I’m not done getting over it yet.

A corollary to that first Mega lesson is the knowledge that ‘I WILL SURVIVE.’ And as an extension the lesson learnt being, ‘THE HUMAN SPIRIT IS MEANT TO SURVIVE.’ It is. Truly. We survive unmentionable horrors (a brief glance through World history & our own, should be convincing enough), and I don’t mean we just get through them. I mean we get through and over them and go on to lead fulfilling lives again. Maybe not the same ones as before; but changed yet equally if not more meaningful and cherished. Yes, I have had my faith affirmed in the fact that our basic instinct and function is Survival. All this is not to say that it’s easy. Au contraire, climbing Mount Everest is easier, in a manner of speaking, but with the support of a loving family the odds are very much in our favour. I’ve always found the internal self-conflicts to be most challenging. It’s very hard to make changes when no one’s watching, when the only person affected is you. Isn’t it strange how we can change so easily for others but find it so hard to do for ourselves? Perhaps it’s generations of societal conditioning at work.

Another important lesson, ‘NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP.’ I don’t. Often I rely on my friends more than my family – especially for non-judgmental, unbiased advice. I have been blessed in my friendships! I have a strong support group of the most amazing women, who love and comfort and nurture me when I’m hurting and without whom my life would be considerably diminished. I christen it as of now – My Circle of Love’! Thank you Girls. I love you ALL. You know who you are 🙂

How about this for a lesson? ‘LISTEN. OBSERVE. COMMUNICATE.’ Losing a family member viciously the way we did taught me that I need to be more attentive to my family – to their feelings and their thoughts. I need to be actively engaged with them and ‘Listen’ when they speak, so I can hear the sadness that’s hidden by rage and the despair lurking behind the scorn. I need to be alert for signs of stress and be willing to help without being judgmental. And if and when the time arises, I must be unafraid to step on toes and push through boundaries to get them the help they need, especially when they don’t want it. None of this is easy but it has to be done if incidents like the one we’ve just suffered are to be avoided in the future. And they HAVE to be. The alternative is unacceptable.

As I write I see that none of these are lessons I haven’t been taught before. None of them are new, but all of them are crucial. Perhaps the most important of all is ‘FAITH.’ And I don’t mean the religious kind either, although if that’s your rock then so be it. I mean Faith in a broader sense – a belief that things will get better, that a crisis will resolve, that tomorrow will be a better day. Faith in the self, and in the goodness of others. It’s not easy to do when the world around you is crumbling and nothing makes sense, but then again, nothing worth fighting for is ever easy huh? Unfair? You bet! And yet to live without Faith and Hope, is the bleakest sort of life, a sorry excuse for living.

So, as this rather tumultuous beginning to the year draws to a close, here is to Better Days. Happy Days. Peaceful Days – for you and for me 🙂 Coz Lord knows we’ve earned them!

And here is one of my favourite poems…it never fails to revive my flagging spirit & seems utterly appropriate in the light of all that has come to pass 🙂

Invictus

Cheers to February! May it be Joyful!

Grief

I’m tired of grieving. Really I am. And it’s not even been a week since it all began. We lost a family member last week and now today on the 4th Anniversary of my brother’s passing; my Mom called in the morning to tell me of my uncle’s passing – my Dad’s older brother, whom we called Bhau (brother). He had been unwell recently, nothing serious, but a few chest pains and a couple of trips to the ICU later, he seemed to be doing okay. This morning he was fine and even opened the door to his younger brother, over for a visit, then went in and sat down, had a massive heart attack and was gone all in the space of a few seconds. C’est la vie.

When it comes to death and condolences what can one say or do really that makes a difference? Nothing. Perhaps being present is enough in that the bereaved family feels comforted by the presence of people who loved the one gone as much as they did. And for those of us who cannot be present, we call, we write, we mourn silently from afar. My uncle had a fulfilling life. He was 79 and leaves behind a loving family, both immediate and extended that loved and respected him when he lived, and will honor his memory and miss him terribly now that he’s gone. If that isn’t a sign of a life well lived, I don’t know what is. Mom says my aunt and he would have been married 50 years in 2014…a milestone missed. Still, he didn’t suffer and went peacefully, not a bad way to go, inasmuch as these things go I suppose. And so another family member lost within a matter of days.

All the events of the past few days fill me with a longing for my childhood, a time when life was so much simpler, carefree and joyous. When tragedy meant a scraped knee, a lost pencil, missing the school picnic, getting yelled at by the Principal, exams…you know, the little stuff that seemed so catastrophic then. Oh that life was as simple now! How I long for those days when the worst of my fears and most of my tears could be kissed away by Mom. I do it now for Ishaan and I dread the day, all too soon, when my Mommy Magic won’t be quite so magical any more.

I’m generally a happy person, or at least I try my best to be. So these past days, grieving as I’ve been, have drained my spirit more than I care to admit, more so because the onslaught seems unrelenting. With all that’s happening, I haven’t had time to think about my brother and the fact that I’ve survived 4 years with him being gone…all of us have. It feels strange that this day will now be in memorium for two members of my family. I remember entering the house on that fateful day 4 years ago, my brother laid out in our living room, people everywhere, blurry faces and anonymous hands, leading me gently, guiding me to his side, holding me as I wept…and I remember Bhau, sitting next to me, holding my hand and weeping with me. I had never seen him cry before and somehow his tears strengthened me. Thank you for that Bhau. You will be missed.

As for B, what can I say that I haven’t already said before? I lost a part of me forever when you left, and although I miss you every second of every day, I feel your presence by my side always, sometimes invisible, but most often in Ishaan. Love you forever – always have, always will.

And now, I’m asking, no, I’m telling whoever is in charge…my family needs a break. Send us some Joy.

Rumi

Monkton Mondays

This is a sober start to the week. The week that was has been grim and life changing in a gruesome way. My family is battling to rise above a horrific tragedy and it’s going to take a long while before we can feel whole and sane again.

I didn’t think I would post today but then I realized that I have to make the effort myself. No one else can do my ‘getting over it’ for me. And so this is why, this picture from Mr. Monkton…The Penguin of Death. It’s a subtle reminder to not take anything in Life for granted, and most importantly Life itself…coz we don’t know what’s waiting round the next corner nor it seems what lurks in the hearts of the ones we love and trust. For all we know, they may be reincarnations of The Death Penguin!

The Penguin of Death

 

I hope it’s a good week ahead – for you and for me.

Stay safe People.