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Bookshelves, Bowie and Alan Rickman

18 Jan

Last night I gave our shared bookshelf at home a makeover. For some years now the books had been piling up in double rows, therefore obscuring the books that lay in the back row of every shelf. That seemed like a bit of a tragedy, for a bookshelf is more than just a place to stash your books; it is a place that holds memories and stories. I like to look at a book, remember when we/I bought it, when I read it, and I like to re-wallow in the thoughts and emotions experienced when I had first read it. Or, I like to look at its well-worn cover and remember why I re-read it so much over the years. I like to look at our multi-generational collection of books (or the section of it that remains and is housed here) and just feel happy and warm. It is an easily accessible repository of family and personal history.

It feels a bit strange to realise that I now have multiple unread books within my reach. When I was a child, such a thing could never have occurred. I consumed everything, age-appropriate or not. Adulthood, even graduate student adulthood, (and, let’s be honest, the internet…) comes in the way of single-minded consumption of the written word.

So there I was, duster in hand, re-positioning many books to the top shelf hitherto left untouched because of the dust factor. (Books catch dust anyway, but the unprotected top shelf is the worst dust magnet imaginable). In the past I’ve stacked books by differing logic. Sometimes by author, sometimes by size and shape, sometimes by ‘light’ and ‘serious’, sometimes by genre. This time I didn’t even think in terms of rules- I just let the books pick which ones they wanted to sit next to. Okay, I admit that is slightly woo-woo. However, I did indeed go by ‘feel’. So the Bartimaeus Trilogy sits with Sherlock Holmes and Samit Basu. Salman Rushdie chose Enid Blyton, and cricket chose Shakespeare. A couple of times I broke up a serial arrangement of books in the same series to insert a lone but much loved book, so it could get a hug and not feel alone. Not every book is loved deeply, but every shelf has a deeply loved book.

***

They have named a constellation after Bowie. One of the best descriptions I read of his music was ‘heavy yet light’. That is exactly what it was. And the tributes continue to pour in for Alan Rickman bearing witness to a unique life. Everybody is unique; but few people possess the tenacity and courage to single-mindedly be themselves over an entire lifetime. The lives of Bowie and Alan Rickman forever remain behind as an inspiration towards the fact that being authentic is enough. There is no guarantee that being authentic will gain you external or social validation, much less the success and fame that these two artists gained. That is not the point of their examples, for me. One doesn’t pursue authenticity for recognition, but it is reassuring to know that being authentic does not foreclose worldly greatness.

Bye, 2015. And Season’s Greetings!

31 Dec

I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. In many ways you were like 2013: you walked me through quite a journey. In no specific order, some of my favourite things from this year:

*The share autos at Noida City Centre metro station. Because:

1)UPiites (Uttar Pradesh iites) really are polite, even if they burn their women and mutton eaters occasionally. And,

2) In order to extract the crazily parked and inevitably hemmed-in auto you are sitting in (or sitting behind) (filled with a minimum of 10 passengers) the driver will move backwards and forwards, going thud-thud into the autos in front and behind, like dodge’em cars, until there is space to manoeuvre out onto the main road.

*That twice daily meditations did not happen, but routinely longer ones did.

* The Cafe Coffee Day on Barakhamba road. After many misses, I’ve found ‘my’ coffee shop in the city.

* Days that begin at 5.30AM on winter mornings, finish by 3, leaving me the rest of the afternoon and evening for Noida visits and meditation.

* Who’d a thought I’d enjoy being out of the house by 5.30 AM? That I LIKE less sleep when forced into it?

* Goettingen. Lucking out on wonderful people there, both friends and strangers. Especially strangers.

* Uncle Chips. Many, many packets of it.

* Beginning, meaningfully, on field research for the second part of my PhD. I don’t care whether I actually finish or not: the journey thus far has far exceeded my expectations of learning when I began. But I will finish, because the ICSSR has kindly paid me a fellowship thus far.

* Noida, Nurnberg, Dakshineshwar.

Happy New Year, all. Because whyever not?

Chow

21 Jan

I cannot write about my Grandmother’s death as yet, it is too soon and more painful that I imagined it would be. It is still hard to believe she’s gone. My mother forgets sometimes and thinks to call her about something before remembering. Every other thing reminds me of her, and suddenly, of my grandfather, who passed away in 2008.

Chowmein, for instance. My mother brought some back from her office canteen today. She sat wrapped up in a quilt and I at the foot of the bed, eating, and Didu popped into our minds at the same time. My mother’s because she had one of those moments when she was thinking to call and ask how Didu was doing with Calcutta’s cold (like most old people, my grandmum hated the winter and wore several layers at home) and I because of ‘chow’.

My grandmum was an awesome cook. Most summer vacations, when we visited or they did, we had a ritual where she’d weigh me before and after the visit. Her feeding up would inevitably add about five pounds to my skinny frame by the time it was time to go back. She’d be planning meals all the time and talking about how I was too thin, and at times I’d get irritated and make fun of her one-track mind. One of my demands of her used to be her chowmein. This was in the days before it was available commonly and cheaply on the streets (and anyway my grandmum was so good at replicating restaurant delicacies at home that the question of ordering in rarely arose). She would call it chow and it was a staple whenever we visited. My brother loved it as well, if I remember correctly.

When I was even younger, it wasn’t enough that she prepared delicacies for every meal; I used to demand she feed me and tell me stories. Both grandparents were awesome storytellers and I grew up associating grandparents with the function of storytelling. Even when I’d snuggle in for a nap with either Didu or Dadu I’d demand endless stories. Golpo bolo.

Their old house had a kitchen on the first floor. It was huuuge, had a separate storeroom, and contained a dining table as well. I’d hang out there with her as she cleaned and cut fish (this she did till she was 80; she’d never trust the fishmonger to do it for her) on the bonthi, demanding, what else? stories. And the occassional piece of tamarind. I first tasted tamarind in her kitchen. She’d make a rad shingi magur’er saloon. Ilish maach, kosha maangsho, chicken’er jhol, kaakra’r jhal, chingri…I’ve never eaten better.

Just a couple of weekends before she died, she came over and brought us Dhakai porotta. And she ate a slice of pizza I’d sent to her through my mom the day she had her stroke. Whilst she was in hospital, in a coma, I told her I’d be baking a cake and saving a slice for her. I did; but in the end, like always, she ensured I ate it.

Light

23 Oct

In nursery, they taught us to sing ‘Diwali, Diwali, festival of lights’. Candles burn, crackers burst…and after that I cannot remember. Never mind, it’s the light I’m interested in.

There is something so cleansing about fire. Cleansing, energizing, life-giving. Or perhaps, I’m just a closet pyromaniac! šŸ˜›

It is Diwali today, and I realise that I suck at secular festivity. As a kid- it was the crackers which made Diwali an occasion for me (we’d burst them as a family, mostly low-power stuff except that one time when my mom got us those string crackers that look like crayons in a box and OHBOYWHATFUN our hearts thudded with the noise after my mom the brave one lit it and that is one memory I will always cherish-that one daring Diwali-but we stopped bursting crackers when I was in Class V because my brother, who is four years younger, was brainwashed at school into giving them up child labour, pollution and Diwali, Diwali is a festival of lights I was pissed at first, I remember standing at one end of the primary school corridor at Carmel overlooking the basketball court? complaining to friends about the injustice of it they’re just crackers) but after that I’d only get mildy interested in putting up the diyas with my mother (who has always been the most enthusiastic about it) who eventually found a kindred spirit in the neighbour kid and they would do rangolis together. Once or twice, I’d summon up interest because Kali Puja, which falls on the same day for us Bengalis (although some apparently do Lakshmi Puja on this day), provides mutton curry as prasad.

So yes, I suck at secular festivity. This time, the secular beat a retreat on its own, and in the days leading up to Diwali, I transitioned in my head to thinking of it as Kali Puja. I love Kali. So I did some enthusiastic cleaning around the house (and discovered the joys of wipe-downs with lemongrass oil-don’t get any on your hands though it’s an essential oil and it will burn undiluted) and went out today to replenish the stock of tea-lights that were to go into diyas today because yesterday we used up fourteen-the day before Diwali ‘we’ (meaning what? Bengalis? Our kind of Bengalis? Or just our family line? Who knows? We’re autonomous migratory Bongs with limited time for rituals) and along the way I saw this young man setting up with the largest, brightest genda phools I’ve seen, on two tables, by the little road leading to the market I was walking to. I saw him, thought about buying some, but because I never do, I walked on. Genda phool also goes by marigold and when I was a child, when we had flower pots in our balcony, we had two of marigold, one used to be on the left-most corner and I would stand by that one oftenest as I would look between the railings and get my view of the world outside my building. I kind of remember it being in perpetual bloom, but I’m sure that is just my memory kidding me.

On my way back, though, I bought it. They were the biggest, brightest, yellow and orangest and fragrantest of the lot I’d seen while walking-and there were many marigold sellers out and about on occassion of Diwali. The young man selling it called me Madam and the lady beside me Madam. We both examined the length of the string, and both asked the price and he used the same tone of voice, the same language for both replies. He treated us the same. He gave us the same soft, polite respect. What a nice guy!Ā  What a beautiful soul! That is what happens when the secular transitions to non (I notice things).

The strand of all that is good and God wove its way from his big, lovely flowers to a new urge to place a blossom each before our Guru in every room.When I go back to Calcutta end of this month I’m getting myself a pot of marigold so I can take a daily flower or two and with my hands place them before Lahiri Mahasaya and Gyanamata and Babaji and God and Guru in every room. The genda phool found its way home and took me along for the ride.

The thing about marigolds? Apparently they bloom best in poor soil.

Aside 16 Oct

Today, I saw a little boy combing his hair very carefully, oblivious of the hustle and bustle around him, concentrating only on making the perfect side parting. Today I also saw a family working as construction workers, re-building a road near my temporary office. The littlest baby had been given a child-sized shovel, with which he attempted to imitate his parents with much happiness (he wasn’t doing any actual work; it was just a toy). Today I also also saw a man carrying half a mannequin on his scooter, near my bus stop. A pair of porcelain white legs stuck out of his back seat looking wonderfully incongruous.

And I missed Calcutta a little less, for all the three things I saw.

I realised today that:

As a child, I talked so much that I regularly got into trouble with teachers at school, for disturbing the class.

As I grew up, I spoke less and less, and now, as an adult, I barely and rarely talk.

Today, as I saw my three sights, and realised I had to write about them, I had a minor light-bulb moment and realised that not-talking did not mean that I had become a silent person. All that chatter never went away, it just re-routed itself from my mouth to my fingers, transformed itself from sound to letters, and found a home in blogs and journals and emails.

Ah the sun!

30 Jul

There is nothing like beginning your day with a mug of green tea with lemon and honey.

I’m in Delhi for a week. The primary purpose was a close friend’s wedding, but I had also made plans of yoga, meeting friends and generally just going around Delhi for a bit. I already know that yoga is all that will happen, hehe. I’m just too reluctant to make long journeys right now, I’d rather vegetate a bit.

I did apply for the PhD. And now there is a month to read up on and defend the proposal- somewhat sketchy at the moment- for the interview. I’m at peace with the decision. While working on my dissertation, I saw that my brain really likes to be challenged, it thrives on being forced to think. However, there is also a part of me that resists attempts at hard work, that tries to tell my body that happiness lies in taking it easy. If I do get into the PhD programme, life will be harder. But I’m no longer as scared of my ability to negotiate a difficult path as I was till even a year ago.

Back in Calcutta, a batchmate has been in an accident under unfortunate circumstances, which involved my entire batch, minus three of us. Drunk driving. She was the passenger. It was the night of the farewell that our faculty gave us. She and her friend (not our batchmate) got into an ugly exchange of words with everybody else, apparently (I wasn’t there since I had a flight to catch to Delhi the next morning), and took off with her friend driving. The car flipped. All considered, she had a miraculous escape. I feel for her. She has been making bad choices for so long. The inside of her head is not a happy place. She needs someone to be firm but loving with her. I’m not sure there is anybody playing such a role in her life, not even her parents. I’ll be going to visit her once I’m back.

A rather long ramble

4 Jul

I had a short conversation with my Guide today morning. We were talking (and laughing!) about how my first drafts have looked SO different from my final drafts. He made the observation that my first drafts are intensely personal and that I achieve the level of detachment and distance that is required in academic writing in consequent drafts. Don’t ever turn in first drafts! said he. Lol.

It was a very profound observation, not just on my writing, but also on myself. (Ofcourse, as I have discovered during the dissertation process, I cannot draw neat lines between where my self ends and where my ability to write begins. When I struggle mentally with something, my writing is impacted.) My mind, in its natural state, is an unrestful place. It is extra-responsive to my environment, to my past, and it simply HAS to work through every thought that comes to mind. Put another way, there are endless triggers that I encounter in day-to-day living, which, if not managed, can send me into a spiral of unhealthy responses like worry, anxiety, anger, grief. My mind in its ‘natural’ state teaches me to identify with my lower self and take it too seriously. And I am very glad for this, because I have often wondered if I was easily satisfied with my life, would I have sought God? Would I have realised that there is no lasting peace and joy in anything but God? Would I have made loving and realising God my goal and sole ambition? Somehow I don’t think so. Had I not been made the way I have been made, my journey in God would have looked very different.

Managing my triggers has been a big part of the journey I have made in the past two years. Around November 2012, I had written:

So when I think of work, I think I need to re-orient my conception of it. Working on MYSELF is my primary job for now, because as they say on airplanes: put the mask on yourself before you help children and the elderly. Iā€™m no good at giving myself, till this myself learns to behave and be in God at all times. Ā 

I am learning to become aware of and distance and detach myself from my lower self. I am learning to observe inharmonious movements of thoughts and feelings inside me and realise that these do not have to keep me from practicing the presence of God. There is a very definite parallel between the journey I have made during my MPhil programme and the jouney I have made in God. I believe very strongly that the only reason the Lord blessed me with these two years of MPhil in Calcutta is so I could learn to move further in my spiritual practice. There was no reason for me to have been admitted to this institution; the application procedure required a research proposal. EVERYBODY had a research proposal…except me. All I gave them were a few paragraphs of what I was interested in. As far as I am concerned, the MPhil wasn’t my move, it was God’s šŸ™‚

I have not made the journey on my own; nothing is my own, not even my effort. It’s all God. And oh yes, moving my self from the first draft version of myself to my second, third, fourth versions of myself have only been possible through meditation. I have gone from ‘freestyle’ meditation to a specific technique. This is in preparation of my mind and body to receive Kriya Yoga initiation some day, if it is so willed. Nothing has taught me to activily still the mind like meditation, and without stillness one can’t receive God.

There is another long post that I will need to get out some day soon. Thoughts about the terrible tragedy in Uttarakhand. We will never know how many are dead. They are saying it might be 100,000-300,000. Most of us have never seen or heard anything like it. It’s like the doomsday movies. Assam has floods now. Canada has floods. Parts of Europe had (has) floods. Kids are dying in Kerala. A bigoted man might be the prime ministerial canditate for one of the main political parties in 2014’s elections. There is a lot of unprecedented crazy in the world right now. It is hard to feel secure in the midst of all this, but maybe this worldy insecurity will lead more and more of us to search for a more permanent, inviolate security. But, all that for another post. Back to work now.