Exile – 2


Dissident Voice’s Sunday Poetry section. DV is a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice.

 

Broken Lives 

In the stillness of the old house
my fingers leave traces on the
dust-shrouded sepias of broken lives—
their names only half remembered—
parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins—
in the courtyard of our ancestral home,
or surrounded by vast areas of snow
that now weigh heavy on my heart
as I close my eyes and find a dream
in which the mist of old memories
veils the far distant hills and
bare trees that stand transfixed
like bleached skeletons,
their summer songs exorcised
the grey of sorrow clouds the sky
I recall a bright wood fire blazing
fragrant with the scent of my homeland
making figures like themselves
to celebrate the coming of new snow
but that was before innocence was lost
and the snow turned red with blood
as their sculptures gradually died
and vanished from sight forever
in the years since I last saw snow fall
winter has become a grisly metaphor
for the loss of life and hope
and things that will never be again

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Monday Memories – 14 – You and I – Absence


rambling thoughts

rolling

like a pebbles

directionless

homeless

gathering dust

gathering memories

now stuck between

a rock

and hard place

it is raining incessantly

It had to pour

Something has shifted

since the time silence

fell upon us like a sword

so cold, so sharp one could cut oneself on it

A silence

that has rendered

me invisible

and

in this chaos of sadness

memories have turned green

under the

the empty aching blue

of your absence

and my heart

from this great distance

watches helplessly

nostalgia was supposed to be about

moments shared

memories created

laughter, kisses

endless conversations

songs hummed together

in different continents

pictures, poems, stories

waking up in each others arms

being silly

arguments. lovers quarrels

even silences

and

make up sex ( in whatever way it was possible)

Never Ever in my wildest moment

I believed

It would be

YOU

personified

I existed at two places

here

and

where you are

with miles and miles

of ocean between us

I drew you into my world –

 real  and imagined

painted pictures in words

but didn’t know where to draw a line

there are times even now

when I can’t decide

which one of us is missing

I don’t know which pain is

more excruciating,

the shock of what happened

or the ache of what never will be

I know it is over

as simply as it began (and I am trying to convince myself even now that THIS is a mirage not THAT )

THAT which is real

in my heart

throbbing

pulsating

a wound

which is

as much yours

as

mine

(Ah! the joy of pain we so willingly endure)

there are many words

you left unsaid

many questions

 you never asked

(maybe they were things you were afraid to know)

and many went unanswered

in your hesitation

I found all my answers (so I believed)

each of us

for all our lives

live

so bitterly

misunderstood

I listened to the friction within you

of wanting and not wanting

missing and yet not connecting

I heard it all

but my heart

it deliberately chose

selective hearing

and imagined a glimmer of hope

in the slithers of sun

that warmed like  love

and tickled me in glimpses

 between the veiled Autumnal shadows

that loomed large

closing in from all sides

nothing haunts us like the things

we never say

(sometimes also those which we so carelessly say)

I would not have left you

on that September afternoon

had I known it would be our last

 the regret pains my heart

now among other things

I dream of lost vocabularies

that may express what we no longer can

but even tough the words have turned stranger

it is alright

for I know

what we are

and what

we could not be

there wasn’t a  closure

No goodbyes

and I hope (there is still a hope)

that one day

when you  make an inventory of lost things

you will find me and remember

what I meant to you

till then

I will do what I do best

move in the rhythm

with your ebb and flow

All of  You and Me   

I collect your whispers and arranged them in tight sentences (lest they flee) try to make sense of it. In your absence sadness of things speaks for you. Your abject indifference has seeped in and taken shape of everything around me. Words have long since turned strangers. The cell phone has turned into a paper weight. No, if you think I am saying all this because I miss you you are wrong. One doesn’t miss oneself but gutters too have limits when the sky pours it’s rain .

Monday Memories 2 – Memories From A Distant Meal Or One Moment In Time (Part 1)


I missed writing my Monday post. Too much to do and too little time. I desperately need a break to someplace quiet but that is not always possible so the next best thing I do is sit back and think of all the happy moments from the past.

Do moments from the past taste the same? Yes, sometimes they do. Moments which were like Pinot Noir grapes  turn into mature, vintage wine with time.

Yesterday I was thinking how certain aromas, textures, mouth feels, tastes, flavors bring back memories of people, places, distant meals and the sense of exhilaration associated with them.  It could be your everyday meal, a childhood special treat, a stopover quick brunch on way to some place, a relaxed evening snack during a laid back holiday or a little surprise created specially for you. There is nothing like quietly slipping out of bed at night and secretly eating your favorite food, often with bare hands.No spoons, no knifes. Eating with fingers has a spiritual , therapeutic benefit to which we can talk about some other time. It is also extremely sensuous at times. :p

I believe that like music food too is highly trasnportive. We are suckers for emotions and amazingly sensitive and even a thought of a kala khatta transports me to an evening at the beach in Mumbai or a tender stuffed steak and Merlot can make me year for that particular night in the hills. Nostalgia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or return of some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable condition or setting in the past” and the best part about it is that it doesn’t discriminate against those dollops of butters, the fiery spices, the oil dripping roadside snacks, the tongue coloring lick lollies and the rest of those magically joyful delights.  Sometimes it is not just about food but it is also about the person or the place and the warmth it that fill you with.

The fondest memory is of my maternal grandmother’s home in Pune. I visited her during summer vacations and the sights and sounds, the aromas and tastes still make me hungry. I can visualize her sitting on a low stool churning white butter with almost devotion as if it was some spiritual ritual. I would linger around in the shadows waiting for the cue and land on her lap before she would call my name. I can still taste the softness fresh dollop of plum size butter dripping through her soft plump wrinkled fingers. A love that spread from her face to mine. There was a kind of an energy that passed between us at that moment. Something that even now makes me find strength in weaker moments. The best part was that none of my cousins were ever part of this luxury of love. It made me feel very special.

Travel can be very nostalgic esp if you are travelling by train or by road. As a kid the train travel revolved around incredible food smells and lip smacking tastes. The milky, sugary chai garam  in  mitti ka kullhar ( terracotta cup) n foggy winter days, the garam bajia wrapped in a piece of local newspaper, the unmistakable mouth watering station ki allu – poori ( boiled potato veggie with deep fried Indian bread) , the chana chor garam, the local ice cream which usually you won’t find anywhere else except on stations, local sweets and snacks, the list is as long as the journeys taken. Distinct  flavors  that change at every 50 Kms, region to region, district to district. You can never forget how wonderful the Agra ka petha or the Shrikhand of Gwaliar tasted on those rail journeys. It is an entire world of  authentic cuisine  waiting to be discovered. Many times I try to bring out the same flavor or texture id a particular dish I ate at some quint station but it just doesn’t happen. I guess it is a lot to do with that moment in time .

Have you ever tasted the udderly delicious colostrum milk preparation called Kharvas. I had it for the firs time as  a small girl and can never forget the taste of it. I was woken up early at dawn and rushed to witness the most amazing experience of my lifetime. My cousin showed me the little calf just three days old sitting near its proud jersey mother and other doting females. It was the first time I had fresh milk warm and rich straight from the udders .. it was an unforgettable experience and though I am not a big fan of Milk I thoroughly enjoyed it. My aunt prepared Kharvas that day and I can tell you there is nothing in the whole world that tastes that yummy. Google it 😀

There is a special kind of magic in certain kitchens Some hands dish out the most simple yet unforgettable dishes. Many of them leave you  longing for them even after s many years. Some places have specialties that haunt you to come back  like the neera centers in Lonavala and Pune, the chaat at UPSC in Delhi, the parathas at Murthal and Moolchand flyover (heard the place has shut down), the  idli sambhar of college canteen split 1/2 with bestie, the ripe jackfruit and tangy raw tamarind on a push cart in an old local Pune market, the bun omelette and tea at a roadside stall after a night out, the pot meals cooked with children and their cooking disaster/achievements which were thoroughly enjoyed, mom’s varan bhaaat etc etc..

I knew once I get on to nostalgia food train it will go on forever so the post is in two parts. I still won’t be able to cover all of it I know but will try to share as much as I can.

Though all my travels and time spent in various cities has very fond food memories some of them are special.

Special because of the people who are part of them, special because that time spent together, the fun, laughter and chilled out feeling will never return.

I will take you through that in the next post.

Meanwhile let me tell you there is no such joy as slowly licking chilled a bowlful of smooth delectable saffron freckled shrikhand with your fingers or digging into red juicy watermelons and ripe mangoes , their juices dripping down the corners of your mouth or the insides of your arms. 😀

Some fruits need to be eaten with the passion they require. Of course now in a “civilized ” society one needs to learn the “table manners” but What the Heck… sometimes we can give in to the joys of eating .. can’t we?

Watch out for Part 2 with some sizzle stories next Monday. I will go get my bar of dark chocolate.

 

Memory of Memories 2- The True Indian Summer


Only two long hours in intense heat and dust of summer afternoon, with strong hot dry wind, (loo as if is referred to in India), devoured not just the body but the soul too. It simply sucked life out of me. Mostly confined to the stabilized city life of 20 degrees Celsius in air-conditioned homes, offices and even public transport, the metropolitan dwellers are devoid of the true experience of summer that sweeps northern India and some other regions in the months of April to July. With coming up of malls and supermarkets, even those visits to local bazaars, bathed in sweat and grime , laden with cloth bags overflowing with groceries etc have become rare for us.

Indian summer is not romantic, short, and full of blooming flowers and mild sunshine like the English Summer nor is it anyway near to the descriptions we read in the western stories. It is a furnace that engulfs all that comes within the range of its gaping mouth, an extreme season with heat rising from the asphalt and sweltering hot winds screaming through  towns and villages like a lunatic. In big cities however the summer almost loses all its nuances of sun and shade, thirst and cooling sherbets, sweat and breeze. There are those for whom summer is cold dark air-conditioned places and others for whom it is dusty heatwaves, sweat, prickly heat and a doomed existence under the merciless sky with sun spitting fire.

In northern India summer is a season of trees. I have spent endless summers in north and everything revolves around shades of trees for a common man and the other creatures that are destined to atone for their sins under the surveillance of a cruel barren sky.

Sitting in cool comfort of my 20 degrees Celsius room and sipping a chilled beer I was suddenly filled with a longing for those summer afternoons that stretched languorously, endlessly. When life moved at slow leisurely pace, when long power cuts made us yearn for comforts, when preparations to combat the hellish summer was a meticulously planned task, when something new was invented everyday to pass those still, listless days and nights, when adults were too wary of controlling the children and afternoons were spent under makeshift huts of upside down chairs and cool white sheets, when we read and sang and played indigenous games, climbed trees, plucked fruits or simply lazed on a straw mat (chatayi) or  under the tree shade, mainly  flaming Gulmohar, Neem, Tamrind, or Molseri, like a buffalo immersed  in pond thankful that it doesn’t have to swish its tail to shoo away flies.

Even blinking an eyelid took effort so we just lay there, very still… sometimes carelessly nibbling on a twig of grass and trying to decipher the cacophony of  crows, mynas, barbets, parrots and other birds hidden in the thickly covered branches. We even had the house sparrows then.

As the day progressed the shops pulled the shutters down, streets wore an empty look, people dozed under huge  trees in parks and roundabouts. Schools had holidays and parents had one more trouble on their mind – how to keep the restless kids engaged but we found our own ways and even conjured up mischief , knowing none of the adults would lift a finger , leave alone come chasing us.

We have lost peace and joy to comfort and stress in these modern times. There was ample time to just do NOTHING and it did not matter at all. As the fragrant mango blossoms began to turn into small green fruits, we knew it was time to gear up for yet another summer. Earthen pots (ghada and surahi) were bought with utmost care to keep drinking water cold. We even had small earthen pots called kasoras for making curds and chilling kheer and phirni (Indian sweets made from rice and milk).

Khas mats were rolled out and a systematic arrangement was made for them to keep drenched with water. The sweet fragrance still intoxicates me as I think of the cool breeze that used to filter through them to fill the curtained room.

In the evenings water was sprinkled on terrace and garden which steamed angrily but eventually cooled down under our bare feet. Wooden woven charpoys would be neatly arranged in verandas or terrace as most people slept outdoors on summer nights. A big table fan would sometimes add some music to the stillness or we would lazily sway a hand pankhi (fan) made of cloth or straw, even old newspapers served as fans .

The nights were deeper, darker and full of zillion stars. It was a fairy tale that came alive outside the mosquito nets.  We would lie down wearing the minimum clothes needed and listen to the night sounds.

The fabric used in summer was usually handspun khadi, thin handloom or mulmul ( voile). I remember cursing the men and boys for having one advantage over us girls – they shed everything except their lowers and let the breeze flirt with them. It seemed unacceptable and cruel. We also wrapped wet gamcha ( thin cotton towel) on our heads and half of face when we stepped out in heat.

Summer food included everything that acted as a coolant. Fresh green coriander, mint, raw mango, coconut Chutneys, fresh salads of kakdi and cucumber, fresh chilled sherbets made from khus, lemon, phalsa, bel ( stone apple) were kept ready at all times. Even thandai, rooh afza, aam panna, Kokam sharbat, nariyal pani (coconut water) were great favourites.

At our home there was a tradition to offer petha or peda (Indian sweets) with cold water to anyone who came from outside. It protected against the excessive heat. Various raitas ( condiments made from yogurt) were included and dahi bhat (curd rice) seasoned with curry leaves was a must every day. Curd, in various forms was included in every meal.

Most of the meals ended with mangoes. Dashehree, langda, chausa, neelam, safeda… the variety was endless. Even the little chusee aam ( to be sucked) came in abundance. Fruits also included jamun (java plum), phalsa, watermelon, musk melon, loquat (Japanese Plum) , plums, apricots, peaches and pineapples. Mango eating was a ritual in itself. Mangoes were soaked in cool water in big tubs or buckets. None ate one or two of them. They were eaten with passion and abundance with juice dripping from between the fingers. we had to drink a bowlful of kachchi lassi or mix of water and cold milk to calm the heat after eating mangoes. Green raw mangoes were used for chutneys, pickles and aam panna (drink).

Burf ka gola (balls of crushed ice dripping with colorful sherbets) , faluda kulfi were a healthy substitute for ice cream which was a luxury at that time. We even had chilled phirni, custard, jelly, fruit smoothies etc as everyone had sweet tooth.

Roasted / boiled corn cobs with masala and lime or butter and spicy tamarind chutney (Sonth)were the delicacies we enjoyed in the evenings.

A staple thing for us kids was roasted wheat flour mixed with boora cheeni (kind of powdered sugar considered to be cooling) and namakpare or mathri. Sattu made of powdered barley, horse gram and other pulses was another coolant which we had to drink with salt or sugar. I began to enjoy it much later though. Sattu is made with seven  cereals, millets and pulses.

There was a certain pleasure in sweating it out to prepare these delicious things, serve and relish them with family. A pleasure mostly lost these days, with everything delivered and available at one call’s distance.

Being born in a family which has confluence of two cultures, added to the summer delight.

The only thing that I resented as a kid was to travel in DTC buses to public libraries and cultural centres. Reluctantly I would walk out of house at snail’s pace all covered to protect myself and believed that time was a conspirator who deliberately moved slower than ever but at later stages as a teenager I began to enjoy those outings. Sometimes we also went to India gate lawns and to see circus or visit old city, monuments, parks and museums etc.

I itch to go back to those days, and to the true Indian summer which is now only a memory. I am glad that I made my kids experience at least some of it by taking them to village and other places I had visited and introducing them to many of the summer rituals that not just brought joy and helped pass the endless days but also brought the family together.

Lines from a favorite song come drifting to me …..

Dil dhoodhta hai phir wohi , fursat ke raat din ….


			

Indian Bioscope Memories – Memoir


Ze=ssus I said as the infant in the building opposite to ours began to wail in his stereophonic sound. Nature has a way to gift certain special abilities to human babies. Her cry echoed subduing even the cacophony of the birds on the nearby trees.  It was late evening and the power had decided to take a break unannounced. Generator backup failed for some reason and in the midst of humid monsoon stuffiness and rapidly increasing darkness we sat staring silently into nothingness.
“Is there any candle in the house?” a male voice came from the depths of oblivion. “No, but my cell phone has a LED flash light”, I said. “Great, pass it on I want to go pee. “  I handed him the android with a warning not to flush it in the pot and with that my mind threw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jumped over the back fence taking the old memory trail into the woods of bygone days. It was a voluntary endeavor as walking with the ghosts of yesteryear in not everybody’s idea of spending the evening.

There were times we weren’t so listless and utterly lost when the power went off for long hours. The day went in usual mundane activities and the evenings and nights in sitting silently or having a bonding session with the family. We sat around fat white candles whose flames slowly danced with the breeze or remained motionless like guards on duty.  In some houses a lantern or  lamp would burn emitting a delicious smell of kerosene. (I love the smell).  Each of us would stir the still air with colorful handmade fans made of cloth, dried palm leaves, dried bamboo leaves or sometimes just an old newspaper.  We didn’t mind the darkness and void of not being able to do anything so much as we do now because we didn’t have those gadget extensions we have grown over all these years like Laptops, AC, fan, lights, TV and stuff.  We didn’t have them and didn’t feel the loss. Our lives were enriched by other more interesting things, things which have faded into recesses of the past like the evening shadows.

I watched the boys’ faces glowing in the blue lights of their cell phones and sighed. As children I involved them to in storytelling, playing word games, atlas, talk about their various adventures, sing songs, make parodies, and do anything which would keep their minds off darkness and heat/cold. That is what I did as a child with my parents. In winters we would snuggle in a quilt munching peanuts, roasted gram or other rustic snack and a special kind of warm energy flowed through all of us keeping us close. These days it is rare that we get those cozy moments illuminated by candle lights. The art of storytelling is vanishing with the coming of modernism.

My mind drifted further into the trail and found the bioscope man. We don’t find him these days except in some fair where hardly anyone pays attention to him. In those days he was the most sought after person. We would gather around him and wait for our turn to watch a song or a clip from that magical colorful box. This curiosity box was all we had for entertainment before the technology filled our homes with CDs, DVDs, and cinema halls and multiplexes lured us into their cozy comforts. The screen culture has taken away the magical world which was created for children something which the toys are assigned to do now a day.  It is amazing how integral, inseparable and organic practices of the people were before technology and fast life took over. I hardly see circus, magic and puppet shows, the street performers, tight rope walkers and jugglers who used to frequent the cities. They have been forced to leave their family trade and find an alternate profession.

I remember the rag dolls, wooden toys and the joy of playing marbles and other indigenous games. I saw a lonely wing swaying on a lush mango tree longing to be lifted up to the sky with a child’s cry of joy. It tugs at my heart how far we have left the things which were not just an integral part of our heritage but also learning tools. Modern machines and equipment has taken away the delicious mellow lingering taste of food prepared on clay and wooden ovens. Chutneys prepared on heavy sil batta (flat grinding stone) spices crushed in mortar and pestle made of wood, iron or stone. The rotis , bhakri ( Indian breads) made on wood fire and the vegetables, pulses cooked on wood fire or uplas (cow dung cakes). Fast food culture has taken us in its grip ad nauseam. The traditional recipes are dying out unnoticed and neglected.

We used to have the wooden parat (a flat utensil for kneading the wheat flour) and many beautiful clay, brass, copper cooling vessels. A man on cycle would call out on summer afternoon “bartan kalayi kara lo” or “ chaku churiyan tez kara lo” ( get brass utensils polished “ or “ get knives sharpened” ) and we would run to watch the expert fascinating process with wonder filled eyes. Now with non stick and abundance of easy to maintain cookware these arts are lost forever. Some trades are vanishing fast like the ancient bed stuffer with his guitar like tool is replaced by machines that do the cleaning of cotton to be re stuffed in the mattresses. Slowly the rubber foam,coir mattresses have replaced the cotton filled ones killing the trade completely.

I wonder how many people of my generation or later have actually watched these men perform on the streets. Some more voices call me as I glance back. A high pitch sing-song voice of a fruit vendor “ jamun kale kale mujhse bhi zyada kale, kale kale re phalse thande meethe re phalse” (  black and juicy  fruits, blacker than I am). These were the street sellers who brought delicious java plums and berries indigenous to this region. The salivary glands would immediately start working overtime thinking of the sweet and sour tangy taste of the fruits and we would run out to buy some in a leaf folded and sealed like a cone with a toothpick. Some other delights like the ripe jackfruit and tamarind along with star fruit were also sold by the vendors. Made into a spicy chaat sprinkled with spices the star fruit would make our mouths water.

I remember walking in the fields of ripe sugar cane with dad and watching with awe the making of jaggery and fresh molasses. The taste of soft fresh jaggery and rab (molasses) is unforgettable. He took me to see how the oil was extracted from mustard seeds. In the middle of a room there used to be a Kolhu. At the bottom, it had a hole to collect oil. It the middle it had a very heavy wooden rod. The rod pressed the mustard seeds against the wall of the Kolhu. This rod was linked by another piece of wood placed on the neck of a bull. As the bull went around in circle, the seeds were pressed to extract oil. After the oil was extracted, the empty cake of mustard seeds was mixed with the feed for dairy cows or water buffalos. For a six-year-old it was nothing short of a visit to wonderland. We would walk among the fields of gold (the yellow flowing mustard fields) and come across a rahaat or water wheel (Persian wheel) powered by a buffalo or a bull. The cold clear water would bring the village kids to bathe and play there. Sometimes the farmers or weary travelers would sit there to rest on charpais (wooden cots weaved with ropes) placed under shady trees.

Some musical instruments like the ektara a single string instrument made of clay The ektara seller would play melodious tunes and lure us to buy one and we would create our own cacophony on it for hours together.. I remember burring a mango stone from an over ripe mango for some days and then making a musical wind instrument with it. We even held a blade of grass between both thumbs and blew on it to make musical sounds. Simple pleasure are free I always say. 🙂

These photographs are just a flashback from parts of  north India where I grew up. Wonder how many ancient art forms, traditional trades, instruments and local delicacies are slipping away into an unknown abyss never to be found again.

I can’t forget the thanda sattu (roasted powdered gram or barley mixed with sugar and water) fresh sugar cane juice straight from the hand powered machine or chilled sweet laasi (churned curd) brimming till the top of a huge brass glass. No modern day drink can replace them in nutrition and taste. The clay pots were used to make the curd and were kept chilled with wet jute bags(bori) etc. sometimes the matka or clay water pot was placed in a hole dug under a tree to keep water cool. Now the villages have turned into small towns and machines and modern gadgets have replaced the charm of these traditional trades, practices and instruments.

My maternal grandmother used to make fresh white butter and give the first mould to me. The warmth of her love and the taste of that butter is unforgettable. I have eaten fresh butter straight from the churner during my visit to Punjab villages.

One hardly sees the vultures which were such a common sight those days. They have become extinct. Many of those gorgeous birds have vanished and our children soon will see all this in illustrated books, Nat-Geo and museums. Such a sorry state of affairs that the orthodox rituals, customs which needed to be drastically replaced still thrive and the beauty of the traditional cultural heritage are lost forever.

The blaring sound from the TV and the sudden jarring light brought me back to present. Lines of a poem crossed my mind

thus one age departs another comes

while I just stand between two darks

The instant coffee scalded my tongue and left a bitter taste in my mouth. Lack of time spent together has hardened the human heart. We have become less tolerant, lead a sedated dream like existence, lost the art of conversation, lock ourselves in the comforts of air-conditioned homes and slog in the concrete jungle to meet our growing wants.

Each person has made a cave around him/her where he/she lives a senseless existence oblivious to the crumbling surroundings. While we are busy confessing the dark and heavy secrets of our lonely heart, we find comfort more and more in the vibrations of the tiny buttons of our gadgets. Slowly with all these electronic touch keypads the warmth of human touch will become just a memory.

We scream for warmth of human contact yet we’d rather text than talk.  Isn’t it sad how we relegate humanity to the unfeeling circuitries of our tech inventions? Must modern man –this catalyst of past and future, science and faith — discard to desuetude the touchstones of his inspirations?

As I walked back the bioscope man smiled and I gave in to the temptation to be a child again to peer through the view finder of the very projector that gave birth to modern cinema and then slipped into oblivion. Enduring images of jataka stories, alluring actresses and dashing heroes of popular movies flashed before my eyes and then abruptly the bioscope came to an end. The bubble busted and the bioscope man receded into darkness.

Soon like the bioscope many of the cherished things with gather dust in museums and memory lanes. I am glad that my boys managed to get a firsthand experience of the old world charm and that will keep them rooted to our cultural heritage till long. They will keep the art of storytelling alive by recounting their experiences and mine to their children thus keeping the flame burning.

Disclaimer: I do not own copyright for these images.   All photographs are credited to their rightful owners. Images taken from Internet for reference. 

Reminiscence 2


Sleep eluded me as I tried to struggle with a bad cold and cough. In the middle of the night the cool breeze relaxed my restless heart and tired body. I tried to sit up and work on the lappie but somehow did not have the strength. The drumbeat in the cell indicated a text message. There are times when the heart is torn between longing and loss. It’s an emotion which can’t be really described.  Tears know not for what reason they flow. My vision blurred I slid out of bed and went to the terrace. Apart from a constant hum of the refrigerator the entire house was bathed in silent glow of the night-light. I still believe that heartstrings are tuned irrespective of physical distances and unseen heard melodies are the ones that make life worth what it is.

Somehow this song came flooding to my mind.

Something old dies to give birth to something new. However we may try to become a robot in the mechanical lifestyle we lead there are spaces in between that need to be filled. It is a gift one must accept with gratitude if we find just the right person to merge beautifully in those spaces.

I feel there is time and place for everything and though the heart may long for more than what is  it is best to let the relationship grow at its own pace. You can’t hurry a flower to bloom.

I took solace in his being and not being. The still night helped the unruly heart to calm a bit.

The stuffy summer air made me long for a chilled glass of water. Not a single star was visible. I dragged myself to the bed and lay down. The heart was still heavy and the brain was in blender over some pressing issues.

I must have dozed off slightly for an hour or so. A feeling of breathlessness woke me from a dream.

Stranger things have happened in my dreams but this was more of a vision than just a dream.

Dream 1

A long room with white walls, something like a waiting room filled the canvas of my mind. I am surrounded by what I call my ‘legal family’ I say this for the lack of a better word. Something isn’t right and I am thrown out on the street wrapped just in a white cloth, maybe a saree. My right foot hurts (it actually did) and there are scratched on the arms. A boy with a kettle full of hot tea and some glasses tries to help and asks for the cloth claiming it to be his. I plead him to let it be with me as it is the only thing I have to cover my body.

He tells me to run away before it is late. I drag myself as quickly as possible through dark lanes and reach a railway track. Unable to see clearly I fall and a part of the cloth gets stuck somewhere. I wake up with the hum of an approaching train.

The dream left me disturbed and in the morning we came to know  about a death of someone in the family and a preponed visit to Lonavala.

Any such event is combined with weather change. The clouds filled the sky. Though the breeze became cooler the atmosphere remained stuffy.

The second dream came the night after. Maybe it was just a fragment from the past.

Dream 2

I woke with an intense pain in the left abdomen just below the ribs. The push of the moist hard muzzle was felt very strongly. It was a big black dog. Maybe a Great Dane or a hound and it had a distinct smell.  I wasn’t scared of the beast but it hurt as it kept pushing me.

I pleaded to the young teenage boy to take the dog away but even after various attempts to pull it away the dog did not budge.

I am still finding the connection between these dreams and their meanings. Meanwhile I am trying to explore the city and hills nearby.

The old Mumbai- Pune highway wasn’t such smooth drive as it is now.  As the car zipped passed the city and the fields, the gorgeous sun slowly melted and began to flow in the sky.

I have happy memories of taking this road as a girl. The one I remember most is with my uncle on a scooter. It was fun to drive through the villages, with the mountains overlooking the green vast expanses of land.  Life was just a dream then. The drizzle brought back the memories.

It also brought an ache. Memories of love and of special places that are etched in the heart forever. Beautiful seasonal river flowing through lush green valley surrounded by mountain ranges, favorite spots under the trees,  a food stall which now doesn’t exist, the aroma of hot tea . The songs and much more that is now lost in time.

Reminiscence 1


Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
~T.S. Eliot

Summer has laid the hills bare. Stripped of their greenery they stand exposed to heat and dust. My eyes are beginning  to revolt against the glare but I dont want to miss even a single spot that was once a treasured part of  me and still is. So much has changed over the years and yet it all seems so familiar. Mentally I remove the jarring high rise buildings and replace them with  huge green blossoming trees and vast expanses of uncultivated land where the monsoon would spread a soft carpet of verdant green , where wild flowers would dance in the rain  and little streams would flow oblivious to the zipping traffic on the highway.


“Nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey.”~Cynthia Ozick

The city makes me yearn for the past and I wonder if  it is ever possible to taste  moment from the past again? Does it ever taste same? The landscape has changed tremendously and the only things which have remained constant are some old trees and houses. Each fighting for its survival pressed between the commercially advancing city. Same seems to be the case with the elders. I went around certain part of Pune city after 20 years and apart from the old crumbling house which at one time seemed out of a picture book everything else seemed so unfamiliar. It brought back surge of memories but I could not associate it now with the present state of the place , its unkempt garden, the crumbling stairs , peeling paint and the murky smell that filled the dark rooms.

It shocked me how people had aged in such short period. Well, not so short actually but my mental image surely was different. The kittens played around as usual unrestricted. I felt a certain strangeness in the atmosphere. Suffocating. The garden still had the beautiful flowering trees. Some had the rare flowers hanging like Chinese lanterns but in a hurry to escape the unease it slipped my mind to take pictures. It didn’t feel the same at all.  I wondered how anyone stayed there. It was disturbing to say the least.

Much is to be seen and time is running out. I still have to visit some special places. Places associated with Personal memories .

Talegao came as a refreshing break between two places which hold me captive. It’s all in the mind I guess. However I may want to escape something minute calls from the past and takes me back in time. A picture, a face, an expression, some song or just the current that flows between the family members gathered together after ages. Children grandchildren, parents, grandparents … it was overwhelming and then I got filled with the loss of those who were so much a part of me as a girl.

Somehow I felt out-of-place among those present. Elders who made a group and chatted away ceaselessly about their times and youngsters who played and laughed oblivious to the nostalgia. I had lost my companions, my playmates, cousins who were my age and closer to me than anyone else. the void is hard to fill. Very hard.

And still, I felt a different rush of emotions , a different longing , a desire for something unexplained. Under the starlit sky amidst laughter, liquor, food and music my mind drifted aimlessly to places unknown to  me. The giddy heart becoming sorrowfully sad while the mixed emotions lingered on.

In  silence of the night I felt the transition from one love to another on different plane, space and time.

The protagonist of  Fireflies and stardust waited patiently to be set free. Reminiscent she roamed the paths with me. The loss hung heavy in the air. The landscape looked as parched as the heart.

The time was too short to let the girl explore the secret places and spend quiet moments under the Kadamb trees. A longer stay was needed for catharsis.

Filled with the aromas of delicacies from the kitchen and the fragrance of love that the summer breeze carried I returned with a promise to be back.

It is strange how we get restricted because of our age. A thought I can not explain. I have overgrown the laps but the warmth and love is still there. Still there are times I want to become that little girl again and my heart aches for that hug and long walks holding the firm hand of someone I felt so secure with. We become conscious of our words, our actions. The transition from a favourite baby girl to a young woman , a mother of two, is painful at least to me.

The room is dark and the house silent . I am sitting near the window overlooking the city. The night sky is clear and yet I can’t see a star. The night is more alive and richly colored than the day.

I try to empty my mind of thoughts. I have avoided to go within and look for answers. It is something I loved to do but there is an emptiness deep inside that isn’t letting me go.

Too much is at stake at present. It is difficult to maintain balance when one is pulled from all directions.

I am just trying to fill the empty spaces and empty those spaces that are filled with little things gathered over the time.




Heirlooms : Treasures From The Yesteryears


When I was a small girl I used to wait for that sun drenched day when mom would open her black trucks and lay out the treasures. The fragrance of cloves which were normally tucked away wrapped in small bundles of voil. The carved wooden boxes with tiny velvet compartments. The heirlooms , the tiny silver spoons and bowls from our childhood , locks of hair and the umbilical cords ( yes she still has them ) all had a special place in my heart.

Ma would sit on the dari or chatai and I would sneak in from behind the door and wait for the cue. ( she has eyes at the back of her head too ) 🙂
Then her sweet voice will drift through like the morning winter breeze filling me with joy and I would rush to sit by her side.

The scene is still so vivid that every time I think about it my eyes fill with tears of joy. There was something magical about all that.

I did a post about it long ago The Black Trunk Do read it.

When my first child was born ma gave me some thing very special.

A silver power box with a geese feather puff for the little darling. It was special because it was my granny’s. My grandfather ( nana) had bought it when mom was born. The eldest of all the siblings. Now 80 years later it lies with me  neatly wrapped in the same voil piece from my granny’s old sari as I had seen it as a baby.

I never got it cleaned though it has beautiful engravings all over just for the simple reason that I wanted to preserve the antique look. The soft powder puff still smells of a fragrant lavender body talc which was used for me. I did not use it for my sons for some reasons so it remained inside the cupboard all along.

I noticed that all children have this habit of exploring 🙂 . One day I found my sons going through the contents ad blissfully  enjoying the touch of soft feather against their skin. I think if I had a daughter the things may have been different. Girls love such things. I do.

Mom  also gave me something priceless. I never saw my paternal grandmother but knew her to a very strong-willed woman. In those times  women of upper caste ( zamindars) were not allowed to step out without escorts and especially in Allahabad where she stayed there were many restrictions. My granny made her own rules and went alone for her early morning bath at the Ganges . This created a buzz in the household and the men did not like it at all but no one had the courage to speak against her. She was a religious woman like many others of her time but a very learned one. She stood for her rights and that of women in her household and made sure the new rules were accepted.

Ma never met her unfortunately . Theirs was an inter-caste love marriage and granny died before dad actually got married.

In her last days she took sanyas and went alone to live in Ayodhya where she stayed on her own till her last breath. A  life of dignity and self-respect.

She was a very talented woman ma tells us. An excellent cook, a woman with a generous heart and an open mind.  She gave me one of the very few things that were handed down to her from dad’s close relatives. ( His parents died before his wedding)

A long hand embroidered strip of black velvet. These strips were made with hand , a very laborious task , to be used as borders for saris .

 

I love the vibrant use of colors and  the fact that it is one of the three-four things left of my grand mom. A priceless piece of hand work. Sometimes I sit with these things and build stories around them. Imagining what kind of life she must have had. This sure  must be made in early 40s if I am correct.

These heirlooms are precious treasurer for me.  I will be doing two  more posts on such priceless things. Priceless not because they are valuable money wise  but because they hold a very special place in our hearts.

When ma fell seriously ill sometime back she called my children and handed them two silver bowls and a sindoor dani ( a silver box meant to keep vermilion powder} . These bowls are from my childhood and she wanted my kids to keep them as remembrance .The sindoor dani is mom’s . Dad had got it for her when they got married. Some day I will tell you about this inter caste love story 🙂

I am still looking out for more such treasures.  Old books  now not in print, baby clothes from our childhood, old B&W pix from mom’s childhood , old music records now a thing of the past and much more.

Keep looking out for the new posts.

Each of these things has a fragrance of the person who is associated with it, love that drifts in air around you and envelopes you in warm embrace.  Each has a story behind it , a memory of that time period . The people are long gone or old like my mom. Some day these very things will stay for generations to see and connect with their past. I don’t know what will happen to them when I am gone but for now they remain with me encased in a cocoon of love.

A fragrant memory.

Smoke Rings In The Dark


Lay down beside me

on the soft moist grass

Let’s gaze at the smoke rings

swirl and drift

lazily in  night

Roll it

light it

Inhale together

the mixed aromas

hold

and then

slowly exhale


Under the hazy veil

comfortably numb

float upon darkness

let go

shed all inhibitions

feel the warmth

seep slowly


rings of smoke

gliding

lingering

holding on

like my longing

to be with you


A feeling unexplained

whispered to the trees

and carried by the wind


Memories glowing

like an ember

and then

blown away


visions of you

in shades of blue

fading and merging

rising and falling

and then

rising again


I try to find

a spark of the flame that was

but all we have now

is a dream

turned into

smoke rings in the dark


Let me  kiss you

one last  time

for soon the dawn will break

and love will show us the way

to our separate graves

and I’ll gather pieces of my heart

and leave behind

just

the smoke rings in the dark

(image courtesy http://www.jcpe.tv/)

this is not poetry , it is prose run mad

Memoir : The Black Trunk


Sharing one of my old posts from another site I used to write for.

An old trunk stood in one corner of the store-room in ma’s home. Black in color. It was a little dusty, reminder of the fact that it has not been opened for some time. I went and wiped it clean and it gleamed again. A smile came to my lips. It was not locked.

My Mother’s trunk.

I remembered how she used to open it on the small terrace, slowly taking out all the contents to air them on a sunny day. The curls of her freshly washed hair played around her lovely oval face. A stray strand of hair would bother her again and again and she would push it back with her slim silvery fingers.

I would stand hiding behind the door ,peeping at the proceedings when she would open her arms to me and say “bitia (little girl), come here and see what’s in here”. I would run and park myself in her lap, breathing in fragrance of her sarees and touch the soft silks, completely mesmerized.

I loved touching them because they resembled her own soft skin.

I would pick up the carved walnut box and open it slowly. A treasure hunt would begin. An old silver surme dani(old-fashioned silver bottle for kohl), some age-old coins, some small pictures of ma when she was a kid and of my grandparents, two curls of hair neatly wrapped in paper which had turned yellow with time. The names on them ..TIKULI AND SUBODH. Our first curls of hair.

I would look lovingly at her and she would smooth my flowing hair. Our eyes would do all the talking. The thought of my mother’s lap still makes me warm all over. I would open the velvet covered small lids of the compartments by inserting my little finger in the holes and discover some old memory.

The box had a mirror on its lid’s inside and that was a secret compartment which opened if you pressed it hard. Some old letters lay behind that, yellow pages tied with a red string. A dry rose in one of them. She would take them lovingly from my hand, watch them and put them back. They certainly were not from my dad,I was sure of that.

The vibrant colors of silk, the reds, blues, greens and gold would create magic with their shimmering texture. I loved the deep red one. My mother’s wedding sari. A benarsi sari with booti work done by hand. A rare sight. They all smelled of clove and of a fragrance which only mother’s clothes have.

Some more little jewelery boxes would emerge from below. A lot of traditional silver arm bands, waist band, necklaces, bichiyas (rings for toes) and rings. I would try them all and pretend to be a princess and ma would laugh and say she will give them all to me in my wedding. That would make my heart swell and I would wrap them all again in the safety of the boxes with expert little hands.

Once the trunk was empty ma would lift the old news paper and under that some hidden money or more letters would see the day light. Letters written by my brother and me as little children to her. She was a working woman and many a times I remained alone at home with dad as my elder brother was in the hostel.

We would read them again together as always. A special bonding session.

Slowly the lot would go back in the trunk to be tucked under one of the diwans.

Today I saw them again the sarees, the letters and the boxes. Two things were missing ..the letters behind the mirror and the walnut box. Letters, ma had decided to keep some place else and the box was given by my dad to their grand-daughter as a remembrance. The heavy silver jewelery remained with her except a few ear rings that I took.

Ma still airs the trunk with the help of the maid and I, at my home, feel the warmth of all the beautiful memories safely tucked in it.

I miss being the little girl. I miss ma’s lap and my dad’s tender love(he is no more). I miss the care and affection and all the fights and tears of joy and pain, the time spent with my brother in what was my home.

I miss being a daughter. I miss home.