Prayers for the New Year..

Le soleil levant

It is that time of the year again. Time to sing Auld Lang Syne and ring in the New Year.

I would like to ask, when has the world ever been old for it to start afresh? We are, all of us, ensconced in the wraps of eternity. Days roll into weeks, weeks into months, months into years and years into obscurity. Beneath all these rituals and the merry making of a New Year, let me not stop appreciating the beauty of each morning. Each morning, which comes to me, ‘like a gilt-edged letter with some unheard-of news’, as a poet sang not so long ago.

Let me not give up reason while learning to see the beauty of each moment. Can balance be that elusive, in this seesaw of a world, kept stable by the forces of the good and the bad? I would like to pursue it. If I fail, well, I would have at least tried.

Let me remain ever close to the soil, to nature, to my self. Let other influences be just that, influences. Let them be embellishments to my self, never my whole self.

Let me never take things for granted. The winding rivulet, the musical sunset, the lashing waves- let me look at them always with eyes of wonder. Let me marvel at their beauty and hence, be renewed.

Let me always respect an idea, good or bad. For it is these little things that go on to make the grand symphony, the timeless classic.

Let  me never try to define myself, allowing my soul to run like the breeze, accepting for myself its changing hues and transient moods.

Finally, let me never let myself down.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year. Keep learning, keep smiling, keep exploring. 🙂

New Year Blues.

It is one of those days when everything seems right. I feel totally at peace with myself-I feel beautiful, intelligent, hot, whatnot. Ahem! I am always allowed to exaggerate, right? So, I put on my brightest smile and walk out with a ‘Wait up, all ye good men, for here I come’ look. Well!

Cut to an hour later.

I am in an animated conversation with an acquaintance. You guessed it right, me at my flirtatious best, trying hard to maintain the ‘good impression’ (whatever that means!) he has about me. Suddenly, he gazes into my eyes with a glazed, wistful look. Um, is there something in my eye, dear friend?

He blurts out, Can I consider you to be the little sister I never had?

Yes, yes, my pleasure. Perhaps I should start running around in pigtails and short skirts. It would make the ‘consideration’ so much easier!

It surprises me that this is not the first time I got that statement from a man. I guess it is written all over my face ‘I am little sister material’. I remember, in school, I had a tiny crush on a boy from the tenth. I was in eighth then. I actually talked myself into having a crush on him because he would stare at me with protruding eyes every time we crossed paths. Imagine my utter consternation (and dismay and any other adjective you can think of…you say those are nouns? Adverbs? Oh, just let me be!) when he walked up to me on a bright, hopeful, New Year’s Day with a beautiful card in his hand that said “A very Happy New Year to a sweet sister!”. I rolled my eyes in horror at the very idea! Come on, he could have at least chosen a card without those romantic red roses! Sigh, Men!

Thus began my life, being a ‘sister’. To hordes of ‘bhaiyyas’. .Today, I have at least three of them (Not including my ‘blood’ sibling). I have many waiting in the pipeline, too. Come to think of it, it is not that bad, either. Actually, I feel like running into the arms of one of them right now, crying, Bhaiyyaaa!

Run into their arms and say thanks.

For all their ‘consideration’.

For all that love.

But you now know why I feel depressed on New Year’s Day, don’t you? It is okay, I have learned to cope. When life hands me lemons, I make lemonades!

Big Brother, are you watching too?

Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’

That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.

I remember hot, summer days spent on the attic leading to the terrace in my grandma’s house, making kites, preparing ‘manja’. I was the ‘official helper’ to my cousin, who was an ‘expert’ in making kites. Hours and hours spent on the terrace, flying those kites, until our throats were sore from all the screaming we’d do.
Afaaaaaaaaa.
That childhood memory flashed across my ‘inner eye’ (as they call it), when I first heard of ‘ The Kite Runner’. And knew, once again, I’d be making a tryst with a book, despite all my efforts to not get too attached.

Then I glanced up and saw a pair of kites, red with long blue tails, soaring in the sky. They danced high above the trees on the west end of the park, over the windmills [….] And suddenly, Hassan’s voice whispered in my head: For you, a thousand times over. Hassan, the harelipped kite runner.

Right from page one, the book has you hooked. Not so much in terms of style, but definitely with its honesty.What amazed me the most was the remarkable ease with which the author changes tone and mood. Sometimes there is a total change in feel with just one line. While describing Hassan and Amir’s childhood together, there is a distinct childishness to the emotions felt and expressed. And then you see a very conspicuous shift in values, thoughts; as they grow older.

To this day, I find it hard to gaze directly at people like Hassan, people who mean every word they say. […..]. And that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.

While you start out hating the protaganist for his ‘cowardice’, you later realise how strong his conscience is, to remember it all his life and make amends for it, however small. I identified the most with him, though. The same selfishness, the same cowardice, the same emotionality. The book is speckled with beautiful insights like the one above, which I’d call nothing short of awesome.

Make morning into a key and throw it into the well,
go slowly, my lovely moon, go slowly.
Let the morning sun forget to rise in the east,
go slowly, my lovely moon, go slowly.

As you read, you get a glimpse into how life was in Afghanistan, but it is not overly dramatised or exaggerated. It is a perception, a genuine one, of life then, and perceptions can never be dramatic or ugly. It is this refreshing honesty which keeps you hooked till the last page. Not a single line is out of place. Not a single emotion overplayed. It is what I would call a ‘clean’ style. No unnecessary adornments, no extra frills.

Every woman needed a husband. Even if he did silence the song in her.

The Kite Runner has tantalising amounts of exoticism and sensousness woven into it. You can actually see Hassan running the kite, and feel the sand on his feet. You can hear their voices and taste the pomegranates they eat. It is all alive, vibrant. Not just words, but a whole life stitched along with them. It brought back my past, of kites and Sankranthi, of guilt and happiness. It is probably not great literature, but a very honest story.

“Do you want me to run that kite for you?”
“For you, a thousand times over.”

For you, a thousand times over.

KHALED HOSSEINI 

Such a long journey.

Short-listed for the 1991 Booker Prize and Winner of the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Such a long journey’ makes a wonderful read. Surprisingly, (or maybe not?) it is also his first novel.

Set in the late sixties and early seventies, it portrays the life of Gustad Noble, a Parsi settled in Mumbai. His closest friend Major Jimmy Bilimoria gets caught in a political ploy, and Noble, unwittingly, falls into it too. How he deals with it forms the rest of the story.

Mistry’s characterization is impeccable: Gustad Noble as the ambitious, tradition-loving father is very well portrayed. His colleague, Dinshawji, appears to be a prankster, his conversation spiced with sexual innuendos, but it is he who turns out to be Noble’s strongest ally. Another interesting character is Tehmul, Noble’s ‘crazy’neighbour, A child’s mind and a man’s urges, he says while talking about him. All his characters fall into place neatly like the pieces of a jigsaw, not one out of place or unnecessary.

The plot is gripping and there is no condescension when he talks about India. It is all very matter of fact. Yet at places, Mistry seems to revel in the joy of things Indian. He comes across as a person who is not ashamed of his past, yet can see the loopholes, the traps. His writing flows from one page to another, keeping you engrossed. His depictions of family life, the homes and the settings are perfect. For a moment, I felt I was lost in a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film.

The strength of the plot laced with Mistry’s innate talent for beautiful writing, makes it a truly good book. I especially loved the last few scenes, where Noble prays for all his dead friends, for all the ways their lives had touched his. For Major Bilimoria, for Dinshawji, for Tehmul.

Here’s an excerpt:

With covered head he sat, placing his right hand upon Tehmul’s head. Tehmul’s hair felt stiff under his fingers, matted where the blood had dried. He closed his eyes and began to pray softly. He recited the Yathu Ahu Varyo, five times, and Ashem Vahoo, three times, his bloodstained hand resting light as a leaf on Tehmul’s head. Flies buzzed around the room, drawn by the smell, but they did not distract him. He kept his eyes closed and started a second cycle of prayer. Tears began to well in his closed eyes. […] Five times Yathu Ahu Varyo, and three times Ashem Vahoo. Over and over. Five and three, recited repeatedly, with his right hand covering Tehmul’s head. […] As much for Tehmul as for Jimmy. And for Dinshawji, for Pappa and Mamma, for Grandpa and Grandma, all who had had to wait for so long…

It comes with no frill of hidden meanings or underplayed sorrow. Just a great story, superbly narrated.

I loved the book. 🙂

ROHINTON MISTRY

La Déesse de pierre

La Déesse de pierre

Dans une ville de dieux, nichée sur un petit autel,

de ses contours sculptés me fixait la Déesse, –

Présence vivante immortelle et divine,

Forme qui hébergeait toute l’infinité.

L’auguste Mère-du-Monde avec sa volonté puissante

habitant le sommeil abysmal de la terre,

sans-voix, omnipotente, impénétrable,

muette dans le desert et le ciel et l’océan.

Aujourd’hui du mental voilée elle est là et se tait,

sans-voix, impénétrable,omnisciente,

se cachant jusqu’à ce que notre âme ait vu, ait entendu

le secret de son étrange incarnation,


Une dans l’adorant et l’idole immobile

mystère et beauté que peuvent draper la chair ou la pierre.

This beautiful poem by Sri Aurobindo talks about the Divine Mother. Last night, suffering from a rare bout of sleeplessness, I came across this gem. Here is Sri Aurobindo’s translation in English.

The Stone Goddess

In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,

From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me,-

A living Presence deathless and divine,

A Form that harboured all infinity.

The great World-Mother and her mighty will

Inhabited the earth’s abysmal sleep,

Voiceless, omnipotent, inscrutable,

Mute in the desert and the sky and deep.

Now veiled with mind she dwells and speaks no word,

Voiceless, inscrutable, omniscient,

Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard

The secret of her strange embodiment,


One in the worshipper and the immobile shape,

A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape.


Sri Aurobindo has not used a capital to begin the word ‘gods’ but has capitalized all the words describing Her, the One with the mighty will. Sculptured limbs indeed, for don’t we build Her in our mind’s eye and see Her the way we want to? She harbours all infinity, says Sri Aurobindo, and yet, she sleeps with us on earth. What is she waiting for? Without a word or a sound?

She has been silenced with the dragon of knowledge. Our minds are clouded with too much information such that we cannot see Her. She meekly waits, the One with the mighty will. She waits for the day where we begin to see with the heart and not with the mind. She is the eternal mystery; see Her with the mind, she is but a stone, see Her with your heart, she comes to life.

Whether draped in stone or flesh, she remains the same.

My interpretation…

In a land of gods, dwells She,

Looking over the world with mercy.

Deathless and divine,

She is painted by the colours of our mind.

She is the All-Powerful Mother,

who sleeps in the nooks of our soul.

Nay! she speaks not a word

Like the vast desert or the infinite sky.

She wears a dusty cloak of thoughts

Smothered, hidden, foggy.

She waits for the moment that we can see

the secret of Her true self,

Transcending Her chiselled form,

She lives within our hearts.

Why do I write?

Last night, I sat up thinking for a long time. It had a lot to do with my life so far. Many mistakes, yes, many good things too. With the ticking minutes of the clock, my mind wandered to the one question that I always try to answer: Why do I write?[Very Sartre-ish, unfortunately for him!]

As a kid, I wrote of things that I imagined in my head. Poems, essays, mainly stories with a moral. I believed in justice. I wrote about girls who were careless and messy with their things and had to face punishment. In my mind, it was all valid. That I was messy and careless myself, it never struck me. Until somebody older (and wiser) told me “Cut out the holier-than-thou tone…you are not a saint!”. Jolt One.

I stopped writing stories for a while. I only wrote some nice essays and answers in English class. They won the occasional ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’, but nothing too fancy. Thanks to my teacher, I was introduced to Keats. Thus began my next passion: poetry. I started to read poems, and attempted writing a few. I showed one of my poems to a friend who promptly remarked, “There is no rhyming in the poem!” Jolt Two.

I began to ‘uncategorize’ the things I wrote, telling people “Oh, it is not a poem or a story. Just a series of words that makes sense. To me.” It was funny to see their raised eyebrows. Not everything has to be ‘classified’, right?

I grew up some more, kept writing about whatever I could fancy. I stopped showing it to anyone, though. Keep away, friend or foe! What I write is just for me! For three and a half years, I kept writing, and not showing. My diaries kept growing fatter (I wanted to get fat at that point, so it was ironical). Until I discovered the art of blogging. I knew I would have to put my writing under public scrutiny, but I was fresh with thoughts like ‘One must be open to criticism’ and ‘There is no harm in trying’. I started blogging. I found out there was a breed of people who liked what I wrote. It was nice to know. Until one of my blogger friends remarked, “You don’t seem to do anything apart from reading and writing. I thought doing the same things makes people get better at them. Why is your writing still so bland?” Jolt Three.

Needless to say, I stopped writing for some more time. I tried to discover other things, like painting and singing. I realized I wanted to ‘write’ about those experiences, ultimately. How boring! And so it was, back to Square One.

Jolts one, two and three.

Some people never learn, do they?

Rumi

I sought a soul in the sea
And found a coral there;
Beneath the foam for me
An ocean was all laid bare.

Into my heart’s night
Along a narrow way
I groped; and lo! the light,
An infinite land of day.

( From Rumi’s Rubaiyat )

 

Dawn

She settled down to a long nap after the afternoon meal. Stretching her limbs languorously, she slipped in to deep sleep. The sun blazed, making the green leaves wilt. There was an occasional rustle of dried leaves when someone chose to turn over in bed. She stirred lightly, looked around with eyes half-open, to make sure all was well. Mother was nearby, so she had nothing to fear.

She started to play a game: find the sun. She closed her eyes and moved her head from side to side, trying to find out where exactly the sun was. She stopped, and looked up. Sure enough, there he was, the big ball of light, shining right into her eyes. She went back to sleep, content. She was getting bored of the game, anyway. Imagine, born this morning, and bored of the sun already!

The sky was darkening, she could feel it within her eyes. She slowly opened them, looking around with panic. What was happening?

Why is everybody up? Is something bad going to happen?

She tried to close her eyes and play her game again. She moved her head from side to side, and opened them. The sun was not shining into her eyes now; he seemed to have moved a little. How would she know? His light had become so feeble now.

Is he angry with me? Perhaps I should not have been so arrogant…

She could feel Mother standing next to her, but with every passing moment, Mother was slowly going out of focus. Right now, she was just a grey shadow, a grey shadow tossing its mane.

The sun was nowhere to be seen. There was just a touch of red in the sky. Had the sun forgotten to take his halo with him?

But where was He?

She whimpered. Mother was not visible at all now, though she could feel her heavy breathing. The earth was damp under her feet.

What happened to Mother? Why can’t I see her anymore?

The breeze was upon her shoulders and she began to feel cold. She moved closer to what seemed like Mother. Everything was still again, like it was in the afternoon. Only, there was no sun now.

Thrown into an inky darkness. Was life over already? She thought, for a moment, that she was back in Mother’s womb again.

Of course not! It was so warm and cosy in there. Here it is so dark..and cold..

She heard strange noises and rumbles that did not let her sleep. Fear was hanging from her throat, threatening to slit it if she opened her mouth. She crouched low, wrapped in the blanket of blackness that had descended upon her.

Who is this dark demon? He stole the sun and now, He is after my life!

Mother seemed to be fast asleep. Was she not caught in this mire, too?

Perhaps I’ve suddenly gone blind..

Shuddering at the thought, she tried to calm herself. Not a soul around to help, she was sure it was the end of the world. She let out a feeble cry and braced herself for the floods, the volcanoes, the meteor rains and the earthquakes that would soon follow. She thought of her life, one day old.

One day old and not a good deed to my name..why, I even got bored of the sun!

Trembling in the cold, she collected all the unsaid goodbyes. Poor sun, he deserved it the most.

What would I not do to see his bright face now?

She shut her eyes tight, trying to remember all the good days she had in Mother’s womb, and waited for Nemesis.

 

She could feel the earth shaking beneath her. Frantically, she opened her eyes, prepared for the worst. It was not an earthquake, only Mother, walking about.

There was the sun, shining down, as though nothing had ever happened!

He seems so cheerful for one who was kidnapped..

He smiled at her, blushing. He was redder and cooler than he had been.

She played her game again. This time he did not let her down. Tears rolled down her cheeks in happiness. She felt grateful for having been given another chance.

It was dawn, yet again, in the history of Life.