Saturday, 1 July 2017

Eulogy

On that afternoon, exactly a month ago, there was a strong, sudden gust of wind that brought with it little florets that danced their way down the skies and fell upon all of us who walked with my grandfather's body to the hearse that was to take him away. It was almost poetic, if not merely beautiful in a photogenic fashion. I walked with the rest of my family and all those hundred others, slow steps- tired steps- and I remember standing on one side of the hearse where no one else stood, and even in that chaotic moment, reminding myself to stand on my toes and ensure that I catch a glimpse of my darling granddad.
I remember my own mental instructions from that moment- I doubt I shall ever forget them- and I stared hard at that glorious face to memorize each detail before it left me for good. He was blanketed with wreaths and flowers from all those people whose lives he touched with his generous and powerful hand. He was a force unlike any you could possibly encounter; unforgettable and thoroughly dependable. I stood there, with silent tears bidding him farewell and praying that he was fine wherever it was that he left us to go to. His long, hooked nose that we all inherited shall remain to be my last visual memory of Dadaji, and I recall smiling when I saw it. That has been the saddest that I have ever felt in my entire life, and yet I had a smile on my face in that moment, and that has precisely been the role that my grandfather played in my life. He made me smile even when I didn't want to, he pampered me and listened to my childish opinions about his vast business empire as if I were a learned professional even when I still had milk teeth. I'd like to think that I was his favourite grandchild- he had five of us to choose from; but that's the thing about the way he loved us all. I could bet that each of his grandkids felt exactly as special around him.
I used to sit with him every single evening once he would return from work and he would tell me stories of his childhood, of life during the Second World War, of the struggles of having to cycle from Amritsar to Lahore on a daily basis to study and become a chartered accountant, of the suffering brought about by the Partition of India, of the time when he and my grandmom lived in Delhi and she owned just two sarees, of the time when he fled from a tea garden where his father sent him to work within a week of getting there, and my favourite story of this one particular food-stall in Lahore where he and his friends used to go to eat chhole bhatoore and then proceed to drink water from the neighbouring well (which he claimed had the sweetest water on earth).
He wasn't an ordinary man. His persona was gargantuan and he truly carved his name into the sands of time with a firm, solid hand. I don't quite know what my life without him will be like because there's suddenly a giant gaping hole in my heart which was his space to occupy up until now, but I suppose that's a loss I shall take a lifetime to get over.
I find that I keep recounting and retelling his stories to myself every day when I'm alone, and perhaps that's a subconscious way to keep his legacy alive in my mind until the time I can share it with my own children some day.
He has been the nucleus that has kept my family together all these decades, and yet the nucleus to his life was his dearest wife. My grandmother was the apple of his eye. I don't think there was ever a day when he sat down or remained seated while his wife would be standing, or ate a single morsel knowing that she hadn't eaten yet. What she chose and decreed was the law of the land as far as he was concerned, and he never once questioned her. It was the kind of selfless love that only the luckiest souls on the planet are privy to.
It has been a month since he left us, and yet, every time I've met my grandmother in this month, it has felt as if she possibly manages to have mental conversations with her deceased husband via some sort of supernatural bond that sixty-seven years of matrimony can perhaps lend you. She wears a look of a subtly hidden sadness on her face that tears through me like a whip, and yet she appears calm, almost relaxed knowing that his suffering has ended and he is now free. If there is anything that I had to pick and choose to adopt from my grandmother's character, it would be her grace and her tremendous strength. I don't think I have ever respected her as much as I do now.

Thirty days ago, when I bid him farewell, I looked at my grandfather's face for the last time and whispered a little goodbye to him. I kissed my hand, stretched on my feet, and transferred the kiss onto his forehead. It felt smooth and warm and I could have easily believed it if someone told me he was just napping. He was my idol, my inspiration, my friend.
I miss him every second of every day, and yet I'm not convinced that he's left me. I talk to him often and it almost feels like he's silently accompanying me in every little adventure/debacle I participate in. I think those who we love so fiercely can never truly leave us, and their memories light up our days and nights like an incorrigible flame that even the harshest of storms cannot dim.
His blood runs in my veins, and that is a legacy I'm honoured to have inherited.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Marriage

A home is a giant heart
With space
Big enough to house
The coldest of souls,
The sharpest of tongues,
The loneliest of monologues-
And turn it into a warm feast
Which waits for you
Even when you're late
And even when
Your fury has burnt the meat
And soiled the linen.
I had a noisy home-
Sounds of phantom crises,
Gypsy whimpers and mumbles
About a clothesline,
A rain cloud, a sprouting dahlia,
A falling tooth, a new pencil,
A new melody discovered
By an unplanned accident.
Mighty pillars of adamantine
That could withstand
The loudest of rows
And the harshest of storms-
You couldn't underestimate these-
Our home stood upon them.

I left it behind with a change of surname,
And a timid confidence
That told me that I
Would survive, indeed,
For I had nearly the same
Ingredients-
A giant heart,
Gypsy noises,
Phantom crises,
And a new addition in the form
Of your friendship,
Companionship,
Background cheer,
Morning kiss,
Parting hug,
Humorous commentary,
Kind support,
And undying love.
There would be a new home,
And I told myself
That we would be fine-
Not everyone is blessed enough
To be able to walk into the sunset
Hand in hand
With the other half of your soul. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Is It Money Or Is It Paper?

Yesterday, the 8th of November 2016, will be a day all of us will remember for as long as we shall live. We will remember, recall and retell stories to our children and/or our grandchildren of where we were, what we were doing when the news broke. 
For example, I was sitting on my faithful old bean-bag after having spent most of the day giving out invitation cards for my wedding, when I received a succinct text message from my fiance asking me to "watch the news NOW". My presumptive brain assumed and feared that it must be a terrorist attack somewhere in the world, or perhaps somebody assassinated Donald Trump before he could do any serious damage to the planet. As my brother and I sat and heard Mr. Modi's announcement on TV and tried to wrap our heads around what had just happened, social media was already on fire with jokes, memes and GIF's about the newly appointed redundancy of the 500 and 1000 Rupee notes. They had been banned, and would be gradually replaced with new notes of Rupees 500 and of Rupees 2000.
For the next twenty minutes, I sat with a dazed expression because, to be honest, the second you throw some numbers in the question, I get confused (as we doctors are wont to be). When realization hit me, it was an uncomfortable and unsettling experience because I suddenly realized that I had no money in smaller denominations at all. The currency notes that we were flaunting with so much style and self-assurance, and worshiping on Diwali with such devotion and sincerity had now become a cause for immense worry. It isn't a worry in my house alone- which will be home to a wedding within this fortnight- but a worry in every house in India. Suddenly, we are worried about how we shall buy our milk cartons in the morning because not everyone will accept our credit cards, and not everyone owns a credit card. Just like that, with a half hour press release, our Prime Minister changed the mood in every single household in India. 
Yes, objectively speaking, it is a courageous and intelligent move that shall make it very difficult to launder money, and will also curb terror camps from spurting like venomous mushrooms that feed off of the entire fake currency note racket. I applaud the intentions behind this move, and also admit that it's very likely that its benefits will start getting visible to our presently worried eyes as the month progresses and the days get colder. 
But because this entire thing has been sprung onto us unpleasantly and unexpectedly, the blow feels stronger. The purchasing power for every one of us has suddenly dipped, and the markets looked like ghost towns today. As if planning a wedding in India isn't stressful and expensive enough, we are now dealing with this strange new ban. Perhaps this is the best thing that the Modi government has banned so far because at least the intent behind this is firm and difficult to argue against.
I am hardly a financial expert (I can almost hear my father laughing as he reads this line), and I don't know a thing about the way this economy functions, but I sit here wondering how in God's name will our banks deal with this multi-headed monster. When will things get back to normal, and more importantly, what will be the new normal?
In our great nation, 'white money' has always been spoken of with raised eyebrows and a proverbial tipping of the hat. People fear it, in a sense, because it only translates into the painful job of having to pay a larger amount of income tax. It infuriates me to know that I am being a good citizen and paying more than half of what I earn as taxes to my elected government and not really getting the benefit I deserve as every lawful citizen ought to get back in return. I wonder if all our politicians are going to be as worried as we are about all our currency notes right now. Are they fleeing to Switzerland as I type these angry words, to exchange the old notes for new ones? Will they be queuing up too when the banks reopen and face a very unhappy populace that wastes precious time which could have been used, instead, at the workplace? Will the Indian Rupee fall and lose value even further? And most importantly, will Indian relatives have to get used to attending weddings without getting the traditional 'lifaafas' to carry back home as souvenirs?
I suppose these are all questions whose answers will come to us, like birds that return home to their nests eventually no matter how stormy the day might have been.
This day gone by proved to me how funny human beings can actually be. Not because of the hilarious memes I found myself laughing at all evening, but how quickly we get rattled up by money. What was a fortune until yesterday has turned into a heap of paper that doubles up as a time bomb in every single home in India. 
This shroud of confusion and apparent misery shall pass- as everything always does- with time. Things will settle down and assume more comfortable positions as November ends, and we will all have a new story to tell our future generations on balmy summer nights as Louis Armstrong sings and reminds us- 'What a wonderful world!'.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Smell Of Nostalgia

A stubborn white smoke wafted though the air in upward spirals trying its best to touch the blue October skies, and I stood silently in the sidelines, with eyes drinking in on the scene before me. I had spent the past 26 years in this house, seeing this sight and bathing in this smell on an annual basis.
It was Mahasaptami and the arti in my house was just ending. The whole family stood with their heads bowed low in reverence to the goddess, palms folded in prayer. We replicate the exact same scene year after year; so much so that if one was to click a picture of this mini-event each year and compare the photographs, it would have all of us positioned in complete congruence.
Festivals and their associated family traditions do this to you- they make you believe that this life follows only one set pattern which must be followed with a strict diligence and punctuality no matter what. 
But that is not always the case, I suppose. No one and nothing is immune to change, not even a tradition as pure and beautiful as the one I just described.
 As I prepare myself for the upcoming wedding and the new lifestyle that shall subsequently become mine, I am reminded of the countless articles I have read about how a woman's life changes immeasurably after she is married. Yes, I would be a fool living in an unnecessary mode of denial if I were to disagree with this notion; but I also think it's important that we acknowledge the fact that this is a voluntary change, unlike say, the changing of seasons or friendships which are beyond human control. I am choosing to marry, and I am choosing to make this change that shall affect everyone involved in this coalescence, so to speak. It marks the beginning of a hundred and one new traditions to come and even more smiles to follow.
These nine holy days of October will always carry me home to my lovely old house with its crazy occupants and enchanting traditions, but I am just as excited about the future that awaits on the other side of November. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Not Photogenic

Photographs often just don't do any justice to certain folks. The stillness doesn't allow for the capture of the true essence of their appeal and beauty. You can't see, for example, the magnetic gumption in their walk, or hear the sweet whistle of their breath, or sense the velvet of their skin. You can't touch the jawline as it bathes in the shadow of a dying moon, or enjoy the view of a conversation as it leaves that luscious mouth, nor can you smell the musk of their imposing body, or dance with the fluidity of their hands as they gesticulate and emphasize with little bounces of glee.
 . 
Some people hide their beauty within motion; like a deceptive little surprise that only the worthy can find, and which a photograph cannot dare to capture.

You cannot restrict such beauty within the two dimensional bounds of a printout because it is like the thunderous waves that crash over the patient shores of the seas- uncontainable and untameable.

Break On Through To The Other Side

Running out of the patience (or perhaps the intelligence?) to construct sentences which adequately describe your mental framework at a point in time ought to be treated with a lot of tender loving care from those who live with and around the writer.
It isn't a petty matter to be laughed at or waved off with a casual nonchalance. This feels, to the writer, like mental constipation. However disgusting and smelly that might sound, it is the stark ugly truth and there is no better word to describe the feeling. I, for one, have been bearing the brunt of this horrid condition for what seems like too long to be true. My brain is burdened with the immense possibilities carried by the hundreds of ideas that float through my head all day long. And yet, when I put pen to paper, they seem to evaporate with a smirk, as if merely to tease me and put me down, and within a split second, my ideas don't seem worthy of another human's readership to me anymore. It becomes a matter of self confidence over time, until finally, like I am doing today, you must just break through these walls that are throttling your imagination and share your mad brain with the rest of this world.
Life is always going to be a great flood of emotions and voices, but I would hate it if my voice wasn't loud enough to make a difference and affect lives. Unless I touch some homes with a ray of sunshine, hope and the power to spark an imaginative fire in the minds of those who read my words, this life will have been in vain, and it shall turn into a burden I'll carry on into my next life.
My parents and my fiance have been doing their best and egging me on, trying to get me to write, because apparently, that's the one thing I'm supposed to do well. They don't know how this adds about a metric tonne of pressure on my dainty shoulders and I, being the legendary lightweight, nearly succumb to the weight every time my ideas fail to turn into respectable literature. 
It doesn't help when you criticize yourself more than is considered humanly healthy, and create delusions in your mind about having peaked too early. 
No, this has not been me rotting in some kind of decadent complacency, or hiding behind the excuses of career, traffic, lack of time, or my upcoming wedding. This is me accepting, wholeheartedly, that life changes; it evolves and remodels itself with newer places and newer people. There are tectonic shifts that have been happening in my mind and heart since the past few months, paving the way for a newer phase that holds the promise of love, travel and adventure- all things that I depend on to fuel my neurons and fire me up. 
So here, with this candid confession and intimation, I hope that the words that I churn out henceforth will arrive at shorter intervals and with an impressively regular frequency. I need to polish my art until I reach that glorious day when I can spend my days being true to myself, immersing myself in that delightful world of literature: being my own boss, making my own rules, and telling people- with genuine pride- that I am, indeed, a writer.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness

Is it a dream that I see at night while the air conditioner blesses me with gushes of cool delight and the blanket caresses me with friendly warmth? Or wait. Is it actually a parallel universe whose blurry glimpses I'm only allowed in that state of minimal consciousness which doesn't allow reasoning or gravity or that pedantic sense of human logic to overtake the power of imagination?
A child will hear stories and believe with a casual faith that dragons exist, that man can grow albatross wings and fly over oceans, that puppies can talk to you in English. But a grown person will readily discount these things and call it balderdash. Why does our imagination suffer such a horrible and unfortunate blow as the years take their toll on us? Is this resistance to accepting miracles and possibilities of a world beyond our understanding the reason we end up with wrinkles on our skin and voids in our hearts?
You won't easily come across an unhappy child- they find joy even amidst poverty, hunger and disease. But an unhappy adult lurks around each corner like a surly creeper hiding from the sun.
I have always maintained that the importance and value of good imagination must never be underestimated or forgotten.  Don't live in a make-believe world, but believe in the possibility that you can, in fact, make a world worth being happy in. Because after all, everything in this life is dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. Our time is short, but our powers are infinite; let us broaden our minds like the elastic bags that they actually are and fill them with dreams of laughter.