Monday, March 13, 2017

Holi springs colour

Photo Courtesy: Google Images
Flowers of Jungle flame aka Tesu ke phool

I love colour. Therefore, I love Holi. It's my favourite festival. As a child, drenched in the innocence of small town India, I played Holi with abandon, gulaal (colour) and dhamaal (utter madness).

Gujjia (stuffed and sweet pastry) and pichkaaris (water pistols) and Tesu ke phool (flowers of Jungle flame) occupied my thoughts and senses for days leading  up to Holi.

My sister, brother and I, along with half a dozen kids from our neighbourhood, would fill water balloons -- their rubbery necks stretched around the spout of a tap attached to a tank or any tap that was free to use. It didn't matter whose house we were in. Almost organically, a band of bandits would form. I remember, as a seven year old, I would hang out with teenagers and toddlers and our jhund (band) of mismatched heights and ages would behave like one organism, safe in numbers, with only one goal in mind: to play Holi. Angry aunties whose water supply would be in serious danger of running dry couldn't dampen our enthusiastic balloon filling quest one bit. The entire mohalla (neighbourhood) tuned into a giant aangan (courtyard) filled with multi-coloured faces, white kurta pyjamas and shrieking kids.

70's turned into 80's in Dehradun. Economic progress came wrapped up in plastic. Metal pichkaaris which worked perfectly well were replaced by plastic ones which looked better than they worked. The effect was never the same. The plastic water pistols squirted a frustratingly feeble trickle compared to the roaring jet of the metal ones. The shiny plastic button that one had to press hard to release the jet of water would break within the first hour of purchase. We would then use the fiddly things as mere holders of coloured water and unscrew the top or the bottom to tip the water over friends/foes to play Holi.

The novelty of these toys would wear out quite quickly and in the excitement of all the colour that had yet to be smothered, the poor plastic pistols would lie orphaned and abandoned in some neighbour's garden or worse, in a naali (open drain) somewhere. Until, of course, the mothers and fathers yelled at the children to go look for such an expensive purchase. They would, sometimes softly and often hysterically loudly, explain to you in front of the entire mohalla (neighbourhood) that it was your fault this cheap contraption had been bought in the first place and that it was you who had pestered them to get it by saying your Holi would be incomplete without it. Before long, the neighbourhood would split into us (the children) and them (the parents). Long after we, the children, had forgotten the yelling, heads of parents would be seen shaking to each other to the tune of, "Yeh aajkal ke bachhe...paise ki kadra nahin jaante." Kids these days don't know the value of money.

Collective and public telling off would be followed by 'discipline' in the privacy of homes, after dinner and before bedtime, when the probability of a neighbour dropping in unannounced was almost zero: a bit of ear twisting or a serious sounding threat to never buy you another toy for as long as you live or a stinging slap or anything that was seen as appropriate punishment by the respective parent. It all depended on how strict or kind your parents were.

Don't worry, neither the children nor the parents will remember this next year and the entire episode described above will get repeated, only the plastic pistols will change as those would've been bought new, you see.

Back to the actual Holi -- so when all the blubbery balloon missiles had been used up and almost all the powder colour lay plastered on us or the streets, and none of the pichkaaris co-operated anymorewe'd  resort to the 'balti ka paani'...the murky water in the communal bucket where everyone and their khandaan (extended family) had mixed their colour to fill up their pichkaaris and gubbare (water balloons).

We knew instinctively that once this 'balti ka paani' was over, our mothers would call us  back in to get cleaned up and become human again. In other words, Holi would be shown its 'THE END' slide as soon as the 'balti ka paani'  finished. Magically, the bucket never emptied.

"Bunty, enough! Come in NOW!" some neighbour would call out to her son/daughter.

"Abhi balti ka paani khatam nahin hua Mummy!" The bucket is not yet empty Mum!

Dehradun lost its innocence almost as soon as I turned twelve. Suddenly. Holi came with its own instruction manual. Do this, Don't do this. Go there, but not there. Don't mix with those people. Avoid boys at all costs if they were not from your family or neighbourhood.

For the first time, I was warned to look beyond the vibrant haze of Holi ke rang (colours) and take notice of the filth that may linger in the minds of humans dressed in pure white kurta pyjamas wearing colourful smiles.

Words like chhedd-chhadd (eve- teasing) and sexual harassment cropped up like weeds and took root, deep and damaging.

Back then, the burden of growing up was gifted exclusively to girls, innocently wrapped up in tameez (etiquette) and sanskaar (values)

 "Girls should play Holi sensibly beta... Mundya da ki hai (What of boys?)"

This rhetorical question bothered me! What of boys? Why were they never asked to be careful when they turned twelve? What made them different?

Hormones, tameez (etiquette) and riwaaz (traditions) muted the colours of Holi and for a good many years I played the censored version, called insanon wali Holi (the way humans play Holi). It wasn't bad but the rebel in me would look at all the gangs of boys hanging out on the chaurahas (intersections) without any curfews or restrictions and wonder why?

When I got married, my license to play 'jhallon wali Holi' (mad aka fun Holi) was renewed. My husband became my bodyguard and I'd go and play with abandon and dance like Amitabh Bachchan till my feet hurt and still carry on. My husband would hold his glass of thandai or beer and stand near me, not too close but close enough (he's not so keen on dancing). This way I'd be able to have my fun and not get hassled by eager or drunk revelers! Perfect!

The fact that I need a man (my husband) to feel safe among other men when playing Holi says a lot about this land of  Shakti and Kali and Rani Laxmibai and Sita and Meera and Durga.

Although I miss my bhachpan ki (childhood) Holi, to tell you the truth, these days I don't need balloons or colour or pichkaari or thandai to feel its abundant joy. Grateful to be alive, I like to relish the gift of a new day when I open my eyes in the morning to witness another day unfold, another flower bloom, another blade of grass kiss drops of dew, listen to birds sing a new tune or even an old one, watch the sky fold its cover of day and spread the sheets of night, speckled with stars. Everyday is a celebration of colour.

Every now and then, I do get sidetracked by the mundane busyness of the day to day ('functioning as a human' as my yoga teacher calls it) and then some unknown force makes me click on Sadhguru's video and I hear him say how one must smile when one gets up in the morning for it's a precious gift, this life we live.

"Notice the things that you are drawn to." says Anusha when we, her students, look up to her in wide eyed wonderment and some sprinkling of doubt on our quest to find who the real 'us' is.

I pay closer attention to my day. Paying attention brings up even more to be grateful for and even more to be joyful about. Holi no longer comes in a plastic packet of synthetic colour.

Spring sprinkles his colours and shows me the way. I follow with a smile.

Come and feast your eyes on the colours that a patch of green has yielded this spring. It doesn't get more blissful than this:)

Group shot:Onion, neem, cabbage, cualiflower, spinach, fenugreek, mulberry, basil and papaya
Ripe mulberry (almost ready to eat) Shehtoot
 Waiting their turn...the young ones.
Baingan ka phool aka Eggplant Flower
This shiny gem was made into a yummy baingan aaloo ki sabzi by my mother-in-law today.
Velvet and butter...the pretty pansies.
Blooming onion
Tomato flower
and tomatoes
Problem in paradise!
These two are not on talking terms: each waiting for the other to say 'sorry' first!
Yup..they're a couple.
I'm not sure what these flowers are called. I've always referred to them as local larkspurs.
I bought this sapling from a local nursery because I like the shape and colour of the leaves. 
Please enlighten me with its name, if you know this shrub.
Wabi Sabi
 Newly born neem leaves tickling the fluffy sky. 
Purple Basil in fragrant bloom
 Aparajita or Butterfly pea

Lit up and lighting up -- I love sunflowers:)

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day. May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free. May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Thank you Archana for posting this beautiful quote.
One LAST offering: A ghazal written by Faiz 
sung by Tanya Wells.
Thanks Anu for sharing this gem.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Kagaz aur Kalam ( Pen on Paper: a poem in Hindi)

अरसे बाद आज काग़ज़ पर कलम आ रही है ।
विषृाम लगाया है आज बड़े बरसों के बाद ।
मुद्दतें बीतीं हिंदी लिखे --
माताृऐं मुशकिल में डाल रही हैं ।
जानती हूं खिचड़ीनुमा है शब्दकोष मेरा,
पर  Pilot  की नोक पन्ने पर यूं इतरा रही है
अरसे बाद आज काग़ज़ पर कलम आ रही है ।

याद आ रहे हैं वो fountain pen,
वो Waterman की शीशी, Royal Blue वाली...
और वो ink eraser जो उन दिनों rubber कहलाया करता था...
दाग़ कम, पन्ना ज़्यादा मिटाया करता था
शायद कुछ आजकल की राजनीति की तरह !
पर  Pilot  की nib पन्ने पर यूं इतरा रही है
चूंकि अरसे बाद आज काग़ज़ पर कलम आ रही है ।

याद हैं तुम्हें वो ink spots?
और वो blotting paper के चौकौर टुकड़े?
कितनी आसानी से छोटे-बड़े दाग़ मिटा देते थे वो ...
हमारी नादान ग़लतियों का विष चुपचाप पी जाते थे वो ।
 Keyboards की इस दुनिया में,
कहां से लाइगा ऐसे नीलकण्ठी blotting paper?
जो दिलों में भभकती इस intolerance की स्याही फो भस्म कर दें ।
Us और them की दूरियों में उलझ कर हताश हो रही है Pilot की nib,
क्यूंकि अरसे बाद उठी ये कलम, काग़ज़ पर आने से घबरा रही है शायद॥

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All is well

All is well in the Jain household.
That's saying something, considering Valentine's day came and went and no battles were fought, won or lost. Even the silent treatment didn't get aired or administered this year. What's going on?

Has the husband (and my Valentine by choice, not default) passed all his 'how to please the wife' training modules?

Has he, after nearly 25 Valentine's Days, decoded the elusive code to make me happy?

No and no.

Was it a piece of jewellery? Roses? Dinner?

No and No and nada!

So what happened?

I grew up. Simple. This year, at the ripe old age of 45, I suddenly felt all grown up and responsible for my happiness.

Flashback to when I was twenty-something and the husband was still a boyfriend...

This is what I expected from him on Valentine's Day and failing that, my birthday which was a few days away:

There'll be a beautifully wrapped box with a gorgeous dress inside with matching shoes, waiting for me in my room when I get back from work. On this box, there will be tickets to a concert and a voucher for a day long spa treatment with a love note from him telling me that a limo would pick me up at such and such time to go to the spa and then to the concert hall.

Cities changed, from Chennai to Calcutta to Delhi to London and now Doha, we wed and he became the husband, but my list of Valentine/birthday desires remained the same, more or less. Odd, when I think about it-- he didn't even know my shoe size then! And limo? At the salary we were making at twenty-three?

I digress.

My plans may sound awfully familiar to all of you who've either read Mills & Boon or watched Pretty Woman. I didn't say my romantic imagination was original. In fact, it's anything but. It's just what I'd expected for our first and every subsequent Valentine's.

REALITY check.

He did buy me a card for our first Valentine's.

I looked at it and watched the above-mentioned desires fall off the boughs of my romantic heart, one by one, like leaves in Autumn.

Disappointment often disguises as anger and mine did too. I was furious.

He misread the anger and assumed I had an inexplicable hatred towards cards.

Every Valentine's since then, he's asked me the same question, "Should I get you a card?"

My practical, pragmatic hubby has no clue ...not a peek into the workings of his wife's expectations.

And why should he? He NEVER expects me to get him anything either.

"Call yourself a feminist?" my seventeen year old son taunts.'s a thought. Maybe, feminism is about taking charge of one's happiness and being responsible. We can't be flinging the baton of equality when it suits us and then wait for that 'surprise' from the man to tick all our expectation boxes and make us happy. Do we even know what this surprise looks like?

I don't. But I've always managed to make him feel guilty because he doesn't either!

Yes, it's taken me two decades to get this.

And the result?

My best Valentine's day to date.

National Sports Day coincided with Valentine's Day this year, so he was at home. We went for a run in the park and I clicked this picture of a rose, growing in a friend's front yard.

Ah! the joy letting go of expectations brings...
A rose becomes my garden. 
 "All is well." has such a calming ring to it. The minute you hear these three words, the heart beats softer and starts to smile, No?

A few weeks ago, I happened to be on a Heritage Walk in Ahmedabad. A kite stuck on electric wires declared All is Well. Who was I to disagree?

It was early morning. Children were getting ready for school. Mothers were busy packing their lunches. Shops hadn't opened. Brooms had cleaned the streets recently. Chants of prayers emanated from Hindu homes. Jains dressed in white made their way back home from temples. Call to prayer had rung out an hour earlier from the nearby mosque. Some windows were shut and some were half open. Agarbatti (incense) infused zephyr blew down the pols and narrow streets. All was indeed well with the world that beautiful morning.

Are you ready to hop on?

Smiling faces agreed to be photographed. 
 Getting ready for the day's business...the ironing-lady.

I was admiring this beautiful door, when it opened and ...
the lady of the house beamed a smile...her son is in grade 5.

"Return to your Center"
The couple's Tao Te Ching by William Martin

If you make a show of your love,
it will hide itself.
If you babble on about it,
your words will fail.
If you grasp and cling to it,
it will slip through your fingers.

You cannot approach that which has no beginning.
You cannot lose that which has no end.
You do not have to protect it.
How then can you experience it?
As a swimmer experiences the water.
Dive in.

If you're feeling somewhat separate
and distant from your beloved,
do the things that stabilize you.
Walk, dance, paint, meditate,
write, build, play or sing.
When you return to your center
you will find your beloved waiting.

Have a happy, peaceful dive.
till we meet again...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Happy New You

I wish you a Happy New You.
What's that?
State of mind?
Flight of fancy?
A flippant thought?
A kiss?
A hug?
A new saree?
Hot tea?
absence of all?
Does happy exist in nothing?
Or does it need everything?
Is it even a thing?
Or, is it in all things?
Why do we attach Happy to New Year, Diwali and Xmas?

What do you think?

And how can you or I be new?

Have you planted a seed recently?
All of the plant's past incarnations live inside it--
roots, shoots, leaves, sepals, stamen and stigma.
A bit of sun, a drop of water, soft soil to caress and a gardener's love--
is enough.
Watch the tiny life furl out of the dried up seed, and you'll know
how to be new.

Be a newborn every day.
Be blown away by the miracle of a sunrise and the promise of a sunset.
Be ready to die every day, any day.
Dying begins at birth, said Anusha.
Every breath I take is taking me closer to the day I will breathe my last.
It could be today!

So, I let death become my constant companion.
Only then can I truly appreciate each breath I inhale.
For only then can I STOP wasting my precious, precious time on God's beautiful Earth
indulging in regrets and anger and what ifs.
Only then can I be a happy new me...
every day, every glorious day.

Jab jago tabhi savera 
Make this moment your first of many
new ones
and be the baby you are meant to be
gurgling with happiness
and spilling your joy
and spreading your love
inward and out.

It's not easy.
I know.
I was in the middle of typing this gyan (wise words!)
when the husband walked into the kitchen.
What's for dinner? he asked.
Leftover chana, I replied without looking up.
I don't like chana, he declared.
What? When did you decide that? 23 years of being married and today you tell me you don't like chana?
Out flew peace.
Anger danced with glee.

Yes, the new me is still petty.
The new me has an ego.
But the new me can see this.
The new me is a work in progress.
The new me is taking baby steps to find the true me.

Wishing you all a Happy New You:) And here's your treat for surviving the onslaught of my emotional ramblings above-- a bunch of sunrises and sunsets captured on Jersey shore this Christmas.

It was a fabulous family holiday. Eleven of us (mature adults, new adults, a teenager, a pre-teen and a pre-pre-teen) gathered for a week. The only items on our agenda were food and tea and chats and walks. We ate and caught up and danced to silly item numbers and got tipsy and walked and collected shells on the beach and clicked photos -- lots of photos and videos, too:)

Life, when you look back, are these moments --shared with loved ones --strung on the tender thread of memories.

I'm reading Devdutt Pattnaik's Sita these days and one line has stayed with me ever since I read it:
When it was time for them to leave, Janaka blessed his daughters, "May you take happiness wherever you go."

Happy to see the sun split itself into mini suns and play with the sea...
Happy to sit and stare: crimson and gold and blue and mauve

 cross connection!

two sides of the same coin.
Life and Death
Happy and Sad
Peace and Anger
Can't define one without the other.
But what we choose 
to define us
is ENTIRELY up to us.
Will 2017 witness your serenity
 or will drama play out?

Your choice.
You choose.

Will you let the serene settle in silence?
Will the drama of life draw you in--deeper into everything-- away from nothing;
 no-thing: where happiness lives.

Have a peaceful weekend.