Can I Have a Horse or Swimming Pool Please??(And Other Fantasies)

As a child I was quite a joke in the family. My aspirations were out of the box so to say. When asked about what I wanted to be when I grew up my responses were colorful and varied. Not a doctor or engineer or any such thing. I wanted to become instead any of the following: an ice skating champ\ expert skier\ horse rider\ roller skater\ swimmer\ gymnast\ and one better – a trapeze artist in a circus. All these desires for sporting adventure were fueled by reading avidly the Schoolgirl picture comics which were my piece of heaven on earth. In these comics there were spunky young girls like Sally and Sue Day etc. who were into all kinds of spicy adventures and escapades and I quickly started identifying with them. There was no sharper joy than reading these schoolgirl comics (as also the entire series of Enid Blyton), and picking up ideas for how my life should be lived.

I was quite sincere about these desires. When my birthday came around every year my father asked me what I wanted. My response, with suitable gravitas was:

A horse? A swimming pool in the backyard? I was pretty earnest in my requests. It has to be said for the love and indulgence of my father that he never summarily dismissed my wishes.

A horse, please??

Speaking of horses, there is a funny aside. In those days milk was delivered by the doodhwalla (milkman) after he had milked fresh milk from the cows tethered down the lane. The milkman had a mangy colt in his stable and this caught my fancy as a 10 year old.. I asked him, with a shine in my eyes, if I could ride it. Luckily my father overheard my request and intervened to prevent any fiasco. The milkman was relieved and my father had a hearty laugh though I felt disappointed and cheated of an adventure. I would see pictures of equestrians riding their magnificent steeds and a strange urge would grip me. (Not Freudian, I assure you).

The swimming pool dream had a better finish. A dear friend of my younger sister, stayed close by our house, and was the daughter of one of the leading industrialists of our town. She had a sprawling bungalow with rolling gardens, one of which was studded with a gem of a swimming pool. I threw pride and protocol to the winds (do children even have these things in their innocent natures?) and decided to tag along with my sister when she was invited for a swim. Initially my sis scowled and resisted but the friend was a sweet accommodating girl who did not resent the intrusion. In any case we were all roughly the same age, and related to the same kind of things. So it was that effortlessly I became an unofficial member of their swim club. The joy that coursed through me at this promising development was inordinate. When a plan for visiting her house materialized, the delicious preliminaries of packing the beach bag with the soft fluffy towel, sleek shiny swimming costume, cap etc. and then heading to her place, all filled me with sharp secret inner delight. Secret, because I never showed too much of my hidden intensity of feelings to the world. I was always intense, in everything, yet liked to keep an even exterior.

Swim club gatecrash

My ice skating aspirations also found part fulfillment in the gift of roller skates on one of my birthdays. I was over the moon. I started my journey on roller skates right away. We have an angan or inner courtyard where I had full and free rein. I excitedly got the chunky heavy skates, with those exciting tiny wheels on, and realized right away, roller skating is not a talent you’re born with. After much clop-clopping and falling and bruising, and impudent skates showing me their own mind, taking me to wherever they wished to go, I finally got a semblance of balance. My persistent ambition for roller skating fame, led to relentless practice till I became quite a champion, though, of course, of the sort where none but the family would consider awarding a trophy for my merit. However, self deprecation apart, unbelievably I did go on to win a trophy in a skating competition in my hometown. Another matter, that there were only four participants in the girls section. I vividly remember careening round and round, and that triumphal moment when like a heroine, I skated with style and panache to the judges table to get my prize. Needless to say it felt great acknowledging the applause of the world! (40 or so stragglers hanging around)

Much later in life, after marriage, I also get a chance to get onto an ice skating rink. My husband, knowing of my unfulfilled desire, made sure that I gave it a shot. We ventured onto the sleek white sheet of ice in a London rink, together, and it was the first time for both of us. We held each other and that was wise because the ice was so slippery. Just the idea of wearing ice skates gave me a peculiar frisson. Though it was very different from roller skating, my experience in that sport, aided in my getting the required balance here. Even my husband had the same advantage and after the initial bumbling we made quite a team, in as much as we managed quite a few romantic pirouettes on the rink together, without going for a toss.

Romantic pirouettes

The question is did I become any of the things that I had wanted to become in my childhood? No. Of course not. I became a writer instead and settled for exploring the world with my words.

Today as I look back to those flamboyant childhood dreams for adventure, and becoming this or that, I feel only faint regret for not being able to fulfill them to full glory. This may be due to the fact of my being a voracious reader which proxied as my wonderland…

Also, even the partial fulfillment was joyous enough to allow no regrets.

However, there is one childhood dream I have not been able to even partially follow or fulfill – that of a trapeze artist in a circus. My family and I thank God for not having presented even half an opportunity for that.

Another Kind of Love Story

Shammi Paranjape 

The heart is the shrine of love. All love stories flow from there.

The following is an account of one such…

Today, I went to a temple. But, a different type. Normally, on temple-visits, I offer a coconut, and fragrant flowers bought from the vendors crowding the lane outside. However, this time around I carried something different. 

Instead of flowers and coconut, I carried – take a wild guess – chocolates for God! Yes. Chocolates.

The offering

Cute. But where is this unusual temple, and which deity presides there? Well, it is relatively new, just 2 years old, and situated in the far out suburbs of Mumbai. I was intrigued and curious about it, because it appeared, miracles happened there on a daily basis.

 I was told it would take a one and half hour drive to get me there. No problem. Visits to a traditional shrine or holy place also involve a fair bit of spiritual and physical effort. The holy place may be atop a steep hill to reach which you may have to climb an arduous 100 steps or so. Or  the pilgrimage spot could be in another town and considerable arrangements and travel would be required to reach your sacred destination. 

Regular temple

We set off. The chocolate-prasad, packed into a carton was placed on the front seat of the car. This was to allow the chocolates the full benefit of the cool AC air, and keep from melting. Behind, sat my sister and I humming devotional songs, and intermittently enjoying the passing scenery. Locked down for so many months, we took pleasure in just being in a moving car.

Luckily, we didn’t get too much traffic, the dice having rolled in our favor. We reached, in good time. I peered, with curiosity, as we stepped out of the car. The ‘temple’ was different alright. To begin with it was a sprawling heart-shaped structure with two floors. It had a bright clean exterior and a neat compound and could have been a VIP guest house anywhere.

Well, you could say it was. Only, the VIPs here were not your regular ones. They were for starters, tiny tots, ranging from the age of a week old to 5 or 6 years. But the most stunning part was that they were all from the direst, most underprivileged backgrounds, with meager or no financial resources. Poor children?? VIPs?? Yes!

And these little children had a question in their hearts.

Whyyy

Why do I have a hole in my heart?

Why can’t I run and play?

Why does my mother cry so much?

Why??

And this soulful query of children born with Congenital Heart Disease, was being answered here, in this extraordinary place – with a lot of heart. The cry from their bruised hearts had been heard – and how. And we too wished to see with our own eyes the miracle that was happening here every single day, in this ‘temple of healing,’ where these little children were being given the highest gift of all – the gift of life.

But what was the miracle? Surely with the advanced medical treatment available today, there should be no problem in treating these kids? Yes, no problem for those who can afford the cost of treatment. But, an insurmountable one for those who cannot. And, the tragedy is that this affliction assails mostly the poorer sections of society, with little or no means. 

And, this magnificent edifice of love and compassion, the Sanjeevani hospital, treats congenital heart disease in children from poor families, absolutely free of cost through all the stages! There is not a paisa charged! Also, accommodation with meals, all free of cost is provided for the parents too, in the hospital premises, for the entire duration of stay. How is this even possible… or sustainable, you ask? Right! That’s why we call it a miracle. The miracle of love.

So, how did it all work?

We would soon see for ourselves, as we were now being ushered graciously inside to be given a tour of the place.The carton of chocolates was carried in by a helpful member of the staff.

We walked into a gleaming foyer. The spanking clean atmosphere struck me right away. But more than that, the markedly cheerful ambience of the place left a deep impression. It appeared as if special care had been taken to make the lobby as pleasant and cheerful as possible. A huge painting on the wall drew my attention. In soft colors, it was of a cherubic angelic looking child on her knees in prayer, palms joined, head upturned heavenward, eyes shining with supplication and hope. 

I trust

How beautiful and befitting I thought. The painting was an exquisite motif for the heartfelt feelings of every little child that entered the portals of this remarkable institution with a ‘broken heart’ and left with it healed and whole, to lead a normal and full life, with renewed energy and optimism.

After an extended tour of the premises, with its impressive state of art infrastructure, which frankly left us pretty amazed, we were finally taken to the children’s ward. I tensed at the thought of that. To see anyone in pain or discomfort due to ill health, is distressful but to see little kids like that, most of all. The tray of chocolates, in tow, we stepped inside. I needn’t have worried. The space we entered did not exude the hospital ward feeling at all.

It was a long spacious hall, clean and bright, with natural light coming in from the numerous windows to keep it from looking gloomy. There were two sections. On one side were the little ones, on whose tiny little hearts surgery had already successfully been performed, and on the other side, were those whose surgery was yet to take place.

The first impression, on walking in, was of how frail and tiny the kids were. The beds looked so large for their tiny frames. This image was quite heart wrenching. Next to each bed stood a parent, mostly the mother, with palpable concern, in her eyes, for her ‘piece of heart’ lying supine on that bed.

Not in the playground?

The urge to help ease their anxiety in whatever way we could, spontaneously surged up, and we walked to the first bed…

Our efforts did not meet with immediate success…at least not with the first kid. I smiled brightly at him, albeit from behind the mask, and in as jaunty a tone as I could muster, asked, “Kya naam hai aapka?” to initiate a response from him, but the child just stared back weakly. One can imagine the cumulative stress, physical and emotional on that slender undernourished frame. Then the eternal magic trick. I whipped up a Dairy Milk chocolate from the tray and extended my arm to offer it to him. Wonder of wonders! He stared at it for a nano second, and then, with a visible gleam in the eye, his thin arm stretched out, gingerly forward to clasp it. Magical wordless communication! How wonderfully successful I felt in that one moment I cannot describe. Not only that, I got the faintest of smiles too in response..The mother standing by looked gratefully at us for making her child smile… We handed her a chocolate too, which broadened the smile on her face.

Sweet success

This pattern prevailed throughout the round of the ward, as my sister and I went to each child’s bed, with smiles on our faces, and chocolates in our hands – with rising success, I may add. The children on the other beds and their mothers had been keenly following our progress through the ward, and a subtle expectation had lighted up the faces of both parent and child!

However, on the side where children were awaiting their surgeries, the anxiety of the parent was naturally more palpable. We took special care to buoy their spirits with  optimistic words. Of course, the fact that many children on the other side of the ward had been successfully operated upon must’ve been their biggest stress buster and morale booster.

What stunned us most of all was the loving attentive care bestowed upon the little ones at every stage by the medical staff and personnel of this establishment. And the wonder was that this special VIP treatment and love shower was not just reserved for the children but their parents too. If love is God, and compassion, the light of the soul, there was plenty of it shining here, displaying all that is bright and beautiful in the human spirit.

Thank you for caring

I felt so moved at one point that it took my all to stop my eyes from getting teary. This was part  anguish, part gratitude. To see affliction of any kind gives anguish to the heart but seeing that pain and agony being assuaged and healed with loving compassion, selflessly, makes the heart overflow with sweet gratitude.

Another very touching feature of the place was a room in the hospital, which had these charkhas or spinning wheels. These were placed in two rows, to keep the worried parents occupied spinning, to allay the anxiety! What a marvelous and thoughtful gesture. A picture of Mahatma Gandhi seated at his charkha adorned the wall. A palpable meditative vibration pervaded the room.

Don’t Worry

There was more munificence round the corner. We were taken to an adjunct portion of the premises, to a Divine Mother and Child Care Unit. This is designed to go to the root of the problem. Here pregnant mothers from rural and underprivileged areas are provided with valuable guidance and essential protein and other nutritional supplements to promote the healthy development of the child in the womb. One of the key reasons for CHD affecting the children of poor families is the lack of proper antenatal care to the mother and the unavailability of proper nutrition. This Unit ambitiously wishes to fill that gap. And, of course, it goes without saying, everything here too is absolutely free of cost. Oh yes! There is a free advanced training center too, attached to this noble institution for intensive training for medical staff, nurses etc. It is endless magnanimity.

Greatly enthused, we clicked many pictures and chatted with the friendly staff. They were all charged and motivated to a point you rarely encounter. They felt they were the blessed ones to have been picked to serve in an institution like this! Absolutely. Their passion and commitment to the cause was mind boggling. 

Finally, the time to leave came. The whole experience had touched our hearts deeply and rejuvenated our spirit in a totally new way. Imagine our wonderment to learn that there are 3 such Advanced Pediatric Childcare Centres in India – Raipur in Chhattisgarh, Palwal near Delhi, and Khaargar near Mumbai, all come up in the last 7 years, conducting corrective heart surgeries, without any cost, on children from all over the country and abroad too. (From developing countries). One such centre is starting soon in far out Fiji! All these centres have become important Referrals for big hospitals which get afflicted children on a regular basis.

On the drive back to Mumbai, even though we felt a wee tired after our extensive, highly emotional tour, we couldn’t stop chatting about our experience, and the time just flew.

After all, who doesn’t love, love-stories?? Well, here was one, which we couldn’t stop recounting.

Different. Soulful. Life-changing and life-giving…

Our most precious take away from this ‘temple’ of healing??

There is no miracle like love and no passion like  compassion!

Name and address of the Institution:

Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Centres for Child Heart Care

  1. Chhattisgarh
  2. Haryana
  3. Maharashtra 

https://srisathyasaisanjeevani.org

Email: getinvolved@srisathyasaisanjeevani.com 

Back To My Unmarried Self In My Childhood Home…2020

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Shammi Paranjape 

I am currently sheltering in my childhood home, where I arrived at the end of February 2020, for what I thought was to be a three weeks stay. It’s August and I’m still here and counting.

Sitting in my room with a diary and pen, I pause to look out the window. There is a garden marked by a boundary wall draped with greenery and bougainvillea. The serene beauty of a garden with summer flowers soothes my tired eyes. Beyond the wall is the world, strange, different and quiet. 

Be that as it may, many blessings have surfaced through the soil. One precious blessing is the extended time gifted to be with my mother, who has touched a spry 90! 

The others are a garden to stroll in, a verandah to lounge in, flowers and trees to gaze upon, a tabby cat to befriend, (always been a dog person), an open sky to avail of every morning and evening – in restricted quarantine times. This bounty of air, sky and space would have not been remotely possible in my apartment home in Mumbai. Apart from this, there is another unexpected boon…the extended time to dwell upon the memories associated with the house.

A garden to stroll in

After marriage, children of the house disperse to their new married homes, and their childhood homes become mere places of visit. So this time is unique in as much as I am literally settled here with no fixed date of leaving. It’s almost as if I’ve traveled back to my earlier self, the pre-married one that was a resident of this house for 27 years, and for whom this was her only home, till she got married. 

Continue reading “Back To My Unmarried Self In My Childhood Home…2020”

What If You Can’t Cook?

Shammi Paranjape

Dauphine Potatoes

Kitchens are busy spaces these days. In our Quarantined New World, it would seem everybody is cooking. Since eating pleasure can be consummated, maintaining safe distance at the site of pleasure (dining table) it’s currently trending in all homes.

But, a personal conundrum. What if you can’t cook? One worse. What if you don’t want to cook? 

I mean, is it cataclysmic? Being a woman, a normal woman, and not loving to don the apron – for husband, kids, friends, yourself? Does every guy in the world love boxing? Not watching, but actually going out there in the ring?? That’s the bummer. I love eating but I’m the worst cook. My forays into the kitchen have always been misadventures. I touch hot vessels or drop them, set fire to the toast or do something equally inane. So as a rule, I don’t cook. It’s safer all around. How I’ve managed to get away with this calumny all these years is that there never was a lockdown in my human experience till now.

The virtual landscape has gone berserk. Strange, vivid, coral-shaped delicacies on porcelain plates are being served up on all my SM accounts. Foody art, that I the cranky one, can’t appreciate. Not generally a praise-niggard, but the point is all these sensational recipes are of no use to me, with nobody to cook them for me. Family and friends, well meaning I’m sure, who love posting and pushing their lockdown culinary-adventures onto me, are making me feel inadequate. It is something I never allow myself to feel – inadequate. So what is this?

About survival. The lockdown in Mumbai, locked down my helper-cook in her home and me in mine. Since this was not Harry Potter, there was no magical tunnel to whoosh her into my kitchen.

I have to eat. For that, I have to cook.

Ask me to go climb the Himalayas, but don’t ask me to cook was my smart line to anybody even trying. Then, my family, quite the emancipated sort, embraced my normal as theirs. And all was fine. Till the time the world changed to as it is now. 

The self-quarantine has frozen combinations of people into staying and sheltering wherever they are, and my combination is my sister and me. She was over for a few days, (or so we thought), and is here two months and counting. And no, she does not cook. (Some gene throwback??)

In the first week it was not seismic. We had  some ready meals stocked and some frozen food and when that got done, my daughter, living a little distance away, sent us some more. However, we understood this was not a wise way to stave off daily hunger in these cryptic times, and strict compliance of lockdown rules was an inviolable necessity. 

So we shifted gear to ready-to-cook instant food like noodles and easy-to make grilled cheese sandwiches, and the like, and honored this fare, with steady stoicness. Who needs flamboyance in ascetic times?  We sat at the table like two monks in deep silence. No words. We even summoned up gratitude. We had food on our plates. A shelter. What more could we ask for?

Some regular spicy good old Indian curry? And a traditional pilaf with veggies and cashews? And without being fussy, a side of fresh coriander chutney?

We craved away.

Then one fine day (after many days), the rumblings… We said Enough.

But now what??

Heroics.

I got my laptop. Googled – Easy Recipes (rice, potatoes, cottage cheese). Even in my state of pronounced culinary ignorance, I knew that these three were tacklable even by a greenhorn like me. 

In fact, I had some experience too.

Once, long back, I had, in a rare moment of inspiration, opened a cookbook and prepared a dish of Dauphine Potatoes for my little kids. They felt a bit bemused about their mother not being like “other mothers” and to ease their angst, I emboldened myself one fine day.

My recipe: Dauphine Potatoes (simplified)

Ingredients: approximate

Parboil the potatoes, cut into thick wedges, (or flat round discs), put butter in the pan, toss in some crushed garlic, toss in the potato wedges or discs, keep turning over till golden brown, sprinkle some herbs, remove from fire, sprinkle ground black pepper, and serve with knobs of melting butter on top…(grated cheese optional) Hmm… even as I write this the seduction of the recipe is beginning to work upon me. A glimmer, very faint, of the possibility of conversion pokes me gently. Uhh? Is it the words, potato wedges, golden brown, knobs of melting butter, or the pictures they conjur, or what? Or is it just that I am so damn hungry? 

They loved the dish.

Subsequently, the secret of Dauphine Potatoes was passed on to my helper-cook, and the dish has often graced our dining table.

Another time, when the cook played hooky, on a particularly hot summer’s day, (39 degrees celsius) I all askew, flung up my hands in a frenzy and said to my husband, “What to do??”

He grinned and said, “What others do. Cook.” 

So I had a point to prove. Out came the cookbook and I homed in on the simplest cottage cheese recipe I could find.

My Recipe: Cottage cheese with onion and tomato (simplified)

Ingredients: approximate

Cut cottage cheese into cubes. Chop onions and tomatoes. Fry onions till brown. Toss in some crushed garlic and ginger. Add chopped tomatoes and stir awhile. Throw in spices, cumin seed powder, one cardamon, one green chilli, for pungency.  Add  salt, red chilli powder, mint powder, and turmeric powder and stir and mix well. Toss in the cottage cheese cubes. Mix till properly glazed. Voila. Good to go.

This too was a hit. The fam went overboard, and I guess they meant it,  because the dish was scraped off to the tiniest morsel… I beamed and was not worried at my success, because my cook was scheduled to be back the next day.

Back to today, the scenario is stark. My cook is not scheduled to be back for who knows how long. And food has to be had and for that it has to be cooked – everyday. 

I can’t cook, my sis can’t cook, even more than me, and though Swiggy is delivering, is it safe? Paranoia, both warranted and unwarranted, is on high sail these days.

 So what?? Determination of course, (just-sprouted) and Google – to get us out of dysphoria.

I think of my husband. How he would have merrily donned the apron and the mantle of in-house cook for us. He, who ably made up for my singular lack of affection for kitchen skills, by picking up a fair amount of culinary knowledge along the way … He reckoned it would be needed. He even mastered the art of the brilliant first cup of morning tea which he made for us every single day…till he left. He must surely be chuckling from his Elysium groves watching me gear up for kitchen-combat – finally.

So it’s happening and my sis and I are peering into our laptop screens earnestly, searching out and ticking the simplest recipes we can find. The kind that are non-complex, non-scholarly, require minimal fuss – and are finger licking delish.

A journey of a thousand steps has begun and we have taken the first one.  

Wish us luck.

Tea Time – Romancing The Brew

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By Shammi Paranjape

2016-08-06-1470492266-2770873-cupofteajpg.jpg

How do non-tea drinkers get through life?

I have a theory. When the Creator said, ‘Let there be light’, taking into account the ramifications of that divine impulse, He added some things to the list of creation, to help human souls through the journey of life. One was this beverage – tea in English, chai in Hindi – which is nothing if not a soul brew. Beautiful and divine under all circumstances – be it on lush green slopes or, steaming in a cup, glass, mug, chinaware, clay kulhad, steel glass – it is a celestial offering. There are other things too, which help in the journey of life, but that is a topic for another day.

The romance started early. I glad-eyed tea as far back as I can remember. It created such a warm ambient glow around my parents when they sipped it. Finally, at some point, as kids we were allowed a sneak taste of the ambrosia, from their cups. Or rather glasses. Plain simple inexpensive glasses in which the brew, for some mysterious reason acquired additional taste. (Only when guests came were cups and saucers retrieved from shelves. Later they went back to the shelves, to gestate till the next round of guests.) Grateful to my parents for their liberal non-stuffy approach. There are those for whom tea was taboo, (for nebulous never-specified reasons), till they reached voting age, who were then unable to relate to it later on. Pity.

A day begins and then a day begins well. For the countless tea-lovers of the world it is – with a good cup of tea. This is beyond debate.

As a Tea-pashion-ista, my affair thrives day to day and remains fresh and spanking. If there be an impediment, (milkman absconding or transport strike, with no fresh milk on the doorstep), then the day, well, pauses. Till that cuppa, made right — with the taste and aroma in place, and swirl of steam curling upward like a genie — reaches my hands, I am a perfect mess.

When I fell in love and marriage glimmered on the horizon, an important thing was that he was not a coffee drinker. So many are. It just wouldn’t have jelled. Imagine coffee and tea aromas crossing swords in my kitchen every morning. Not it. Not to mention the arguments, (marriage after all) about which brew is the gift to mankind. Shoes, toe nails, cut of jaw, didn’t matter that much. But, his loving tea mattered for some neurotic reason. Maybe because, tea-drinking is such a distinctively pleasurable activity. And marriage is so much about shared moments of pleasure.

When the children came along, after they touched five, I made sure to impart tea wisdom to them. In bits. This meant introducing them to its wonder early. I couldn’t bear the thought of them not developing a taste for it. I ensured by allowing them surreptitious sips. Nobody saw, except my husband who was complicit.

However, it’s not entirely uncomplicated.

Firstly, it has to be made just right. The absolute exact proportion of tea-leaves, milk, sugar (brown) is a fussy but necessary requirement. The color of the brew should neither be too dark nor too light. It should also not be over-brewed nor under-brewed. And, of course, it has to have the right temperature – for me, piping hot. This pernickety-ness is possible only under controlled conditions like when you are at home.

Outside home territory, the rules get flexible, to whatever extent needed, as long as you get that brew, in any sort of container, into your thirsting hands. Under duress, we tea lovers, accept tea in any container, but given choices, the right container matters. Depending on the place time and mood. At home, readymade tea in a glass or ceramic mug is fine. (But, it should be the specific one you like and have marked out specially as your own). At airports and railway stations, paper glasses do. In clubs and restaurants, fine porcelain cups and teapots snug in tea-cosies, served up by liveried waiters is what adds charm to the experience … At roadside dhabas it is the clay kulhads that pack a rustic earthy punch to the taste.

The season also counts, to a slight degree. A Winter’s Tale is the more beautiful with tea.The rainy season … Ah. One of life’s chief pleasures is the synchronised activity of watching rain, and sipping tea.

Then, company is important. Like-minded initiates add to tea bonhomie. However, for the true aficionado the best company is yourself. This is because tea drinking is basically – a meditation. The best ‘stillness’ happens, with a cuppa in your hands, as you gaze emptily but beautifully into space.

Footnote – I have nothing against coffee – as long as nobody ever tries to convince me that it’s a superior passion.

No chance.

But for sure, as a brew coffee is a close runner-up. Coffee aroma is so deliciously on another level just sniffing it gives me satisfaction.

So let there be light. And, let there be tea. (And coffee smells occasionally) …

Sunday Nothings

It was Sunday, the day I love to sleep late, but the opposite happened. I awoke at an unholy hour, thanks to a racket outside. It was a family of sparrows on my window sill. They were more loquacious than Italians in an argument. I saw the time. It was way earlier than my sweet spot for Sundays. I ought to have groaned but didn’t, for some odd reason.

It must’ve been that I slept well in the night. For why else did this wake-up call from feathered visitors to my window, make me feel benign instead of grumpy? Normally when the alarm from my phone goes off, it always, but always feels mean and clangy … the tinkle-tone nevertheless. You hit snooze again and again with a degree of vengeance. But today, this ‘natural’ alarm made it easy to spring awake. I could have been a daisy rising up to the sun.

So, it’s right, what the sleep deacons say. It’s not about the number of hours, it’s about the quality of sleep. I racked my brains for what ritual I may have followed the previous night to have been gifted this. Did I have chamomile tea? What did I avoid for dinner? And what had I had for dinner? Was it the broccoli or was it the piece of very dark chocolate I snacked on later that did it? (I hope!) Or was it that I blocked the online world two hours before hitting my comforter-padded zone of my bed?

Whatever the magic recipe, I woke up with heightened serotonin. I felt different, zingy and good.

After my morning cuppa, the usual tasks of everyday, of every single day (Sunday notwithstanding), of every single home got underway. My segments are water tight. There is a flurry of domestic morning activity that happens, mostly in a set pattern. Husbands and children of the world don’t usually realize or cognize this, as to them the house always looks the same. What they miss is, what it takes to make the house always look the same.

But today, my tasks got cleared early. I found there was almost an hour with nothing specific to do. This was strange and lovely. Perched on my sofa in the drawing room after hot-buttered toast and tea, I literally had nothing to do. (My mobile phone was charging far away in another room. Thank God that mobiles drain out and need to be charged every now and then).

I reflected on this. Mmmm. There was a band of time stretching out before me quite like a cat in the sun. No hurry, no scurry. The open windows with the ledge arrayed with densely-leafed green plants, and flowering pots, freshly watered, looked, well, happy. The sunlight made florescent jabs on the leaves. Seven sparrows (I counted them) gambolled around in the verdure.

I cadged it! Picking up a cushion from the sofa I plonked it on a square of sunlight that fell on one spot on the carpet. Placing myself on the cushion I folded my knees, hugged them, and bending my head shut my eyes in langour. With my eyes gently closed and sun pouring on me it could have been any beach anywhere in the world. Within seconds and without effort, I slipped into that ‘state of being’ which I often, rightly or wrongly, feel is the pinnacle state.

Occasionally, with slitty half-opened eyes I gazed at the bougainvillea and the patches of blue sky visible through the maze of branches. It was zen, come upon me unannounced. I realised then, that meditation is not a lotus posture or laborious control of thought…it is just a state of being, an ease, a flow, which requires nothing to happen for the completion of the moment – it is a perfect ‘now moment’ full in itself and without any expectation of any further occurrence or happening.

The sun, of course, played an important part in my scenario. Being the source of light and warmth the sun’s therapeutic powers are extraordinary. Have you seen sun-bathers on deck chairs on a beach, line upon line lying in motionless bliss?

Indian wisdom recognizes this all-vital truth about the sun, and it’s extraordinary life giving properties. Gayatri mantra is the ‘mantra of mantras’, that extols the glory and effulgence of the sun. This mantra has evinced a lot of interest globally too for its mystic powers.

I ruminated on this even as the benevolent sun bathed me. And for the first time understood the angst of my friends in London who rued the misery of British weather. Whenever I go to England I enjoy the cold weather as it’s a great change from the tropical climate of India. And I don’t particularly miss seeing the sun there! But I realized it is only because I’m on vacation and my stay short. To have to not see the sun day in day out for days would be, well, plain miserable.

I lifted my head. The sun had shifted. So I too had to shift my limbs. I got up and checked the time. Wow I had done nothing for over half an hour! Luckily, my mobile phone hadn’t intruded. Even the landline and doorbell obliged. And the best was, my mind obliged. It bowed to my wishes to luxuriate in Sunday ‘nothingness’ for a while.

I felt like a master. Small victory but a sure and sweet one.

small observations

Shammi Paranjape

I sit and watch the unseasonal rain. Gazing is a productive activity. It nudges introspection. The doorbell rings. Why are doorbells so unsonorous? I hear the door open and then shut. Amazon, delivery. Between four family members, two visits a day are assured, most days. Nobody blinks an eye now, to the different sized packages arriving, from the tiniest to the most humongous ones. Shower curtains, kettles, tea mugs, yoga mats, accessories, even gift tags, arrive like this. I feel disturbed at my digital dependence and the shifting topography of day to day life.

Making payments, in seconds, on the phone, has simplified things tremendously. Buying anything and everything from the comfort of my own sofa at home, without the angst of traffic, with some clicks, is a breeze, but there are many downsides. A behemoth is shaping and overpowering us. Is there no way back, is the scary question. And the answer to that is even scarier.

Years back I had read a book by Alvin Toffler called ‘Future Shock’ and it outlined the psychological distress of individuals and entire societies as a result of technology and too much change happening, too fast. That future is here. It is just like the doomsday movies. Only now it’s not on a flat screen that we sit and watch with fascinated horror – we watch it live.

There are two kind of monsters these days. Those who believe and those who don’t believe. Both sides are at constant violent war with each other. The weapons are modern, and provided freely by social media. Twitter is the prime weapon. Missiles dipped in ego, hate and vitriol are let loose left right and center. (Pun intentional). Political affiliations make people lose their sanity and sink into pointless hate for “the other.” Result is rage, noise, contention, vanity, but minimal debate.

Thank you internet. Thank you social media. More than the psychologists, philosophers, or writers and artists you have shown up a mirror to the underbelly of human nature.

And as we are realizing, it’s not pretty.

God save us from ourselves.

Small Wisdom

The fact that nothing is easy is what adds value to life. In sports we keep setting more and more difficult targets for ourselves. Why? These targets are voluntarily set by us and not under any compulsion. We do it because extending our limits and reaching beyond ourselves is the way to growth. By the same analogy, extending our limits as human beings, we can touch and reach the divine. That is the ultimate goal of every human soul.

Mankind is placed between animal and divine. The choices we make decide to which side we veer. Being just human is a good enough start. Practising basic humanity is the first step to the goal. Human values like compassion and tolerance and respect for all beings is the foundation of being human. The more we practise humanity the closer we get to the divine element.

Every obstacle, every difficulty we face is a training in our mental gyms to extend our capacities that much further – toward new growth. Every challenge stretches us a bit more toward a target higher than the previous one.

Why is it so difficult to be good? The foundation of basic goodness is selflessness. Goodness places the other before you. This is not very easy to do when you perceive the other as ‘other.’ However, Indian wisdom declares there is no other, and that the world is one big family. If this attitude is cultivated goodness becomes more spontaneous. Expanding our hearts to encompass ‘all’ is very rewarding. This ‘expansion love’ generates a sense of inner warmth, satisfaction and well-being which is matchless.

Life is a magnificent arena affording great choices. To squander the chances come our way, is folly. We must reflect on the best way to use our lives and work our way up to the expression of our highest selves.

We labour night and day for paltry evanescent gains. A little effort for ‘something higher’ that is not affected by the vagaries of the stock exchange, nor the ups and downs of your relationships, is worth striving for. Go for it. It is the real gold.