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 -March and September. Holi, the festival of colours, and Dusshera, the celebration of the victory of good over evil, are usually celebrated in March and September.

“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, okay 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, and 
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


  1. Hi Arti, good that you decided to unburden and I'm sure it will do you a lot of good. Have always loved the languid pace of your writing.

  2. Beautifully written sis!

    1. Thank you Seema...remember the baingan ka danthal? xx

  3. I absolutely LOVED this one... The smell of food, the longing, the nostalgia, the contrasting emotions and food. Wow! I am so glad you shared it... Really... Food is an expression of love. Isn't it the reason why you invariably hear almost anyone say, " My mom's cooking is the best" And it brought back memories of my lunch time at school with all the fluffy idlis ,rice and curd rice perfectly seasoned with mustard seeds and kari patha.......

    1. Oh! mouth is flooding with all those flavours. Now I'm craving curd rice:) Thank you for your kindness. xx

  4. Awesome journey! Each word is expressive and it looks like we're re living those moments. Keep up the good work. .....

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  6. You have such an evocative way with words, I can almost taste the paranthas and the bharta, and thanks for unpacking the concept of 'resistance'. Now I am beginning to look inward to deal with my resistance. Hope this unburdening is lightening your load Arti.

    1. Thank you Ketaki. This workshop has done more for me than I had ever imagined. The 'unburdening' is opening me up and suddenly I have so much I want to write about. I think more than the 'writing', it is the 'discovering' that is exciting. Love and hugs to you. xx

  7. Arti as always enjoyed your moments brought to us in your very distinctive lucid style.
    it took me quite some time to respond to your blog ,since the redefined resistance as a concept or as a initiator to opening closed doors - is something that i am trying to fathom. As you have said, it is a long uphill task .
    Enjoy your journey.

  8. oh Arti... i love how you told your story. I read every single word and although *paranthas* are foreign to me, your description helped me taste them on my tongue. :) You have a gift for writing Arti, and this story is the first of many for you (i am hoping). I could feel the nostalgia as i read each paragraph. You are touching hearts with your words. We tend to forget sometimes that there are so many out there who share similar stories... similar childhoods... similar sadnesses. I am so happy we took this course together, Arti. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Brave soul... xx

    1. Thank you for your comments Pauline. It means a lot, coming from a writer:) I am so gareteful to you for recommending the course. It helped me to put these stories down on paper. It's not easy but it's worth it. xx


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