Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dithi Mukherjee: lost and found...

Rain soaked roads
forced the traffic
to jam
a cacophony
of horns and scorns.

Destination- Kalighat.
Purpose- to see the Goddess.

I heard footsteps
and muffled Bangla
floating down the green staircase
as I ascended to see
in red and purple
kohl and silver.

her eyes-

yes, please.
Hmm..., would love it.

The kettle whooshed the water
to undo the leaves that lay
at the bottom of the glass
to become one

We settled down
on high stools
next to a window
at the printing table.

Do I look into those eyes
or do I listen to her speak?

Do I focus on her art
or click her?

Do I sip my tulsi tea
or snap the studio?

I do it all
in a daze.

'I was lost in Geneva
and tried to fit in.
I even stopped wearing my kohl!'
she said.

Geneva's loss!

The talk turned to temples-
Dakhineshwar is her favourite.

'I don't like temples.' I said.
The pundits behave like the mafia-
it beats the purpose.

'If you can detach yourself from the pundits-
not care
and enjoy the temple-'
Dithi mused.
'Try it. They don't bother me.'

But you're you.
Your eyes mesmerise.

Conversation orbited around life,
countries and continents.

'I wouldn't be here
if I hadn't married my husband
or gone to Geneva
and got lost.

Going away
gave me
new eyes
to look.'
she said,
standing in the doorway
kohl and silver
red and purple
that mesmerise.

Stepping out in the rain-
I am lost.
I am found.
I feel the ground-
wet, sensuous, messy and muddy

It's a funny thing- this facebook. You know what a person looks like from their pictures and you think you know what they are like from their posts, but meeting a person in person after being in touch via facebook doesn't prepare you one bit.

I wasn't prepared to be so awestruck.

Dithi and I had exchanged mails and messages, spoken on the phone and I'd bought a print of hers online in March. But spending that rainy afternoon with her in her teacher's studio felt like standing on a sandy seashore - the waves washing away the sand from under my feet- you know you might fall, but you like it- this play of holding on and letting go. It's hard to put into words.

I didn't buy anything. I didn't need to.

'It's not about that.' she said.

It was time to leave. I had planned to buy shakha paula (the red and white bangles worn by married women in Bengal) from Kalighat. I used to wear them as a newly wed bride living in Calcutta all those years ago. The sound they make when you are going about your daily chores while wearing them can conjure up Calcutta in a blink- no matter where you live. Dithi recommended a shop.

The green stairwell beckoned.

'Do you have a brolly?' she asked.

'I've come from a desert.'

We grin and say goodbye.

Barefoot and drenched, my husband, sister-in-law and I buy pedas (sweets) and garlands of hibiscus to offer to Goddess Kali. She was on her lunch break- taking bhog. So, we made the offerings to the closed door. The mafia pundit's demand for more money didn't bother me.

I had met the goddess twice today and hugged her. I was happy to get wet in the rain and eat pedas and step into my sis-in-law's car with muddy feet.

Thank you Kalpana Chitrakaar and Dithi Mukherjee.

Moments as ordinary as these-
when you see the light in the brush strokes of Kalpana's scrolls
in the depths of  Dithi's kohl rimmed eyes-
make a pilgrim out of me.

Saraswati, Kaali and Durga
reside in you
in me.

This, I'm beginning to see.


Here are a few pictures I did manage to click despite the daze of being dazzled by Dithi:)

the tulsi tea ceremony...


Dithi tells me that these hearts are her teacher's work in progress...

Shakha Paula from Kalighat and cotton saree from Bellur Math- a girl has to shop, right?

Kolkata traffic made sure I enjoyed the rain- every raindrop of it:) green, green and more green...

You can find more about Dithi and her work on

and if you missed the post about Kalpana, here's the link:

I have been reading Paradise in Plain Sight by Karen Maezen Miller and as I read, I underline. Here's a quote from this awesome book:

"Once you admit you are lost,everything you see is a sign pointing home."

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kolkata connections- old and new : heart and art.

A week or so ago, the family started gathering in Kolkata. My husband has two siblings and ever since we all dispersed (almost twenty years ago) in different directions, the clan hasn't had a chance to eat a meal together at the same table.  Somehow, without too much forward planning, it all worked out and I found myself on board a plane escaping the relentless heat of Doha.

Who would've thought that this impromptu reunion would bring me face to face with a dear old friend who is organising an event to raise funds for her beloved Nepal.

The fund raising event is called Kolkata to Kathmandu and the details are here:

Nisha Bhatia and her daughter, Anaina are the hearts behind this event.


Meeting Nisha after 23 years felt like meeting Nisha after 23 days- thanks to the internet and our 'likes' for each other's facebook status:)

Some of her Buddha must've rubbed on to me when we hugged because the next day turned out to be magical, almost surreal.

It started early.

My sister- in -law had arranged for Kalpana Chitrakaar (Chitrakaar means maker of pictures or artist) and her husband Khokan to come over to her house. She had met them at a local exhibition, liked their work and mentioned them to me. I was curious to see if I could meet them as well. A few phone calls were made and received. They arrived early next morning carrying their art.

Maa Saraswati- Goddess of knowledge- Khokan's work:

Tribal scenes- Kalpana's work:

This is Kalpana's award winning work. They unfurled it and I fell for it- hook, line and sinker.

The award is called Adivasi Jeevan Kahani Purushkaar. 
She got first place in her district.
Her art was chosen out of 40 districts to reach the state finals.
She managed first place in West Bengal.

If it had been me, I would've shouted  to the whole world - texted, updated my status and done everything in my power to advertise my achievement.

And there she was- a demure smile played across her face when we complimented her. 
Humility, grace and so much talent- maa Saraswati incarnate.

A lot of undoing needs to be done on me, for me and by me to sample the stillness humility brings with it. That's why I love these moments when humble souls like Kalpana throw a few learning tips my way.
 I grab at them greedily and hug her.

Drum roll please....
Khokan's voice rang out into song, taking us all by surprise. Desperately, we gestured to him with our fingers on our lips to sing a bit soflty as none of us were ready to face the wrath of a house full of teenagers being woken up that early!

So he sang slightly softly.
He sang tales from the Ramayana.
He sang about Ram and Sita and Lokhman.
His voice - clear and confident.

You may like to scroll down the pictures while listening to his song. I was too spellbound to even think of taking a video. My sis-in-law recorded his song on her phone. 

She also became my translator. Khokan conversed in Bangla.
I took turns to gape-
first at him, then at my sister-in-law; taking in the tennis of translation.
 Bangla volleyed into English.
I took notes.

'Traditionally, we earned our living from singing. We would gather around- one of us would start with a verse, then the next person would take over and so on. We painted for ourselves. All of us- my baba, my ma. Now my sister and both my sons paint with us.'

I don't know about you, but doesn't it all sound surreal, almost Utopian?
Sing for a living and paint for pleasure- wow!

It was time to wrap up. As the scrolls were being folded, Khokan's visiting card came into sight.

I read his name and commented, 'so you are Muslim and Kalpana is Hindu, how did you meet?'

This comment shows my perception of India- i.e. inter-religious marriages may be fine in the metros but surely Kalpana and Khokan had to fight a few battles in the depths of West Bengal to break the norm.

His reply left me speechless.

'Religion is religion. Art is everything.' he said.

Divine energy was present in my sister-in-law's living room that morning in Kolkata- it needed no name to bind it or describe it. It had flowed from the tip of Kalpana's brush on to a piece of silk cloth. It shone through the pigments picked by Khokan and his son to fill out the folds of a red curtain.

A sabih and bibi portrait painted jointly by Khokan and his 16 year old son:

The colours used by them come from natural sources, such as:
kohl or kajal, burnt clay, red brick powder, the clay sourced from the bottom of ponds, beetle leaf, raw turmeric, aparajita (butterfly pea)  and hibiscus. He mentioned a few other names, too, which I'm not familiar with- local names of flowers, I think. They use the pulp of bhel fruit (also knows as wood apple or Bengal quince) to mix the colours. 

It all sounds fascinating to me. They invited us to visit their village and I think I'll do just that next time I am in West Bengal. Almost all the sources of colours they mentioned (including the mixing medium of bhel) are used as offerings to gods and goddesses in Hindu rituals.

I would've loved to research  more about  Patachitra artists to share with you but I'm keen to publish this post before the fundraiser kicks off on July 2nd, 2015. I guess I'll have to travel back soon to carry out the research:)

The magic of art and artists continued to fill me with awe that day because a couple of hours after I had hugged Kalpana, I was sitting across Dithi Mukherjee-being mesmerised by her eyes. A couple of hugs would follow and the rest my dear ones will be revealed in my next post- she is a goddess: beautiful, enchanting and oh so unforgettable.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dhyan se - pay attention, be mindful.

'Kadam sambhal ke rakhna (step carefully). You've not done this before. Dhyan se chalna (be mindful of your steps.).'  My father-in-law's words when I called him to say that the bus I was in was ready to leave ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) were like any other words one would expect from him.

He worries. He cares. He's a father.

At that time, I had smiled and put my phone on silent. I had struggled with the lever to push the seat back to recline and given up. By the time I reached Mcllo, I had already forgotten his words.

A couple of days later, 'dhyan se chalna' became our mantra as we traversed the rocky cut outs of the last leg of our trek- from Kareri village to Kareri Lake, for the following reasons:

1. Dried pine needles can be slippery to step on.

2. Climbing rocks is a killer cardio work out, so to feign fitness, I HAD to take one step at a time!

3. The impact on 'auntyji' knees when I was climbing down could only be mitigated if I took ONE step down at a time-  dhyan se (mindfully)- placing the receiving foot at a forty five degree angle each time.

I am glad to report that yoga helped and despite the arduous climb up and back, the joints didn't protest a painful revolt.

Paying attention to each step opened up opportunities to pay attention to my surroundings almost at a meditative pace. The camera clicked happily. We absorbed it all- the camera and I- dhyan se...

'What's this?'

'What's it called?'

my monkey mind would ask
every time 
I spotted 
pretty flower
an insect
a tree.

'This is here. This is now.'
replied the soul.

Come with me on this trek- one step at a time. 


his lingam

hazel eyed shepherds
their sheep.

snow covered peaks
dried up leaves.

filling up water bottles
a bidi.

this is...

Is she sick?
'Hmmm..', he nodded.

This is Sanjay.
He brings his sheep up here every day.
Then sits and waits for them to finish before he heads back home to his wife and two children,
a boy and a girl.

'You have beautiful eyes.' I complimented.
He blushed.
This was a first for me- complimenting a grown man 
(other than my husband, who has stunningly magnetic eyes).
This auntyji was in form:)

It's only when I was back in my kitchen in Doha that the words of May, hanging on the calendar beside the water dispenser distilled into clarity.

Breathing in,

I see myself as a flower.

Breathing out, I feel fresh.

Breathing in,

I see myself as a mountain.

Breathing out, I feel solid.

Breathing in, I see myself as space

Breathing out, I feel free.

Thich Nhat Hanh

But that was May, it is June now.

June has conspired to present me with the unenviable task of dragging my teen aged children towards a normal routine, i.e. get up before midday, shower, tidy up their rooms and get some sort of exercise. Exercising their eyes while they're glued to their computer screens and thumbs while they're busy drumming out texts and snap chatting does not count.

'But, it's our summer holidays!' they cry out in unison.

Only if all my days were as simple as this...

That was Kareri. This is Doha, boiling and dusty.

So, why is it that I can be mindful and carefree on a trek, but so full of irritability when my children let their dried out cereal bowls pile up in the sink? Why can't I practise mindfulness when they sleep on a bed minus the sheets because I abstained from making their bed in the hope that this would make them more responsible?

My daughter and I have been catching up after her intense IB year and before she goes to university. We've chatted, watched Melissa McCarthy in the Spy, shopped and argued. We've had our share of cuddles and tears.

'You're the only one who can make me cry.' words uttered by my daughter last week broke my heart.

No, she wasn't getting emotional about leaving home or anything. I had hurt her. I had hurt her with my words and made her cry.

No, it wasn't about the unmade bed. It was about what I thought was the right thing for her to wear for a dinner party. She likes practical and I wanted to show her off.

Instead of being mindful of her, I was being mindful of how things 'should' be- just a bit better, just a bit different- her choices should be just a little like mine.

Arti, Dhyan se chalna- mind your steps as a mother, as a human, as a traveller.

Don't overstep.

Don't leave footsteps. She doesn't need them. She'll forge her own path- just like you did- one step at a time.

Yes, it's so easy to mind my steps, breathe deeply, inhale the good and exhale the bad when I'm in the lap of the Himalayas or lying in shavasana; not so easy when I'm coming to terms with the fact that my children are souls on a journey of their own.

The weight of her words sits heavily. I try to lighten it with Gibran and Rumi. It helps a little.

Like yoga and writing, I have to practise being a mother who's learning to let go everyday, a mother who is learning to .
"Welcome and accept
things as they are
Welcome and accept
children as they are."

( The Parent's Tao Te Ching by William Martin)

There are days when we hurtle word-weapons at each other under the guise of sarcasm and days when my almost adult children dive into my bed, shaking it with their collective weight to sleep with me while their father is out of town. There are days when they accuse me of playing the guilt card and days when the son whistles while he mops floors and the daughter cooks a delicious meal just because she feels like it.  It's all part of the deal. But, practise I must.

All these years, I had thought that I was bringing up my children. Today, I realise that they have brought me up.

Words wound when we use them to impose our expectations on our loved ones. Silence soothes. Reading rescues me. It reminds me that I haven't done this before- this living, this parenting, this letting go. So, I need to take one step at a time- dhyan se. 

"Know that each action,
each word
has its effect.
Be alert and mindful,
living fully in each present moment.
Treat your children with courtesy
as you would treat a guest."

The Parent's Tao Te Ching by William Martin)

The Parent's Tao Te Ching by William Martin is my go to book when I feel unsettled. The summer holidays have only just begun and I plan to treat my children with courtesy as long as they behave like reasonable guests and wash their bowls:) 

The evening call to prayer rings out as I type. My Muslim friends will be breaking their fast within the next half hour. The day comes to a close after celebrating fathers and yogis and saluting the summer solstice sun. The 21st of June will melt into the 22nd...one tick at a time. I will cook daal and rice for my family- dhyan se, with love and jeere ka tadka (tempered with cumin) in my kitchen in Doha. I am here and this is now. 

Breathe in...
Breathe out...