Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yoghurt bath

When we were little, my mother used to bathe my sister and me with yoghurt. Ewwww! You say.
Courtesy: Google Images
The whole tamasha (fiasco) used to take place in the open. My grandfather's house, where we lived till I was eight, had a big rectangular cement water tank in the garden. It was tucked in a corner, almost next to the metal gate that we used to swing on and get told off for on a daily basis. Spiky fronds of ginger foliaged to the right of this grey water tank. A stubby pomegranate tree stood behind it. It flowered beautifully but its fruit was pitiful; the seeds never managed to plump up. I jumped off this tank once because a boy dared me to and landed on the balls of my feet so hard that I thought I saw stars (like in comic books) for a few seconds.

So, come Sunday morning, usually once a month, a medium sized steel bowl (katora) full of yoghurt (dahi in Hindi) would appear with a couple of drops of mustard oil in my mother's hand. The two of us would be ordered to march ourselves to the water tank (paani ki tunkee) clad only in our cotton kuchhees (underwear).

Even before my mother sat down on the low wooden stool (chowki) and even before she removed her dupatta (scarf) to settle down to get to her business, the pungent smell of mustard oil would hit my nostrils. I would've done anything to escape the ordeal.

Mummy would scoop out a dollop of curd with her fingers, place it on her palm, rub her palms together and she was ready to go. First stop: the arms, starting at the shoulders, she would rub the yoghurt into our arms, tut-tutting at the dry elbows. Discovering dry patches on our little bodies always renewed my mother's vigour to rub in the yoghurt with added pressure. Legs followed arms, then the toes and the spaces in between the toes that always tickled and the heels, then the back and then the tummy. AND THEN the bit I HATED the most: the face and the hair! Ewww! Ewww!  Her four gold bangles would jingle-jangle as the dreaded mustard oil smell came closer and closer to my nostrils: the cheeks, forehead and chin, the neck, behind the ears and then the hair.

We were washed down with warm water and patted dry. Rajma chawal (Kidney beans and rice) was our Sunday meal. By the time we got dressed, my grandfather would be getting ready to eat his lunch outdoors, under the big mulberry tree and we would hear him call out our names to hurry up and get our ghirais (morsels). You see, back then, humans at home started lunch after a chapati had been set aside for the cow (who'd wander up to the metal gate at precisely lunch time) and another for stray street dogs. That was my grandmother's routine. My grandfather ate his lunch after he had fed the first couple of  morsels to his two granddaughters, my sister and I and then my brother when he was born. He used to say that his food tasted better after we'd taken 'bhog' (offering). Those morsels are what I'm looking forward to when I meet him in my next life.

Once we moved out of my grandfather's house, bathing with yoghurt stopped. Maybe we were getting old or maybe my mother's depression was getting worse. I don't know.

For a long time, I kept yoghurt bathing a secret I was ashamed of. I didn't want anyone to find out that we had yoghurt baths on Sundays when we were kids; beats me why I thought like that. Because, your skin feels like silk after a yoghurt scrub. Try it, if you don't believe me. Word of caution: the hair smells yoghurty afterward, but it feels so velvety.

Many years later, I came across a short story in Hindi (I think it was grade 7 or 8) called Usne Kaha Tha by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri (1883- 1922).

It's considered to be the first short story in Hindi by some. It's certainly an amazingly written one. I read it when I was 12 or 13, but I remember the character, Lehna Singh and his question to the girl, 'Teri kudmayi ho gayee?' (Are you engaged?) as if I read it only last year.

In this story, Lehna Singh (the protagonist) is asked to fetch yoghurt from the bazaar for his uncle who wants to wash his hair. 

That day, I felt normal. 

'There's comfort in numbers', a friend recently wrote on facebook. I certainly felt it that day.

I don't bathe with yoghurt any more, maybe I should start. But, I do mix up a face pack with yoghurt that I apply at least once a week. This recipe is the result of many years of applying home-made face packs. This one works for me.

Mix all the ingredients listed below. Apply on face. When it's dry to touch (20-30 minutes), wash with lukewarm water. Pat dry. Smile.
Warning! DO NOT get the door with the mask on--it looks pretty ewww when it's on the face.

Yoghurt: 1 or 2 teaspoons
Instant coffee granules: 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder: 1/4 teaspoon (if you have fresh turmeric, then grate it and a few drops of its juice should do)
Honey: 1/2 teaspoon
Lemon Juice: 2 drops.

Play around with the consistency and see what suits you best. 

Have a glowing Saturday :)

If you are fond of reading short stories in Hindi, here's Usne Kaha tha in Hindi.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X if for XS and XL

Know then that the body is merely a garment.
Go seek the wearer, not the cloak.

An entire galaxy of emotions exists
these two sizes:
XS and XL

I can't speak for men,
but most women I know
(including me)
and whose size varies like the seasons
(blame the genes, age, love of food or Karma)
can fluctuate
from ecstatic to depressed
on the scale
of XS and XL.

The fact that most clothing companies
have adapted their sizes
and made them more generous
to match the
post WW II
world population
does not concern me.

I have to work hard
on this scale:
once in a blue moon S,
but mostly M.

L is always lurking around,
only a few biryanis away.

and XL!
Been there: post pregnancy
when the elasticated maternity wear fooled me
for a year after
I had delivered
to think
I was alright.

At five feet, one and a half inches
my frame can just about manage
an M
to make my peace-seeking soul
with the garment
it wears.

Reading Rumi is one thing,
remembering his wisdom
when weighing myself on the scales
is a whole new kettle of fish.

Sharing with you:  An attempt to capture the emotional roller coaster ride of clothing sizes when you are a woman past forty and your thyroid decides to go slow on you (what can you say; thyroids are like that sometimes) and you can remember your first day in a new school in grade 4 when the class bully called you: moti (the fat one).
Image taken from fabafterfifty
XS: Ecstasy! JOY! Delirious joy! Overcome with so much happiness. Weak with emotion or because you are probably recovering from a terrible tummy bug or flu and haven't eaten a meal in ten days.

S: Still in seventh heaven. Elated. Excited. Feeling preen-worthy. The carb curfew after six in the evening seems to be working. The running and the yoga has been regular or maybe there has been no time to sit and relax.

M: Mostly happy and upbeat. Comfortable but lamenting the loss of S.  A sneaky voice whispers, 'Be careful' when you go for that second helping while scoffing down another episode of 'Orange is the new Black'. The carb curfew that had been lifted is threatening to make a comeback and the rest of the family is not happy about it.

L: Lamentations. Grim and gloomy is the outlook. ALARM BELLS are ringing. Watching too much TV with too many snacks. Cancelling exercise classes. Skiving on the walks/runs. Or simply participating in a blogging challenge which forces you to sit put for longer than you've ever done.

XL: Time to seek marriage counselling, really. The poor man has no clue that the little label on the shirt you picked up in Topshop says 'XL'. He is confused.

'Is it that time of the month?' he asks. BIG MISTAKE. He'll be lucky if he lives to tell this tale.

It's almost the weekend, so let's cheer up :) If the above has depressed you and you are about to grab that muffin, I urge you to stay put and watch Michael McIntyre instead; at least for the first 4 minutes. But if you have time, go for the entire 10. You will feel fine afterwards. I promise you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Wedding day, Walks and Wall art

Kudiyan waangan chal, puttar. Kon vyaah karega tere naal?

"Walk like a girl, my child, how will you ever find a husband?" my sweet grandmother often asked me this question when I was a teenager.

Whenever I was asked to fetch a glass of water, or run any errands around the house, I did just that. I ran. I thought I was walking; apparently not!

Luckily, Beji, my grandmother, lived to see me wed my husband! Phew!

On my wedding day, the photographer kept hissing under his breath, 'Don't smile so much, look shy, like a bride.'

I wasn't planning to listen to him. I was bursting with joy and I was going to show it.

At the time of 'Vidaai' (this is when the bride leaves her father's house), tradition dictates that the bride should holler and sob. The minimum requirement to qualify as a demure Indian bride is to shed a few tears, at least, and look like you mean it. It didn't happen to me. Not a tear was in sight. I was just so thrilled to be his wife, I couldn't stop grinning. The photographer must have blamed his karma for getting this assignment. He had to resort to videoing my back while I was hugging my grandmother, who was crying, of course. Job done! Tears at vidaai- tick.

Thanks to the heavy saree I was wearing, I was forced to take tiny steps, so at least I walked like a bride. If I had my way, I would've loved to skip to the mandap.

My friends from work are familiar with my gait. It's fast, purposeful, open-chested and similar to the mawaalis' (goons') you see in films. I'd describe it as Bindaas Badshah Chaal (BBC for short). In other words, it's carefree with a hint of cocky, and not at all ladylike. The tea boys at work had a nickname for me; some villainous female character from a popular TV show. I had no idea who she was because my Indian TV viewing is rather limited, but they told me I reminded them of her. I tried not to take offence in the spirit of keeping them entertained while they made awesome cups of karak (tea) to keep us all energized.

The long and the short of it is that I always scrunched up a generous portion of my abaya fabric (the long black garment I had to wear to work) in my left hand so that I could hoist it about six inches above ground, to march down corridors, right hand swinging to the beat of my gait. This is NOT what abayas are designed for. They are designed to make the wearer glide, take dreamlike steps gracefully, like a lady.

Baadhh kahaan aayee hai aaj?

"Where is it flooding today?" A cheeky colleague of mine often asked me whenever he spotted me whizzing past in my black abaya.

I like walking fast. Strangely, slowing down tires me. Brisker the better. I feel reborn after a long walk at a good pace. A lot of my writing ideas take shape while I'm walking. Walks are my go to therapy when I'm feeling out of sorts. Walks clear my head and soothe my heart when I'm feeling ruffled.

However, my walking style changes dramatically when I'm with my camera, especially when I'm exploring a new place. Then it goes like this: Stop. Click. Stop. Click. Ponder. Click. Drive the family NUTS! Click. Ignore their huffing and puffing. Click.

My recent trip to Budapest was no exception. We walked and we walked. It was delightful--for all of us--really:) Are you ready for a tour?

Hop on and enjoy the walls of Budapest with me:
An eclectic mix of posters and signs, 
a few murals
anything else that caught my eye...

I think this says A to Z:
Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Visiting the Dalai Lama

Let me explain:
Vexed with vendors-- garden suppliers and curtain guys, 
I surrender 
my 'V' 
to an older post of mine. 
I hope you won't mind. 
It's a beautiful journey back in time.
And he is the Dalai Lama.
Come along for a visit.

I met him in May, last year.
But it feels like yesterday.

Seven days later-
and I can still feel the way his hand felt when I touched it-
soft, soft, soft.

Seven days later-
and his dark eyes are still peeping into my soul-
clear, mystical, simple.

Seven days later-
and I can still see his soft drooping cheeks commanding his lips to utter,
'Come again.' to us.

'Come again' echoes deep inside me.
Why did he say that?
Come again to Whom? for What? Why?

The white scarves you see us all wearing in the photo
were bought in a rush
after we spotted other visitors carrying them.

A kind gentleman helped us to carefully fold the scarf into a neat concertina.

The lady security guard
at the metal detector,
had other ideas.
With one swift movement of her experienced hands,
she unfurled my neatly folded scarf
and smiled warmly.

Even before we lined up to see His Holiness,
the lessons of life had begun.
Neatly laid plans
while we look on.

It's time to 
the light,
the love
and to let go

Easy said than done.

Standing in line
waiting for my turn
soaking the red, pink and white geraniums planted in cans painted in green
following the butterflies dancing on delphiniums
noticing the bulging biceps of the good looking security personnel caressing his automatic weapon
feeling odd
witnessing this duality-
mean looking guns protecting His Holiness
a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Standing in line
waiting for my turn
carrying my rucksack of expectations
wishing I'd worn a brighter colour or at least some lipstick
to look good in the photo
envying the pretty white dress worn by a Japanese visitor
the lady behind me dressed in Tibetan robes
feeling inadequate
in yoga pants and an old top.

Maybe it's time to unfurl myself
and let go of the ego
that fogs the light of my spirit.

The murmur of voices
and the rustle of bodies
announces his arrival.

I automatically stand on tiptoe to see.

Bodies bow.
Hands fold.
His voice rings out clearly.
I catch snippets of conversations
he has with the other visitors.

I am last in line.
It is time.
'Pick me, Pick me'.
my ego screams silently.
'Tell me I am special.'
'Hold my hand and make me stand out.'
'Tell me you can see how good my soul is.'
You see
I am last in line-
the furthest away from you.

'Can I touch your hand?'
I ask
as we are about to leave
after the
photos have been clicked.
He holds his hand out to me.
I touch.
Three fingers of mine hook into his soft palm.
I've come home.

Seven days later-
he is still with me.

'Come again'
'Come home.'

Come home-
to unfurl
to let go
to open your heart
and wipe the foggy window pane clean-
and unfurls
the darkness

I promise you 
I had no clue
almost a year ago
I had talked about unfurling.
Either I'm a slow learner (highly likely)
or this unfurling business will take time.
I have to thank a very important 'V' in my life: 
drum roll please...
for making it possible.
And my dear facebook friend Sunila for suggesting that I share this experience during the 
A to Z Challenge.

I was determined to only post new stuff, but I've been out all day getting things sorted for the imminent house move, and the midnight deadline is looming, so I surrender, happily:)

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Unfurling

dear heart.
Let the light in.

You've concealed enough over time.
Memories and regrets
Anger and threats
that lurk inside the chambers
have played their part:
let them out.

dear heart;
one petal at a time

He shouts.
She whines.
They splinter and join.
You shed tears
of despair,
is it joy?
Round and round
the cycle goes.
Let it flow.
This is life
you know
like the blood
that throbs
and makes you, you.

dear heart.
Let your flower shine.

Step out of your cocoon:
the one you wove
to protect you.
It's your prison, you know.
Listen to me
dear heart.

I dance to your beat
And when you
I will too.

I invite you to unfurl with these beauties today...
'Open your heart to the Universe', says my yoga teacher.
Maybe, I'm beginning to see what she means. 
Filmed by Neil Bromhall for
Editing By Chokchai

Sunday, April 24, 2016

T is for Ta Prohm

What you seek is also seeking you.
Painting bought at Apsara Gallery, Phnom Penh
Have you ever felt an instant connection with a total stranger? I'm not talking about love at first sight. That kind of connection happened quite regularly to me in my teenage years and even in my early twenties and every time I was convinced, it was the ONE.

I'm talking about a pull, an energy or a strong feeling that makes you stop in your tracks. You feel like you're home, like all the events that day or even before were leading you to this point. It overwhelms you and grounds you at the same time.

It happened more than two years ago.

The four of us found ourselves in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to celebrate Christmas in 2013.

Shopping is always high on my list of 'things to do' wherever I go. But, malls and shopping centres are not. I like to read and research about local artists, artisans, crafts people etc., so that I get to meet the person behind the piece. 

With two addresses in my bag, and two teenagers in tow, my husband and I took a taxi to Russian Market. 

Ta Prohm Souvenir stands squashed between shops in the southeast corner, outside the Russian Market. Colourful silk scarves hung in all hues at the entrance. The children took one look and decided to hang outside- this is their way of saying, "Hurry up Mum! This shop doesn't interest us."

The bright sun outside had blinded me a little so by the time my eyes got used to the light inside, I had almost reached the other end of this small shop. A man and a woman (the owners, I assumed) were counting a pile of scarves. I nodded to show my presence. The lady looked up with busy eyes and smiled. She went back to her counting. I kept staring at her prosthetic leg.

Or maybe, I wasn't staring. Maybe it was just a quick glance and then I looked away to look busy. Right above me, Lady Diana was beaming next to the lady I'd seen, from a blown up photograph.

'Lady Diana! Wow! When was this taken?' I couldn't help myself.

The teenagers had come in to escape the heat and hassle outside. They had found some cool stuff to look at and I'm glad they were there when Ms. Chim Kong started talking. She is the lady who was counting scarves; the one I'd felt this connection with even before I'd seen Lady Di's photo and even before she'd told me her story and even before I'd spotted the prosthetic leg.

'I want to get a purple one for my sister-in-law.' I told her as she started showing me the scarves while telling me about the day she met Lady Di. 

Chim Kong was twelve when she was injured by a landmine and lost her leg. Today, she exports her scarves and other products internationally. She's a landmine survivor.
The above extract is from their shop brochure and its tag line reads: 
Ta Prohm Souvenir: A self-help team of women with disabilities.

Not once did she come across as sorry for herself during our chat.
Not once did she seem arrogant of her achievements.
Not once did she try to push me to buy more than I wanted to.

She oozed humility, love and so much warmth that my eyes were brimming over by the time the husband had done the conversion and told me how much I was spending. The teenagers were transfixed by this petite person who housed a giant of a gentle soul inside her. I had to hug her. And you know what, I'm teary eyed as I type this. She didn't let go of me. We hugged like long lost friends who had found each other. I can't remember what she looks like, I can only feel her embrace. She is the reason I've not been able to write about Cambodia as another travel venture of ours. It didn't feel right. 

Tea is what I was planning to write about when I sat down today (a day late, actually). But, it turned out to be Ta Prohm. This brochure of theirs sits on my desk, on top of Maya Angelou's books and on top of Gibran's, too.

I haven't been in touch with her. I don't know why. Maybe, sometimes we need a lot of time to absorb before we can act.

You may/may not read this post and you may/may not believe me, but I have to tell you this: writing about Ta Prohm and remembering Chim's embrace has made my day. I feel this scarf and smile:)
If you head out to Phnom Penh, check out Ta Prohm and Apsara Gallery. You'll come back with much more than mere souvenirs. I can promise you that. 
The teenagers bought wallets made out of recycled jute bags...

House move is on the cards and yesterday was spent outdoors, in the new garden, talking to the plants, encouraging them to take the transplanting in their stride. I hope they pay heed. Hence, this post is a few hours late; it's Sunday. Enjoy your day off. It's the first day of work week here in Doha.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Sufi poetry

Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.
~ Rumi~
Every evening, before I enter the kitchen to start prepping for dinner, I stop by my music system and push the play button to listen to Sufi music. Over the years, I've collected a few CDs that I can listen to almost anytime. And if you happen to pay me a visit, you will have to do the same. Yes, listen to Sufi music before we go to jazz or Bollywood or Spanish acoustic guitars or Mamma Mia. Sufi's always first. Sorry!

Do you listen to music when you prepare meals?

Sufi poetry, Sufi saints and poets from the Bhakti movement are as intrinsic to my upbringing as Basmati rice and chawal ke kheer (rice pudding).

I didn't know how uniquely secular my upbringing had been till I became an adult and started travelling the world. I grew up in a town of green hedges and grey heads, called Dehradun: made famous by the British who chose to retire in this green valley after India gained its independence.

Religion was a big part of my day to day, but religion meant something completely different to what it looks like today on Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN.
 "Your daily life is your temple and your religion."
said Gibran
And even though I hadn't heard of Gibran then, it felt like how he says it should.

Back then, religion for me was:
  • listening to stories of Krishna and Ram and Sita and Ravana and Guru Gobind Singh ji.
  • waiting for kadha (sweet semolina pudding) prasad and kaale chane (cooked black chick peas) every Saturday at the Gurudwara in our neighbourhood.
  • Decorating Christmas cards with drawings of holly and candles and even getting a fiber optic X-mas tree twinkling and winking in the cold winter months.
  • Tasting savaiyan kheer  (vermicilli and milk pudding) for Eid.
  • Waking up before sunrise to go on prabhat pheris (early morning rounds) with my grandfather, singing bhajan (religious songs) and waiting to sip piping hot tea from his glass when we reached our destination. He would blow into the glass to cool it for me.
  • Chanting Sat naam, Sat naam, Wahe Guru ji (Sikh prayer) while watching the granthees (priests) put the Guru Granth Sahib ji to bed at the end of the day.
  • Singing the Lord's prayer every morning in school.
  • Playing Holi and lighting candles at temples and Gurudwaras on Diwali day.
  • Giving baby Krishna's cradle a gentle push on his birthday while waiting for panjeeri (another sweet prasad prepared especially on Janmashthmi- Krishna's birthday)
  • Escaping my mother's anger by seeking refuge in a nearby temple or Gurudwara at prayer time, with the added bonus of getting sweet prasad in the end.
  • Standing around temple exit on Tuesdays to eat boondi ka prasad (sweet, sweet mini balls of heaven) when worshipers finished their prayers and before exiting the temple were obliged to share their blessings with all of us kids hanging there with hungry eyes. Despite post dinner full bellies, we hankered for prasad. I don't know why.
Yes, my childhood was a jumble of all the good things from all the religions around me. Notice how food features a lot more often in the list above. What can I say? It's the one complaint I had when I went to Madras (Chennai now) and the priest only gave me flowers as prasadam. 

Then I grew up and discovered that all these World Religions were set in their own compartments. The more college- educated my world became, the more rigid these compartments became. Imagine all the Gods from these religions sitting up in Heaven with their open plan offices and a few house plants for a bit of green. 
I was never a fan of rituals and rigidity, but as a teenager I became averse to all things religious. 
That's when I reconnected with Kabir and Amir Khusrau and Bulleh Shah and rediscovered Meera.
A few years later, Rumi appeared in my life.
Recently, Gibran has been keeping me busy.

Sufi poetry can make you weep with joy, smile so wide your cheeks hurt and give you goosebumps when you read it or listen to it when it's sung by artists like Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan or Abida Parveen or the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Sufi poetry is so vast and deep, that you will have to dive in yourself to taste the magic. I'll share a few of my favourites. It's hard to choose just a few, but the post is getting really long.

1. Kabir Das, who said about himself, 'I'm at once the child of Allah and of Rama." wrote:

Oh follower, where do you search me?
I am always with you.

2. Amir Khusrau: 
Oh Khusrau, the river of love runs in strange directions.
one who jumps into it drowns, and one who drowns, gets across.

3. Bulleh Shah
I have learnt a secret...
He is the same
From this end to that
It's only we
Who fuss like a brat

4. Meera Bai: She dedicated her life and poetry to Krishna. In her words:
"Don't forget love;
it will bring all the madness you need
to unfurl yourself across
the universe."
Today, at this time in my life, Gibran's words summarize what religion or God means to me:
"You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising
and waving His hands in trees."

Yes, my garden is my temple and I see Him everyday.

And because it's the weekend, and because I've had a glass of wine and because I'm about to pour my next one, 
let me leave you with this beautiful video of Rumi's poetry:
Enjoy a wonderful weekend:)

If you are curious and you have the time to follow through your curiosity, here are some links that you might like to explore to find out more about Sufis and their poetry: