Saturday, August 22, 2015

Jamun Tree

This is a first for me. A short story that I'd written a few months ago was published on Wednesday! Wohoooo:)

Wednesday had been set aside to sort through my daughter's things: the throw-in-the-bin pile, the taking-with-her-to-University pile, the-stuff-to-leave-behind pile and the-can't-decide-now-will-look-at-later pile. That was the plan.

Messenger buzzed to inform me that my story would be online any minute; would I like to add a Bio and a photograph?
Bio- yes, photograph- not sure.

The two lines of Bio were easy to write, but finding a photo that fit the image in my head of what I look like proved too challenging. A cartoon avatar will have to do.

Here's the story:

Let me know what you think...
please share-
if you enjoyed it
let me know if you didn't.

Like a puppy with too many new toys to play with, I was too excited to focus on anything that day. The can't -decide-pile of things in my daughter's room has turned into a mountain! Let's hope I can find my focus to help her whittle through it tomorrow.

For some of you, jamun may be an unknown fruit, so here are a few pictures and facts:

Image result for free pictures of jamun tree with fruit

Image result for free pictures of jamun tree with fruit

All these pictures have been copied from Google Images.

Six months ago, I bought a jamun sapling from a local nursery. That day, while I was easing out the roots of the young tree into a pot, my childhood summer memories kept flashing on and on till I sat myself down and started writing. 

A blogger friend has written a beautifully illustrated post about charpoys-- here's the link.

Have a lovely weekend everyone. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A day in Delft with Johannes Vermeer and Anne

I know I'd promised Van Gogh but as I sat down to write about him, I realised this would take time. The potent decoction of his art, his letters and his way of looking at things needs time to simmer inside me a bit longer. 

Instead, my friends, we will be visiting Johannes Vermeer. But before we start, here are a few lines that are ready to be shared... 

Stormy Saturday smeared me 
against the scaffolding.

Delft became the canvas.
Wind splattered us 
like pigments
at the end of Van Gogh's brush.

I felt his passion,
his urgency,
 his strokes of genius.

I let him
bleed me
on paper 
for generations to come after he's gone
and admire his madness.

Code Red.


Yowled the beast.

Delft Blue.

Flea markets and old book shops pull me like a magnet. I buy junk which I love when I pick it up and then question my sanity when I bring it home. Age is teaching me to be less impulsive but I still manage to pack pieces of future regrets when I'm travelling: like this beautiful green lamp I bought in Tbilisi. It's so old the electric bits that can make it work are impossible to source in Doha! So, it spends as much time in my car (while I look for another electrical shop) as it does in front of our living room window- I love the way sunlight refracts through its green glass.

No surprise then that when we landed in Amsterdam, I picked Saturday (flea market day) to visit Delft. My husband had checked the weather the previous night- it was supposed to rain after midday.

On 25th July 2015, we packed our rain gear and boarded the train from Amsterdam Central early enough to reach Delft before midday. Everything I had read about Delft promised a grand day of vintage Dutch charm. The thought of browsing through the flea market kept bursting rainbows inside me like the skittles commercial or as my mum would say: 'laddoo phoot rahe the dil mein!'

"You'll love it." proclaimed a fellow passenger on the train. She was Dutch. 

Rain and Wind had arrived before us. Delft greeted us with wet streets and soaking stalls. Wind bent us like capital Cs- heads down, arched backs, struggling to keep the raincoat hoods on our heads. Maybe, I should have worn my shoes and not these extremely comfortable sandals.

'It'll clear up soon enough', I thought.

We plunged into the town centre; thrusting our concave bodies against the wet wind.

A cup of coffee and some pie later, we made our way towards the canals where I'd spotted a few stalls being set up.

NO! They were not setting up. They were packing up at 11am!

A little ceramic bowl sitting next to a heap of old newspapers caught my eye. Before the stall owner could wrap and box it, I asked, "How much?"

"Hopefully, the sun will come out." my husband tried to break the ice with the stall owner.

"Yes, above the clouds." her stern face slowly melted into a lopsided, sarcastic grin. "Today," she looked heavenwards, "NO chance!"
The stall owners weren't happy. I was devastated.

My darling husband tried to reason with me. He hates rain and I love it- even the stormy kind.

"Let's just wait and see." I used my half- pleading, half -'threatening-to-dive- into-my-silent-mood' tone with him. It worked.

Dripping little pools of rain water around our feet, we stood inside the Information Centre for the second time that day; safe from the whipping winds for a few minutes at least. The lady at the counter mentioned a Vermeer exhibition just around the corner. It wasn't on my list. But it was indoors; anything to keep him dry and relatively happy.

Vermeer Centrum Delft brings Vermeer's life and work to life. None of his original paintings are on display here, but life size reproductions, commentaries and recordings take you back into 17th century Delft. You get to know the man, the painter, the husband, the father and (probably) the henpecked son-in-law (his rich Catholic mother-in-law supported him all his life). I would recommend a visit, even if it's a bright sunny day and the flea market is heaving with activity.

My favourite room was his studio and the exhibits on this floor. His techniques, methods and genius can be appreciated here. The Master of Light- Johannes Vermeer - painted household scenes and women with such insight that when you look at his art, you feel like you are in the room, intruding upon the painter and his subject. That's how I felt, and I wasn't even looking at the originals!

Strike a pose...

When in Rome....when in Delft... I tried a bit of paint effect on this picture...

and  water effect here...
Einstien said, "Creativity is contagious. Pass it on." I'm feeling it, even if the results are silly!

The storm was getting serious and raging a ruckus by now and the torrential downpour outside meant we were in no hurry to leave. 

I have to thank my friend Nisha, whose rain soaked pictures of Kolkatta traffic inspired me to look outside the box or in this case, out of the third floor window of the Centre. 

I clicked while we waited for the rain to take a break.

 View of the street...

The Church

The rain stopped for a bit. But my husband had had enough. So he decided to sit in this sunny spot while I went exploring close by.

Destination: De Candelaer

The door to this shop was jammed. I pushed once.
'I'll give it one more push and then go back', I thought.
It was probably closed.

 Just as I decided to turn back, the door was yanked open by a lady in a dark top.

Are you closed?

"No.No. The door keeps banging so hard. I had to lock it.
I was about to close up. It's almost 2 in the afternoon and only 2 people have come through."
the lady walked and talked and I followed her to step inside the shop.

Are you the potter?

No. I'm the painter. The potter is on vacation.

Is it okay if I look around?

Oh! sure, sure...

Dripping another tiny puddle around my feet, I used my hair band as a bandanna to keep my wet hair off my face and stepped right in- inside the factory at the back of the shop.

The door kept hurtling open, howling regular updates of the storm outside.

Meet Anne, the painter, at De Candelaer, Delft.

When did you decide to become a painter?

"Even since I was very little, my only ambition ever was to become a potter. I didn't become a potter, but I sit next to one." Anne smiled.

She trained at the Royal Delft for six years before she was allowed to paint independently. She worked there for 20 years- training new generations of painters.

Then at 42, I became too old and expensive for them, so they fired me.

The rattling windows and the loud wind kept up the drama outside.

Can I take a picture?

In that case, I'll sit here and show that I'm painting.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

It's all the time... I get ideas in my dreams. Ideas are everywhere. 
I like being able to paint my own designs now.

She showed me a few of her newly painted pieces- they were waiting for the potter to return from his vacation to be fired in the kiln.

I went around the shop looking for a smallish thing to pick up. She carried on talking about how she's trying to use the traditional brush strokes to create new designs, about how the younger Dutch population don't really buy traditional Delftware. I stopped looking and went back to carry on our conversation.

I'll look for something small.

Oh! I won't disturb you can look.

If I had come to Delft alone, I would've carried on chatting. But I was aware of my husband,who was waiting, so I resisted the urge.

Expensive china is not my cup of tea. I found a tiny tooth-pick holder and brought it to her. A few seconds later, I spotted a tiny milk jug and as it was within my small budget, I swapped.

"I painted that." Anne smiled, pointing to the milk jug.

You should've told me!

"You should get what you like." she looked up to give me a smile while putting the tape on my packet. 

"I'll put this in a tulip bag for you."

Thank you.

I felt Delft; its charm and warmth in Anne's matter-of-fact gentleness and humility.

An arm touch, a happy nod and goodbye.

As I was leaving, a couple of drenched tourists walked in.

'Red Alert!' glared my husband when I hopped back into his dry haven after almost an hour. This was serious.
Code Red.


Yowled the beast.

Delft Blue.

We made our way back to the train station. 

Announcements in Dutch were being made. Train times on the display board blinked but no trains came. I asked a group sitting next to me.

"There're no trains to Amsterdam. The tracks are not clear."

How long will it take?

The shoulder shrug -- so common in Europe-- said it all. 

"Take the tram to the Hague." suggested one of them. 

The tram driver, when we reached the tram, informed us that she too couldn't go all the way to the station as there were problems on the tracks.

At last, we managed to board a bus to the Hague and then took a train from there to Amsterdam. The bus offered an opportunity to chat with our fellow passengers. One of them was getting late for work and was hopeful her boss would understand.

And the other, sitting opposite me, looked at my open toe sandals and asked, 'First time in Europe?'.

I don't blame her. The top half of my body was nicely wrapped up a red bandanna and rain jacket. My pale toes peeping through the sandals must have seemed odd. 

She turned out to be a super helpful soul, a traveller herself (she had travelled through India and Iran over a period of six months, thirteen years ago). She pointed us in the direction of the train station when we got off the bus in the middle of Den Hague.

Curious about Vermeer? Check out:

The storm had spent itself by the time we stepped out of Amsterdam Central Station. Fallen trees on the sidewalks were the only evidence of the gale-force winds that had hit the region earlier. No one was hurt and that was a relief.

Our travel plans had to be changed. We ended up with an extra day in Amsterdam to enjoy another stunning sunset. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I wandered lonely as a cloud....of anniversaries, lakes and William Wordsworth

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."

Twenty-five years ago, on the 2nd of August, two events happened:

1. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and
2. My mother died.

The first event made world news.

The second unmade me.

Loss and death are difficult to comprehend, especially when you are nineteen.

Twenty-five years is a long time and it's no time at all.

Rain had washed the dust off Delhi on Thursday, 2nd August 1990. The day felt fresh. My room- mate and I had cleaned out our room and kitchen, prepared and enjoyed a hot meal. All was well with the world. I was reading 'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck when our landlady's four year old son came up running and shrieked, 'Arti didi, aapka phone aaya hai'...there's a call for you.

When your mother suffers from manic depression, an out of the blue phone call can never be good news. I knew. Even before I heard my neighbour's voice on the phone who I had never spoken to before that day, I knew.

The moon played hide and seek with the thick monsoon clouds throughout my seven  hour bus journey from New Delhi to Dehradun. Two thoughts drifted in and out of my consciousness:

1. I won't be putting on any weight when I go home this time- Mom won't be cooking.
2. "I wandered lonely as a cloud..." my mother's favourite English line.

I suspect that Wordsworth was the only English poet she ever read. My mother belonged to the Hindi brigade. She read Hindi literature. Names like Maithili Sharan Gupt and Mahadevi Verma were uttered with respect and reverence by her. She sometimes read a women's magazines - 'Sarita', I think- I see a few copies lying around in my memories- but I can't be sure. Her Sanskrit was impeccable. I managed a perfect score in my grade 7 Sanskrit exam- thanks to her tutoring. My mother's  English reading was limited to our school text books when she helped us out with our homework. She swore by 'Wren and Martin'- a grammar reference book I hated and she loved. She never conversed in English but her knowledge of English grammar was flawless. And her handwriting was like 'pearls on a string'- moti piroye huye - one of her many quotes.

My mother loved to use quotes, idioms, proverbs (muhavare) in Hindi, Punjabi and Sanskrit. Her language was pretty colourful, especially when she needed to sort us out! She would use the juiciest Punjabi words to put her point across.

'I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills.'

I had heard her recite these lines. I never really paid attention. Growing up is a busy time and parents are a backdrop to your life- you don't get curious about them till you are much older or if you've lost them, I think.

I was in grade 7 or 8, when I first came across this poem in English class. I knew the first verse before I'd read it. That's when I made the connection. I never asked her why she liked this poem so much. Daffodils don't grow in Dehradun. Was it the reference to the clouds then?

Did she feel trapped? Did she want to feel light and fluffy like a cloud? I never asked. You don't ever think that you'll run out of time to find out, do you? We take so much for granted and yet so much is fickle and transient, like life and breath.

A lot has happened since the day my mother won her battle to rid herself of her pain. My father remarried; too soon in my opinion. His new wife and I didn't get along. So, she decided to take care of my future by fixing an arranged marriage. I cooked up a story and created a fictitious job interview in Delhi and boarded a bus from Dehradun with Rs.257 in my pocket (ten days' worth of my first salary as a receptionist at a local newspaper) to live my life on my terms.  College friends and their families gave me food and shelter till I found a job and 'apne pairon pur khadi hui' - stood on my own two feet i.e. started earning my living.

'Someone who loves you is looking down from Heaven above. She will always look after you.' Brother Dunne, my year 10 English teacher, wrote these words in the condolence card he sent me. I'm not sure where the card is, but the words are inked in my heart. That's how I see my mother- looking down from up there- perhaps wandering as a cloud- but always full of love for me. I felt like I had connections with higher authorities after I read those words. I felt fearless and invincible and nineteen.

When I look back, I realise that I had everything I needed to live. I was complete. God, the Universe or whatever you might call it- this force that delivers us into life, sends us prepared for the journey. All we need to do is stop, breathe and trust ourselves when we face an unknown alley, a road less travelled or when we find ourselves at life's crossroads. The well of strength is inside us. We can draw from it anytime we want or need to. We are born alone. We die alone. And essentially we live our lives alone and that is okay. In fact, alone is awesome. Alone is not lonely- never lonely. It rids you of the foolish expectation that others can make you happy.  Alone clears the clutter of attachment. Alone frees you up to love unconditionally, openly and fully. It lets you see this wonderful world with new eyes everyday and cherish the moments spent with family and friends. It's easier for me to see this now - from the vantage point of having lived those twenty five years.

Stuff happens.
Life goes on.
Fathers forget.
And stepmothers? Well, let's just say that within six months of my mother's death, plot lines and characters of fairy tales like Cinderella and so many Hindi films of the early eighties didn't seem that far-fetched any more. Stereotypes are there for a reason.

2nd August 2015- Thoughts of my mother and her memories filled my day. My sister and I exchanged messages and I sat down to look at my holiday pictures.

All I'd planned to do was to prepare a post about our trip to the Lake District- Wordsworth's land. Plans... plans...plans- they have a way of making you. So here it is- an unplanned post to celebrate my mother's life and her two favourite lines of English poetry.


I was unmade.
So I could make
a new me
I did.

Squeezing the grains of expectations
in my fist
only proved
life's evanescence.

So I gave myself permission
relish the scraping escaping grains of sand
through the gaps in between my fingers,
watching them
turn into diamonds
in the sun and shade
of joy and sadness.

There is so much to see
in this beautiful world.
I'm not done yet.

A bumble bee.

Are you ready?
Let's ramble through Wordsworth's darling land
with his words for company.

(WARNING: I've used more pics than usual. I hope you can feel the sunlight playing hide and seek with the rippling water, the glistening blades of grass, the fences that frame pastures perfectly, the breeze, the gusts and the sheer beauty of this land, just like I did.)

'I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills.'


Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
(from Wordsworth's: The Daffodils)

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
(from Wordsworth's: The Daffodils)

Can you see the grin on his face? 

 Buttermere- thank you Shammah:)
This is my favourite lake.


William Wordsworth1770 - 1850

This is the spot:—how mildly does the sun Shine in between the fading leaves! the air In the habitual silence of this wood Where shall we find so sweet a resting-place? Is more than silent: and this bed of heath, Of quiet thoughts,—protracted till thine eye Come!—let me see thee sink into a dream Be calm as water when the winds are gone We two have had such happy hours together And no one can tell whither.—my sweet friend! That my heart melts in me to think of it.  
Source: www.

The walk around Buttermere took us about two hours. This walk offers everything you can ask for- pastures, woodland, fields, breathtaking views, and even a tunnel.
For more details, you can check out:

One of the walkers had mentioned the local ice-cream. 
Since Buttermere means 'the lake by the dairy pastures', we HAD to taste this ice-cream.
Suffice to say, the service was cold and rushed. 
(I gather since it was five to five when we walked in and it was Friday:)
BUT, the ice-cream was sweet and delicious. 
A couple of Dutch bikers tried to get a scoop, but they were a few minutes late.

We made Staffield in  Eden Valley, Cumbria our base to explore the lakes.
It was perfect.

We walked to Lazonby to buy groceries on the first day. 

Kirkoswald has the best pub in England which we discovered later that day. Their food was delicious- fish and chips and mushy peas with a glass of cider- BLISS!
The staff were warm and friendly.
If you happen to be in the area, check it out- reservations are recommended.

Time to go to bed...

The moon came visiting:)

And just like that, it was time to head back. 

My Heart Leaps Up

William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So it is now I'm a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I hope you enjoyed the lakes.
A couple of days later, 
we will land in Amsterdam 
where I'll fall in love with Van Gogh 
and his kind of yellow:)

Wishing you all a beautiful, bountiful day outdoors.

Make the most of it-
walk barefoot-
let the grass tickle you
and the sand prickle you.
Watch the sun set or rise-
kiss, hug or smile.
LIFE is beautiful-
smell the roses 
and notice the bumble bee.
He's gorgeous you know-
black and yellow.