Friday, April 12, 2019

One month later

Dr. S. Anandalakshmy, my dear teacher, friend, and life-long mentor, passed away on the 13th March, 2019.

One Month Later…

It’s just been a month, but it feels endless:
This month full of loss, of absence.
Of no more calls from that number,
No messages on WhatsApp, no mails.
Impossible to imagine Ma’am’s home
Without her warm presence.
The heart and mind are full of loss
Acceptance, too: Life is finite.
It has to be.
Love isn’t though: it lasts,
Way beyond this mortal coil,
In the memories of so many…
My magic years in Gummidipoondi
Which meant frequent visits,
Often early in the morning,
After dropping the spouse at the airport.
Ma’am and Kalyan, my bonus Ma’am,
Would mostly appear draped in the same colours
Sheer twinly serendipity!
Ma’am giving me hearty breakfasts
of crisp dosai and hot coffee
endless lunches at that table,
always creative meals, with warm rasam,
something exotic and unusual,
Kalyan and I sharing our diabetic indiscretions!
Shopping for sarees with Ma’am,
At Nalli’s, and Sundari Silks,
Concerts, Lalgudi Jayaraman and TM Krishna
The magic was constant.
Of course I was privileged
I had Ma’am come and stay with me,
In Kochi and Kolkata (once with  Moni).
I came to the old house, too,
And was blessed to meet Amma.
Kalyan gave us chamomile tea the first time I visited
( from Kochi, for a wedding, with my daughter’s friend).
Ma’am gave and gave and gave
So much of herself, to me, to my family,
And to so many more.
I hope I could give her something too,
I hope she knew how much I loved and admired her.
She gave me so much strength whenever I needed it
With her uncommon good sense and wisdom.
I think of Kabir’s verse on the guru,
Who like the potter, firmly removes imperfections
from the pot he is shaping
while providing a supporting hand from within.
(Guru kumhaar shish kumbh hai,
gadhi gadhi kaadhey khot
Antar haath sahaar de,
baahar baahey chot).
That was what Ma'am did for me
and for so very many others.
I was truly blessed to have had her 
in my life for nearly forty seven years!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Bliss of Not Knowing

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A year ago, on this day, I had two events to attend. My son Anand was having the first public talk of his year's sabbatical, at IIT Delhi, about his book Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, And Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi. It's an immensely fascinating subject, and his audience was soon deeply engrossed. Anand's talk started at 3 p.m., but we both knew I couldn't attend the full session if I was to reach Ramjas College in time for Ankit Chadha's newest offering.

I remember the first time we met Ankit Chadha. It was on the 15th November, 2014, at Chounsatth Khamba, Nizamuddin, where, along with Bindhumalini, Vedanth Bharadwaj, and Ajay Tipaniya, he had given a performance of Khusrau ke Rang: A Musical Journey. It was truly magical, and so very moving. The SRE and I were both delighted when Bindhumalini introduced us to this team of very talented young performers. After that, we made it a point to attend this young Dastango's performances whenever we could. We saw him perform dastans on Sant Kabir, Rahim, Partition, The Little Prince, etc., some solo, some with a partner. We would always exchange a few words with him, either before or after the performance, sometimes both times, and it was always wonderful to have those moments with him. He was always warm and friendly, and had the gift of giving you his complete attention. On a cold winter evening we attended Dastan-e Khanabadosh at the IGNCA (December 2016), a solo narration about the nomads of India. It was, as always, scintillating. When we met Ankit before the show, and asked him what he planned to do next, he said he was going to stay in Sabarmati Asram for some months, working on a dastan on Gandhiji. So this particular dastan was truly long awaited...

Given my paranoia about punctuality and the cooperation of the traffic on that day, I managed to reach Ramjas College with a little time to spare. I was delighted to meet Anand's teacher, Professor Mukul Manglik, and exchange a few words with him. He was happy to know that Anand was in India for the year, and hoped to see him.(The world is a strangely miraculous place: Anand was the first person to tell me about Dastangoi, and thanks to him, I attended performances by Mahmood Farooqi and Danish Husain, and Ankit knew him as a friend of both of these dastangos!)

I greeted Vedanth, who is a singer and musician par excellence. Ankit and I had a brief conversation. For the first time I asked him about his family. His father wasn't keeping well, so Ankit was planning to travel less, after meeting his present commitments. That same night they were catching a train to Bhopal (or was it Indore?), and in late March were performing in Bangalore. In April he had several performances on the East coast of the USA. I told him that Anand and family were around, and he said that he hoped to meet him this year. There were many people at the venue who wanted to meet him, and soon it was time for the performance.

It was an open stage, with tall trees around. There were some traffic sounds, but they could not muffle the power of the narrative. In an interview with The Indian Express, Ankit speaks at length about Praarthanaa.

It's been a year since I saw this. I remember being deeply moved by the narrative. Ankit had interwoven many beautiful, little known stories about Gandhiji among the popularly known ones. He speaks at length of Gandhiji's teen years, his desire to commit suicide at one point, his sorrow mixed with guilt at his father's death and the death of their first child, their experiences in South Africa. Death is omnipresent in this narrative, often in the background. His account of Gandhiji's and Ba's response to the death of his secretary Mahadev Desai was heart rending. Vedanth's rendering of bhajan's both familiar and unfamiliar, was exquisite. The Kabir bhajan he sang after Ankit's extremely moving account of Ba's passing, was heartrending in its beauty:
Kar le singaar chatur albeli.
(I wish I had Vedanth's version to share with you).
When I am deeply moved by a performance, I get goosebumps. Many a time that evening, I had goosebumps. I had always had great respect for Ankit's dedication to his work and the depth of his research, as well as the brilliance of his performances. That evening, I recognised him as a truly evolved soul, 'bahut hi pahuncha hua'. I remember also a moment of fear, that he had come too close to Death for Death's comfort. I brushed that fear aside, and went to congratulate him on this absolutely scintillating, extremely moving work. As an elder, my heart was full of blessings for him, and as a seeker, I felt that I needed his blessings. For me, that day, he had become a wise sage, a guru.

Little did I know then that it was the last time I would see him alive. About two and a half months later I would meet Vedanth at his funeral...

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ashaji: A Remarkable Life

I first heard of Ashaji from my older daughter, a little over a year ago. I was on my way home after watching an amazing, brilliant, heartwarming play. (Contempt, by Danish Shaikh). A friend of a friend of a friend of my daughter was looking for someone to write/ghostwrite his mother’s memoir. My daughter’s friend had read my book, Of This and That, and felt that I might be the person who could do this.                       
It sounded interesting, and challenging, because I had never done anything like this before. But since my older son and his family were in town for the year, I also wanted to be free to spend time with my grandchildren. However, Ashaji sounded interesting: a lady who had lead a glamorous life as an air force officer’s wife, who had worked in the hotel industry, who had divorced her husband, remarried, divorced the second husband and went back to the first, and then became deeply involved in the spiritual life, and also did a great deal of social service. She happened to be suffering from a relapse of cancer, five years after the first bout, and her son felt that she must record her story for posterity, especially for her grandsons. Her husband had passed away early in 2017, and her older son had passed away as a young man decades earlier, so she was the chief repository of the family’s older memories.
A few weeks elapsed before I heard from her son. He was based in London, but did come to India to spend time with his mother. We spoke at length over the phone, and then we met. He was trying hard to convince his mother to agree to this memoir, which was no easy task. She finally did agree to meet me at a mutually convenient time. I reached her home, which was a short car-ride away from mine. Ashaji was a petite, short-haired lady of indeterminate age. We had a very casual conversation that first day, just to establish a rapport, and Ashaji was, as always, very hospitable. She seemed to be in reasonably good health at the time, and I found it hard to accept that she was terminally ill. She didn’t really feel that her life or achievements were in any way noteworthy, but was willing to give it a shot.  (My husband was the one who knew that it wasn’t going to remain an easy situation: he could anticipate the pain of loss that I underwent several months later). In the meantime, he bought me a voice recorder to help me with my work. I would meet Ashaji twice a week, on an average. I would have a list of questions for her, on a particular aspect of her life that I wanted to know more about.  She also gave me the telephone numbers of people who knew her well, and I was able to conduct some personal interviews and some on the telephone. A pattern was emerging, and slowly she also began to believe in our project. She was very frank and forthright about her life. It was a remarkable life indeed, especially her seva journey which was marked by her dedication, generosity, managerial qualities, and her willingness to put in great efforts of her own, as well as motivating others to do so as well. After various spiritual experiences, she was now a staunch devotee of Shri Sathya Sai Baba. When she went to London for a few weeks, we remained in touch, and on her return we resumed our frequent meetings.

Her warmth and kindness invited confidences. There were days when we would simply chat together as friends. She planned to visit me at my home some day. She always insisted that her driver drop me home on the days I came by taxi. If ever a scheduled meeting couldn’t take place she would phone, most apologetically, and we would fix up another date and time. We spent hours going through stacks of photographs, trying to shortlist what seemed useful for the book. Voices acquired faces, and her family and friends all became people that I felt I knew!

And then, towards the end of October, the disease struck, hard. Her son, purely fortuitously, was in the city. Perhaps it was ordained that he was there to look after his mother at such a critical juncture. Along with all the medical arrangements, he and a friend of his also managed to put the book into the shape he desired. I managed to do a final interview with Ashaji on the 14th November, in her hospital room, and they had some copies of the book ready for her 77th birthday on the 20th November. She came home from the hospital around the 22nd. I went to visit her on the evening of the 27th, but couldn’t meet her as she had had a very bad night, and had just dosed off. On the morning of the 30th, I had a dental appointment. As I came out of the clinic, I felt an overpowering urge to go and see Ashaji. When I rang the bell, an unfamiliar person answered the door. I asked about Ashaji. She had passed away the previous evening. Her body was laid out, beautiful in eternal peace, in a refrigerated glass container. Sai Baba bhajans played softly in the background. Her son sat on the staircase. He insisted that I have a cup of tea. It seemed fitting to have one final cup of tea in Ashaji’s presence…

It now seems unreal, this intense interaction over eight brief months. But I do have pages and pages of notes, her voice on the voice recorder, and a copy of the book, a testimony to this remarkable, affectionate, courageous and generous soul. I am glad that I had the privilege of knowing her.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Inspired by a video taken by my younger son

Our little inspector
Made new discoveries
All the time.
How fascinating
Is the world
And bewildering too.
One afternoon
Grandpa is asleep
On his side,
The loudest possible snores.

She toddles into the room
To see where this sound
Is coming from.
She gazes at him
In sheer fascination.
Such a strange world,
So much to observe.
A strangely rhythmic sound
As Grandpa snores on...

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Sins of the Middle (aged)

Well, more aptly senior citizens than merely middle-aged, but since this post concerns our middles, well...
The RE used to be skinny. Extremely so. For a very long time into our married years together. That he was a heavy smoker  probably contributed to the skinniness. Circumstances forced him to stop smoking, and we had a man who actually had an appetite. Waist sizes went up, slowly, and after many years of abstaining from all forms of alcohol, beer was rediscovered.
Retirement and grandfatherhood found our erstwhile skinny man approaching my size and weight, (although I remain the heavyweight champ in our house), and now we are a comfortably matched Dadu Bear and Dadi Bear.
Last year we went with our younger daughter and older granddaughter on a road trip to Agra. Much fun was had, but even more fun happened at bedtime, when Grandpa realized that he had forgotten to pack his pyjamas. The four of us were sharing a large room which had a huge double bed for grandparents and grandchild, and a curtained alcove with a single bed for our daughter, (and one huge bathroom). Modesty was required! It was too late to go and buy a pair of pyjamas. Our daughter had a brainwave: the RE could wear my spare palazzos! So our man retired for the night in comfortable beige cotton loose pyjamas, which just happened to have sequins and pintucks on the hem!
         I'd spent several days last week worrying about the whereabouts of my blue Levi jeans. I thought they'd been laundered, but I couldn't find them anywhere. I checked the hooks on every bedroom and bathroom door. I checked the laundry basket. I even checked the RE's wardrobe, but no. His size 36" Levi jeans were on their hanger. But wait a second, he'd been wearing blue jeans the last couple of days too. ( He owns several pairs in various stages of wear and tear). I checked the pair draped over the chair in our bedroom. They were a size 38. They seemed to be mine. I asked the spouse if they hadn't felt odd when he wore them.
(I had obviously hung them up in his wardrobe). The poor man has been suffering from sciatica for a while now, and thought that he also had some mysterious major ailment which was causing this sudden weight loss, as the jeans were obviously much too loose for him!!!!!
I was very glad to reassure him that such was not the case, and tried on the jeans to demonstrate to both of us that all was well!
          We were all at lunch at my older daughter's place when the jean story was shared. My younger daughter, extremely loyal to the RE, said that I also had to post about all of his clothes that I have pinched (I'd say borrowed) over the years. Yes, but I insist that I only borrow/pinch clothes that he doesn't wear! In the interest of accuracy I concede that I have (sort of) pinched his black fleece jacket, and his black Levi's crew neck pullover, which he only wore the year we bought it. (I bought a similar one in navy blue a year later). The man is still thinner than I am, so the only other garments of his that I can pinch (and do) are his thick socks, a great comfort in winter. Full disclosure!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Wisdom of the Infant

Babies know what they need
For their well-being
And it might not be
what you think they need!

On Holi last year our little one
Was tiny, just over six months old
A little bewildered by the strange,
Colourful behaviour of
otherwise sane adults
And her older sister, who completely
Revelled in the revelry.
She was thoroughly upset by the noise
Of dholaks and loudspeakers
In the neighbourhood.

People came and went,
And we were all supposed to go
To our oldest child's home
For further fun and food.

Grandpa and I decided to let her nap
And take her there later
But the young one wasn't happy
A nap in the noise was difficult
But only possible in Grandma's arms
And only in vertical hold.

We survived, somehow,
Baby slept lightly, not allowing
The slightest tilt bedwards.

Cut to late December,
almost ten months later.
She spends the day with me
While parents and sibling
Are out, doing whatever
They have to do.
Playful, chattering,
Exploring, inspecting....
But then sleep comes,
Time for her sole nap of the day.

I hold her, and rock her,
And she falls asleep
But cries whenever I try
To put her down.
The people she knows
Vanish while she sleeps.
This smart infant isn't taking any chances!

Granny decides to nap too,
Infant on top of her,
In a cosy coccoon of cuddly comfort!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Princesses have gone, the kingdom is desolate

The little princesses flew across the skies
nearly a year ago, to live in our city,
one tiny, just a few months old,
on her very first visit to our home.
The older princess, still little, not yet four,
with boundless energy, (our very own Tigger)
and a million questions about
Life, the Universe, and Everything,
reminiscent of her father at that age.

A magical year, watching them grow,
infant to toddler, little girl to bigger girl,
sisters learning to be with each other,
and, praise the Lord,
enjoy each other's company,
for a while, at least!

The princesses lived a few miles away from us,
but were quite accessible, especially the little one
who was our favourite reason for a pit stop
at their place, hoping that she wasn't napping!
The big one went to school, but on weekends
she was usually ours, to indulge and enjoy,
take out on expeditions, feed 'palatha', daal chawal,
and chicken momos at Mainland China.
We had our rituals, her endless baths in our tub,
favourite story books, and her grandfather being
the fairest of them all!
We were well educated by her about Peppa Pig,
and other characters we didn't know about.
We were good about rationing screen time,
and found her to be most creative with blocks.
Waking up to questions about how do fish sleep?
Google was my best friend for months!

The tiny one learned to sit, and crawl, creep, and stand
especially around their mirror top centre table.
Her reach extended inch by inch: every glass and cup
was endangered by her grabby little hands.
Whatever you happened to eat or drink was fair game
for our avid little puppy.
As were cell phones.
Big people seem to use them all the time:
so this little person had to grab them too, if she could.
Speech appeared, a few words, mostly proper nouns,
and lots of babbling, at full volume!
Inimitable and unforgettable.
And once she learned to walk,
she would be walking all day,
almost every waking moment.
Toddle toddle, waddle waddle,
as Big Sister would say.

I thought I'd take her for a walk,
when she came to stay just before they left,
but it seemed as though she was taking me,
trotting along at speed, deciding where to go,
as fast as those little legs could carry her.

There are bits and pieces all over the house
that belonged to the little princesses.
A book, a toy, a  globe on which much Geography
was discussed. The big one has been quite
a globe-trotter for her years, but if you mention a country
that you've visited and she hasn't, be prepared:
A mournful "I've never been to Australia/Sri Lanka/Africa"
will follow!

It's endless, the missing.
The baby/child-proofed house will eventually
get back to 'normal',
but missing feels like the new normal
in our desolate kingdom, missing and memories...