Friday, March 20, 2015

Resistance and A bipolar lunch box

Christine Mason Miller says:
 “Resistance grows in direct proportion to how important something is to us.” 
as an introduction to 
The Conscious Booksmith -
an online workshop that I've enrolled on recently.

When I first heard that statement, I wasn’t sure I understood it. Resistance is optional- this has been my belief thus far. You only resist to do something or go somewhere if you are lazy or scared or not bothered but you make that conscious choice. Is resistance optional and/or a conscious decision we make or does it work at a sub-conscious level? 
I'm trying to find out.

‘Resistance is in your mind. Stop resisting and your body will open up.’ My yoga guru repeats these words almost every time we practise- especially when some of us are unable to get into a pose.

According to Christine, procrastination and avoidance are some of the ways resistance manifests itself.

Why do we resist?

Is it because we fear the known - or what we think we know (I will hurt myself if I push too hard in a yoga pose) or because we fear the unknown - that which we think we have no control over (If I talk about my mother’s illness, people might pity me or judge me for washing my dirty linen in public). 

Is resistance a form of self- preservation - our ego's way to keep us functional? 

Or is it DENIAL wearing an 'I CAN'T' T-shirt?

Obviously, I have a long way to go before I can understand resistance, 

but I can identify it now.

Mother's day in the UK, the rain in Doha and this workshop have all conspired to make me nostalgic. They have pushed me to step on my nostalgia and stretch- really stretch -right on my tippy toes to reach and unlock the rusty old lock of my memories to face my resistance- to address him and tackle him- no matter how painful the rendezvous may turn out to be.

The words 'resistance is futile' kept knocking my insides till they morphed into 'resistance is FERTILE'- 
the more I stared resistance in the face, the more stories told themselves to me.

"Resistance is a good sign"- Christine's words are beginning to make sense.

I'm ready to tell my story... 

 My school tiffin box had bi-polar disorder and manic depression.

On good days when the sun was shining, the fragrance from my lunch box would escape the lids and smother my school bag. Exercise books and text books covered in brown paper and neatly labelled lying inside my bag would smell like my mother's kitchen. Every time I opened my school bag to put the books in or take them out, at the end of one lesson and the beginning of another, the aroma of the lunch box would wink at me and promise me a feast at break time. On days like these, the break bell took its own sweet time to ring.

The thick translucent yellow plastic lid of my lunch box would open up like a sunflower and reveal the fragrant paranthas of namak and ajwain (salt and carom seed) - soft golden squares with the folds visible on the sides.

My mum used vegetable oil to make paranthas for the lunch box so that they would taste good even when cold because the ones made with desi ghee (the norm is any Punjabi household) cannot be eaten cold- the cold ghee arrests the flavours and holds them captive.

These two square paranthas with haphazard brown patches where the bread had touched the hot tawa (pan) the longest proclaimed with confidence that all was well at home. The tiniest dots of ajwain which taste pungent when you first bite into them and then burst with sweet flavour on your tongue said all was well at home. The little blob of achaar (pickle) of mango or karonde (akin to cranberries) would be the trailer of good things to follow that afternoon when we reached home after school. It was almost certain that lunch would be ready and we (my younger sister and brother and I) would eat a hot meal prepared by our mother when we reached home.

The dark gloomy days of two slices of white bread put together with a layer of mixed fruit jam were always around the corner. These days appeared around the equinoxes -around March and September. Holi – the festival of colours and Dusshera – the celebration of the victory of good over evil appear around March and September in the Indian calendar.

“She probably gets sick on purpose”- I thought this often when I was four, five, six or seven and even when I was in my teens- “to avoid all the extra work that has to be done during festival times.”

Years later, when I started reading about bi-polar disorder, I discovered the connection between seasonal changes and depression.

Two slices of white bread put together with Kissan mixed fruit jam and if we were not running late to catch the school bus- even a layer of Amul butter to keep the sandwich moist for it would be eaten four hours later, would cast a very dark and grey shadow on my sun.

I remember biting into the half dry, half moist, hastily put together white slices of bread while eyeing the full moon shapes of fluffy round idlis sprinkled lovingly with ‘gunpowder’ chutney in my South Indian friend's lunch box with hopeful eyes. Perfect pooris stuffed with peas or poha (puffed rice) cooked with peas and carrots and seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves by another class mate's mother pulled me towards them.

To this day, no idli or poori or poha has managed to live up to the standard set by the ones my friends shared with me at break time. NONE!

Friends who lived near the school would sometimes extend an impromptu lunch invitation. This always made me feel like I was Alice in Wonderland. What unreal worlds did these girls come from?  How could they be sure that their mothers would have something ready for us to eat? There were no cell phones to communicate in the 1980s. Do you mean to say that their mums got out of bed every day, any day?

Sometimes, OK honestly, lots of times, I would look at those lunch boxes and wish to follow them to their homes instead of mine when the end of the day bell rang in school. But only when the days were dark and gloomy and the sun had been eclipsed by two slices of white bread.

Because on bright sunny days, my mother would serve us baingan ka bartha (aubergines cooked with onions, tomatoes, peas and seasoned with cumin, chillies, coriander and lots of love) and hot rotis with white butter and dahi (yoghurt set at home) when we flung our school bags down and ran to the kitchen pulled by the sweet smell of fresh rotis.

The three of us would fight over the two aubergine stalks. These are little umbrella handle like stalks that hold an aubergine but when they are simmered in the aromatic bhartha while its cooking, they store inside them all the delicious flavours. You suck and suck on the dark stalk till all the sharpness of cumin and coriander and the sweetness of the aubergine has emptied itself out on your tongue. You suck and suck till only the dry fibres remain and you still suck and fight with your brother/sister to not touch yours as it’s your turn to eat the stalk that day. Come to think of it, we always had only two stalks- I guess two big aubergines were enough for our family’s meal.

My mother was an awesome cook and her secret ingredient was the love she poured into her cooking. She loved feeding us fresh-off-the-tawa-rotis with a dollop of homemade white butter. On rainy days like these, her secret ingredient is what I crave.

My school lunch box’s bi-polar depression only got worse as we grew older. The dark spells became longer or maybe we had started noticing it more.

The two slices of bread were replaced by spending money to use in the school canteen as we moved up the grades and could be trusted with keeping the couple of Rupees safe till break time. Hot chanas (chickpeas cooked in a solar cooker by our environmentally friendly canteen owner) and bun or mouth watering crumbly 'bun samosa' became the silver lining to my dark gloomy clouds.


"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you"-

 Maya Angelou's words scribbled on an envelope lie next to my laptop and cheer me on.

My childhood memories are a blurry ball of twine- 
all knotted together- 
happy and sad. 
As I begin to pull at the frayed edges of the little end that's jutting out, I tremble. 
Once it starts unravelling, I may not want to or be able to stop.
Let's see where this 'unburdening' takes me.  


Thank you Pauline for recommending the workshop:)


Thank you Christine for introducing me to my Resistance. xx

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Winter walks within and Washington with Wings.

Happy March to all you lovely people. 
May you march to your tunes
Discover you:)

It has been a topsy turvy start of the month for me. I took time off from work for two reasons:

1) to have more energy and time for my daughter who will be flying the nest this fall and

2) to find out if I would do the things I always said I would if I had the time - like reading and writing and in the process discovering who I am and what is it that I really want to do. 

You may call this a mid-life crisis. I call it 'reflection'.

The first few weeks were fabulous. I attended a few morning workshops- geometry  and ceramics and even found myself relishing a piece of delicious chocolate cake at a coffee morning! 

I watched my daughter play basketball which was great.

But then March rolled by and I felt lost. I was lost in the jumble of all the things I wanted to do- read, write, garden, yoga, cook, clean, diet ...basically I wanted to do EVERYTHING perfectly, so I ended up doing NOTHING except gardening:) 

Living a free day (when I am not constantly checking the time) is testing me. I am becoming conscious of myself. Removing the tick-tock of timetables from half of my day is forcing me to listen to the 'dhuk-dhuk' of my soul. This change of gears from auto pilot to conscious living is not easy. It's thrilling but scary. It's so much easier to just turn the telly on or to stalk people on facebook, rather than peep inside myself to find out who I am. 

My vision of a 10 kg lighter me with an impeccable house and garden throwing garden parties for friends where I would wow them with my poetry or short stories has become another fridge magnet - wise words and ideas stuck in limbo WITHOUT action.

"You are not free until you have no need to impress anybody".

A friend put this up on her fb page. I inhaled the words deep into my core. If I inhale these words regularly, I might become them and then I can be free to do what I really want to do. 

My first steps towards this freedom make me slow down. I read and I read and I garden and I ignore lots of chores and duties. I feel safe in my go-slow-cocoon for now. 

No wonder men and women take sanyas or go wandering to discover themselves. I don't have that luxury. I can't pack my bags and go wandering. I have to find myself here - surrounded by my family, laundry, school runs, facebook, whatsap, blogs and dinners.

A yoga teacher once said that yoga is not about running away from your duties but finding yourself while performing them.

I am trying to do just that- 
at my pace
in my space.

Where is Washington and where are the wings? you ask...They're coming right up. Following my own advice of not trying to impress anybody- here goes - a mismatched post of discovering within and without.

This is Washington Do See (D.C.).

We happened to be in Washington D.C. for Christmas 2014. This was the first time our son actually wanted to visit a museum. 

The National Air and Space Museum was on his list and that was the only item on the list.

But before we fly, let's walk.

And before we walk, let's eat. If you ever visit Washington D.C., try out Brown Bag-

Hot oatmeal served with pecan nuts, sprinkled with chia seeds and honey and any other topping your heart desires followed by a farmer's breakfast of fluffy scrambled eggs and chunky home fries got us hooked. 
We ate there every morning:)

If you like walking- go to Washington. It's great. We walked everywhere - 
even in Thunder, Lightning and in Rain

Being jet lagged meant that we were up really early, so we ended up at the National Mall before anything was open.

Time to shoot!

As soon as the doors of the National Air and Space Museum opened, we entered and queued up for the guided tour. 
It was FANTASTIC. I would recommend it as a MUST DO if you go.
Our extremely knowledgeable 84 year old guide put the rest of us to shame. After about an hour and a half of walking and looking, some of us were trying to find perches to rest our feet while he carried on -enthusiastically sharing amazing anecdotes and details about what we were seeing.

I shot the wings like I shoot flowers- by colour. I have no idea about airplanes and their history, but if it felt right, I shot it.

The Eternal Question...

The following photo is of a mural which shows an exact moment of WWII. We were told that the wife of the pilot in this mural actually identified him when she visited the museum with her son!

Amelia Earhart flew this plane single handedly across the Atlantic.
It's the Vega monoplane, built by the Lockheed Company.

The next day, we walked from our hotel near the National Mall to Georgetown. It feels like a high street in an English town and I loved it. The Christmas lights were toned down and pretty.
The whole place had a small town vibe to it.

I met a very kind shop assistant in the Jack Wills store there who grew up a few blocks away- chatting with people in stores who are not just trying to push a sale but are nice to you always makes me smile.
Human stories turn destinations into memories.
 And he gave me tips on what to do locally that I wouldn't necessarily find in a guide book;)

 The teenagers kept sending me death threats telepathically when they saw this-

"How embarrassing Mum! Why did you have to talk to him?"

But, he's so cute;)

Oh! Yuck!!! Mum!

Another walk I would recommend is from the National Mall to Foggy Bottom - makes me giggle every time.
We walked to Kennedy Performing Arts Centre via Foggy Bottom -another historical neighbourhood which looks like it's been cut out of an English town and pasted here.
Quaint little houses with their quaint little gardens- sorry no pics as I was forbidden to stop and shoot on account of the cold winds.

Here are some shots from top of the Kennedy Centre. The wind was cccccold! 

Doesn't this sky remind you of the Simpsons?

We walked by the river to reach the National Mall. It was a BEAUTIFUL walk.

He scuttled down and climbed on my daughter's shoe. 
'Show me! Show me! How do  I look in that shot?'  he seemed to be saying.

'Yes, mum, this walk is super fun.'

Not everything I saw in Washington was happy and sunny. There were homeless people sleeping on pavements in that bitter cold. While we walked briskly towards our hotel and warm beds smothered in our goose down jackets, I saw groups of humans taking cardboard out of dumpsters to make their beds for the night on the cold grey concrete.

Then there was the van which stopped in front of us on Christmas Eve and started handing out blankets to the people who were making their cardboard beds.

BBQ smells greeted my husband and I as we stepped out of our hotel on Christmas Day to walk to Kennedy Centre for a free Jazz recital. The entire park near our hotel had been turned into a BBQ station for the homeless by a local charity. The park was a grey cloud- dark shapes carrying their homes around them had gathered there.

I walked past the park in my winter boots and warm hat towards the Jazz recital. The BBQ smell lingered  around me and made me hungry. I  noticed the grey humans but chose to continue with my holiday instead.

Yes, the sunny and the grey, the happy and the gloomy live side by side in Washington like in any other city of this world.

I choose to capture the sun and keep it with me. Maybe, I'm selfish. I am who I am.


March shines through my window today.
The tutu pink Hibiscus nods its head
 and opens its heart to receive the sun.


Friday, February 27, 2015

A haircut!

Have you ever obsessed about your hair?

Has a haircut ever made you develop insomnia because you can't decide if you hate it or love it?

If the answer to any of the above questions ranges from an emphatic yes to a shaky maybe, then you'll understand

If your answer is a 'No' to any one of the questions, then you are lucky.

However, if your answer is a 'No' or 'Never' to both the questions above, then you are blessed- believe me. 

A brief history

I have had short hair most of my life. When I was little, my mother believed in the least amount of fuss in the mornings - so my sister and I sported the 'boy cut' hair.  Our innocence and our small town upbringing made the 'boy cut' cool - we were fine with it. 

High school saw me championing a well oiled plaited look because oiling equalled long lush tresses and if  I had long hair, the boy of my dreams would love me. The wisdom of Hindi films and hair oil ads on TV had to be true.

'Who's ever going to even look at you with all that oil?" asked a kind classmate once. He was obviously trying to help, but I didn't see his point of view.

University days were all about quitting the oil and letting go. The boy of my dreams had to be around those corridors somewhere. I couldn't risk it. Open tresses to French braids- I tried it all. 

One day in college, I decided to wrap a scarf around my loosely tied hair. I had seen some other girls carrying this look around the campus with aplomb.

A friend who was sitting behind me during a riveting lecture on Income Tax tapped me on my shoulder and with great concern in his voice asked, " What happened? How did you hurt your hair? Was it serious? Does it still hurt?"

It took me a few seconds to decipher his concern. My scarf was muslin and  WHITE - bandage white! 

His big brown eyes were tearing up with silent laughter while I watched the boy of my dreams racing down the long college corridor towards 'the end' of my love story. 

Three hairdressers refused to cut my waist length hair short. This was more than twenty years ago in New Delhi and the idea that long hair equals beauty was very much intact. 

One kind hairdresser took pity and unwittingly ushered in the neurosis that I have associated with haircuts ever since.

"It's taken 10 years off you." was the usual response I got from my new colleagues at my new job after that first chop. I was 21. Who wouldn't want to be eleven and earn money and be independent?

The battle between sexy long tresses (even though the boy of my dreams has since been captured and tethered to me for better or for worse) and short hair ( for its ability to take years off my age) rages on.

Here's a 'sample' of what happens when I visit the hairdressers every couple of months.

It's called the POST  HAIRCUT  RITUAL or PHR for short- pronounced (in Hindi) - phir se? (translation- again? what gain? No Lord, NOT again!!)

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to visit the hairdressers-
not the expensive kind
but the kind one finds in a mall.
The kind one usually uses
for trims
when one knows what one wants
one is planning a change
but doesn't know
what kind of change!

The plan was to get a trim, but she took a lot more off. I could sense it but I was unable to stop her. I always feel that they know best. The big pile of hair on the floor looked forlornly at me- almost accusing me of abandoning it.

Regret started setting in like a Plaster of Paris mould- emanating heat. All the signs of 'what did I do' were there.

'Thank you', I chirped shrilly while tipping the chopper of my hair and stepped out in a daze.

One would think that years of putting up with my post haircut behaviour would have taught my husband what to say. My girlfriends, on the other hand, are a God send. I'll let you decide who handles the PHR better. 

 Scene 1:

Husband (getting in from work- opening the door- grinning and trying to look excited): Smart haircut!

I: You're just saying that. You know that's the safest thing to say. You don't really mean it.
(the husband puts the briefcase down on the floor next to the sofa.)

I: You're not even looking at me. You just want to play it safe.


Girlfriend: It's not so bad.

I: You really think so? I could wear it like this (pin up) or like this? It doesn't make me look old, does it?

Girlfriend: Of course NOT!

Scene 2:

The husband has changed out of his work clothes and has been fed and watered. The elephant in the room is waiting patiently to be stroked back into conversation.

I: Is this better than the last one ?

Husband:  "Uhhhh ...what?....Sure.
( The poor man can't recall what he had for lunch that afternoon- let alone a trim I had six months ago!)

I (the eyes are getting wider and the pitch a tad sharper): Sure ? What? Sure YES or Sure NO?? 

The husband pulls out his phone and pleads for it to ring. It doesn't. He wears the 'serious- I- have - a -crisis- at -work- situation' look and checks his phone for texts.

For all I know he's probably sending spiritual SOS messages to all the Hindu gods and goddesses to save him.

The Gods I'm sure have tuned in to our sitting room just to watch the drama unfold.

His prayers are answered. The phone rings. He gestures with his hand to suggest that it's an important call and that we should take a break from our stimulating conversation. He needs to take the call. To get more privacy for this VERY IMPORTANT CALL, he turns around so that now I'm facing his back. My eyes are getting wider, the brows are drawing closer and the tone of my voice when I use it next WILL NOT be friendly.

His phone conversation goes on for a bit.

He turns.

He hopes I have disappeared.

But like Rosemary's child, I am there with my new hairdo - waiting.

I: So, what do you think?

Husband : Do you like it?

I: I asked you.

Husband: Sure! I mean -it's nice.

I ( almost screeching): NICE? Is that all you can say?


Girlfriend: Do you like it?

I: I'm not so sure anymore.

Girlfriend: I think it's nice.

I: Really? Do you mean it? It doesn't make me look old, does it?

Girlfriend: Of Course NOT!

Scene 3 :

The teenagers come down to enquire about pick up plans from school for the next day and the husband looks relieved.

Husband:  So guys, what do you think of mum's new haircut?

Teenagers ( in unison): Mmmmm...

They mumble and leave the room shrugging their shoulders. They move suspiciously faster than normal- without dragging their feet- it's almost like they are sprinting out of the room but manage to cleverly disguise it with  teenagers' indifference so that it seems like they are retracing their steps back up the stairs to their room sanctuaries at NORMAL speed.

I ( sounding desperate): Did I do the right thing? Should I've gone shorter? What suits me more? Long or short?

Husband : I've always preferred short hair on you.

The BOMB has been dropped.

I: AND you are telling me NOW? After I've grown it for almost a year! You couldn't have told me SIX months ago? 

Needless to say- the silent war is declared without a murmur being whispered.


Girlfriend: Short hair is so 'you'.

I: Ya! I think so too, but..

Girlfriend: But the way you tied it up when it was long, looked good too. You know it's grows..have fun with it.

I: I know. It doesn't make me look old. Does it?

Girlfriend: Of Course NOT!

(My girlfriend and I say cheers to that and hold hands and skip happily into the sunset
while the poor husband is left to deal with the SILENT treatment for an indefinite period!)

the end

The same scenes are repeated in my household every time I visit the hairdressers. My vanity and neurosis hit an all time high. These are not my best moments, but they're mine and they make me who I am.

Girlfriends who know me have been subjected to the same treatment via whatsap messages and texts, but they know exactly how to respond. They choose any one or more of the following options:

1. It looks great for this time of the year. (non- committal. Hair grows.)

2. How do you feel about it? ( Notice that this is the same question asked by the husband but when a girl friend asks, it  warrants a different response- she cares about how I feel- Awww...)

3. This has taken years off your age. (my favourite)

4. I love your hair. (again- non committal- I love your hair does NOT mean I love your hair style- but once again I love her for showing me the support.)

If you have any hairy tales to share, please do.

Yoga has taught me to accept and let go. Like some Asanaas I find difficult to get into, letting go of my vanity about how my hair makes me look is proving to be challenging.

I just want to thank the universe for a husband who puts up with it and for the girlfriends who know what to say every time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A wise goat and a poetry box on a coastal path.

"Hey! hold still." I whispered under my breath to the goat who looked like Billy Goat Gruff and not too pleased to see me brandishing my camera. 

"Still yourself first!"
his eyes pleaded with me.

While exploring the Exmoor Heritage coast,we ended up in the twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth. Once again, the credit goes to our friends in London who made the recommendation.

We parked in Lynton and walked up the main street to find a place to have a late lunch.
Charlie Friday's looked very inviting and worth a try.

We must have been really hungry because I don't seem to have taken any photos.
I do remember the decor was funky and cool. The green they've used is very unusual- almost chartreuse with flecks of yellow- wonder how they came up with that shade and who chose it-  
because it works.
The decor makes you zingy even before you've sipped their delicious hot chocolate 
licked the foam off the coffee 
 dunked home made bread in soup.
They call themselves 'Lynton's funkiest cafe'.
I concur.

The day was perfect for a walk. The sun was not beating down and the little cloud cover made for ideal walking conditions.

Tummies full of delicious wholesome food and teenagers happy after drinking yummy hot chocolate  also made for ideal walking conditions.

I'm not sure which path we took as it was getting late and I was keen to walk- even if it was for a short time. So, instead of faffing around with maps and checking out the visitor centre,we headed towards the coast and started walking.

The views of the Bristol Channel from the path:

Mr. Gruff, the senior, aka the Wise One:)

The rest of the Gruff clan...

What's this?

Looks interesting...

  A Poetry Box was taking a break on this bench.
We decided to give it company.

Needless to say, 
we dallied.
We read what was inside.
Dallied a bit more.
left feeling full,
content and
A simple act of
reading, writing and drawing
 it was least expected
brought the whole world together
in that little poetry box.
I felt one.

Here are a few samples...mostly the ones the teenagers liked:)

An idiotic TWAT or not, I like it-
 "Remember this day as there's no tomorrow."

It was Shiva's birthday this week.
I like Shiva.
 He is the first Yogi or Adi Yogi 
 he always looks so good (in all the images of him I've ever seen- in temples, on calendars and even the latest telly serials)- 
all toned up and handsome!

A facebook share on his Birthday (Shivaratri)
 led me to these words: 

"Prayer means you are trying to talk to God. Meditation means you are willing to listen to God. You are willing to just listen to existence, to the ultimate nature of creation. You have nothing to say, you simply listen.

The moments I spent sitting there with the poetry box after we'd put the book back in the box stilled me.
 All the walking and clicking and oohing and aahing at the sights crystallised into a happy memory when we all just sat down- didn't really talk to each other, but felt one.

The goat's advice made sense to me.
Pausing and reflecting is the darkroom of experience.
A clear picture emerges when the senses have had time to stand still. 

Lately, I have started discovering the magic of listening.
 Instead of talking about me, my stuff, my family, my yoga practice, my woes, my worries, my plans, my plants and my darling garden, 
I am trying to listen-
it's not easy for me.
In fact, it's damn hard!
What a fascinating activity it's turning out to be.
Try it.
Sit and Listen.

A bench on Lynton High Street...

Here's a video I watched recently- thanks again to facebook shares... 
the speaker is talking about stillness.
  I'm still amazed when things I've been ruminating about are shared by friends almost as if it has all been timed by some cosmic power.

There is an old saying my mum used to say:
"when the student is ready, the teacher presents himself."-
I am becoming a believer!

If you are planning to visit the Exmoor National Park, here are some useful links:

The fact that this post is about a wise goat so close to the Year of the Goat celebrations is purely co-incidental. I take no responsibility for being so organised as to create a post to time with the Chinese New Year. It just happened.

Wishing you all a peaceful and healthy year ahead:) xx