Not the opportunity I wanted, but the one I needed.

“Ganesha Chaturthi. For those of you who don’t know, its basically one of the many Christmases practicing Hindus celebrate. Its got all the important bits to make it a real live festival: food, bright flowers, food, vibrant sarees, food, reverberating-soul-cleansing music, food, prayer, food, and lastly and most importantly, this day is all about auspicious beginnings and celebrating the Remover of Obstacles, Lord Ganesha.

He’s well-known for his rotund belly and his humble steed, the mouse, and yes he’s famous for being wise beyond his years. He’s every mother’s dream, every father’s pride, and every first born’s role model. He’s the kind of older sibling you want to be. He’s patient, he’s forgiving, he knows just how to get you out of the ditch you dug yourself into. He’s a peaceful warrior, he’s a persuasive negotiator, he’s a total Vedic nerd, the Guru’s star pupil, a pursuer of knowledge dedicated to the improvement of humanity.

In short he’s basically got his life together. So we pray to him. Asking, clamoring, demanding, pleading, negotiating, begging, bartering (honestly though, what would he need from us?) for something. I’m sure he gets asked for all sorts of things…mostly good grades and direct entry into a stable job. Good beginnings in general.

I used to do that too. I used to ask for so many things as a child, of course Barbie dolls, cool things and new dresses made the cut. No prayers for family well-being, decent mental health as O Level approached, or even a simple word of gratitude. It took me a while to think about what I asked of him, and how I did it – hey, I was growing up!

Over time I began to thank him on a daily basis, once in the morning and before I slept. You know, counting my blessings and such. It felt good to think that I was one of the few people letting him know that he’s appreciated for all the good things in my life. So as I monitored my spiritual progress – and watched too many documentaries about religion and Indian culture – I realized that I needed to do more than just appreciate and respect a divine entity. I mean, greeting someone with a “Namaste” meant that I saw the God in them, so that automatically meant that everyone I met would be appreciated for whatever good things they chose to do. So I began to appreciate people’s good efforts however much I subconsciously disliked their existence. A few months into this spiritual regime I understood that its easy to lose one’s place on their own priority list when others come first. I became so consumed with the idea of putting others first, and looking at their sacrifices, that I overlooked my own. This stifling culture and its mores had taken their toll on teenage Me.

Noticing that I just played myself for long enough that others took my support and appreciation for granted, I stopped. I stepped back. Distance was everything now, because I had lost myself while trying to tether others in their sense of security. I pulled away from people, friends, family, my culture, my Gods – everything I had built myself on. This gradual receding tested every family tie, every friendship I held dear, leaving me spiritually broken. I didn’t seek divine intervention, nor did it seek to help me. In retrospect this was a foolish idea that could’ve wrecked important bonds, but what choice does one have when they need to rediscover their strengths and learn to appreciate themselves for a change?

I let it go. There was no more a promise of heaven or a the threat of hell. I was free! All of the consequences were mine to choose. I had lost a religion and now found the divine in everything I encountered. I didn’t want to return to the rules, the conventions, the restrictions religion imposed. I didn’t fear what the Gods would think. I was more afraid of what society would think if one of their own chose to leave – what would the Aunty next door say?!?

It took me some time to understand that they don’t count. Ganesha, society, family, friends, or that judgmental Uncle down the street. I was now at a stage where I enjoyed a life of being true to the ways of the Universe, and here’s why: whatever I threw to It came right back at me – and it certainly is more concrete than any idol I sought guidance from. So in the eyes of society, I am nothing like the model older sibling I was supposed to be praying to. Such a disappointment.”

____________x______________

This was being thought as I washed and polished the brass idol of Ganesha I had looked up to all my life. I literally had to look up because Gods are usually out of reach, and ours was seated on a portable brass throne on the fridge, shared with Goddess Laxshmi. My mother knew the war that I was waging against myself, and thankfully carried on with her hurricane cooking of a feast in respectful silence, breaking it only to tell me that I had to finish quickly and do the rangoli.

She once told me that people need to have a hard look at themselves every 10 years to make sure they’re on the right track. So I spent most of the auspicious day in deep introspection, which yielded nothing until the prayer was over and the food arrived.
As I ate my mother’s incredible Ganesha Chaturthi feast of sweet pongal, mosuranna, uddin vada, and that divine puliogare-with-a-bite, I knew where I stood.

One of my favorite memories is that of my grandfather telling me the Puranas, bits of the Vedas, some of the Mahabharata, and all of the Ramayana. For the last 20 years he’s made it seem like the Gods we look up to are just as human as us, because they made mistakes and fought and shamed and cowered away from their duties. No, I wasn’t ready to give up the culture I was raised in, because it would never leave me. So – and this is almost over, so hang in there – I figured that I would look up at the Gods and continue with life not by leaning on them, but rather by learning from their mistakes. I have the next 10 years to work on myself by learning from divine interventions that went wrong, and I’m glad to say that I’m looking forward to it.

I still don’t know what I believe in more, but this day was auspicious indeed. A solid beginning to self-repair.

 

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I know.

Wrote this for my mother’s birthday in 2014. That year had shown us many things, but the one that stands out for me is the distance of the Indian Ocean between us. It was an untitled piece at the time, but over the years I have come to realise that this one suits it best.

Being the first to hear someone’s heart beat from the inside comes with its own perks. I know every wrinkle, every tear, and the reason behind every smile.

It’s a privilege getting to know someone like that.

_______________X _______________

Hello Ma,

I know, your day begins with the cries of your toddler. You wake up knowing your family is safe. You stand up, proud of your achievements as a professional, a mother, a woman. You see yourself ageing. Your dark crown rooted in grey wisdom. The scars of battles past fiercely line your face in the mirror on the bathroom wall. I know.

You light the fire, providing your men food. For stomach, for thought, for soul – and yet you taste none of it. You fast. Penance, you think. Karma, you believe. Choiceless, you observe.  I know.

You leave home in a flurry of activity, hopes, expectations, demands, anger, and the desire to succeed. You sit down to work. Violently pushing away thoughts you consider a hindrance: like the chance for some quiet. Like the chance to sip your coffee without worrying about cooking meals. Like the chance to read, to savour every page, devour every scene without having to think about whose time you’re eating into. I know.

You work. You communicate. You teach. You breathe, if only for a second. You rush to catch and pin down your ideas. You leave, knowing you will only return to this solace the next day. I know.

You want to slam the door shut in frustration as you bundle yourself into the car. I know.

you return home. Your joy shines through as you see your youngest. Your heart swells with bound commitment as you see your husband. You return to your stereotypical  normalcy. You drift off to sleep, still juggling the roles of the home-maker and the breadwinner. Dreamless. Fitful. Broken. 

You wake up, and dance once again to the same tunes. The same routine. I know.

I know you. A different you.

You wake up knowing your children adore you. You bring us the best the world has to offer on a plate, in a mug, on a car ride to school. You bring us your best.

You leave home knowing that you inspire your students to look beyond what they see. You improve as an academic everyday. You better yourself every minute. We all recognize this. Some openly, others grudgingly. 

You leave work knowing your son is waiting for you on the other side of that front door. Waiting with all his new words, antics, and disarming smiles.

Its no surprise you are waiting for them too.

You return home to find the bitter-sweet. You return home to Life.

You drift off to the same broken hours of sleep, but with a dream that only you know. A dream that only you dream. A dream of how blessed your life truly is, despite all the bumps and burns along the way. A dream not many people have. A dream of contentment.

I know, everyone wished you a happy birthday – and they even got you presents, cake, and orange balloons.

I know I didn’t do or say much. And it can certainly never match up to “…Appy budday Mummy!” I know.

I wanted my wish to be the one which reminds you that you deserve to be appreciated and loved everyday for the courageous and beautiful person you are.

Happy birthday Ma. May we celebrate many more together, no matter how many oceans dare to separate us. 

______________X_______________

 

 

 

The Ineffable Plan

‘Good Omens’ should be read by everyone who thinks they know the Universe has a plan set in stone for them. I thought so too, until I finished the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Perspective is something all of us have, but its something few of us would consider changing. Now you’re recounting all the times you’ve changed your own point of view in exchange for peace, rest from a raging debate, to prove your team’s point, to support your elders, to support your spouse, to gain a friend. The list is quite long and my perspective, that most people change their sense of the world around them to either please others or protect their true interests, still stands. I repeat: MOST people, not ALL people.

Those of us who’ve read the novel would remember that even the “Voice of God” had a script it had to follow, because it knew nothing different to what it had been told. However, the angels of Hell and Heaven together with Adam Young (the 11-year-old-bringer-of-the-Apocalypse) realized that everything may have been written and delivered to us, and to those in Heaven and Hell, but it did not mean it was set in stone.

For example, it says in the book:

‘Its is not given to us to understand the ineffable Plan,’ said the Metatron, ‘but of course the Great Plan – ‘

‘But the Great Plan can only be a tiny part of the overall ineffability,’ said Crowley. ‘You can’t be certain that what’s happening right now isn’t exactly right, from an ineffable point of view.’

‘It izz written!’ bellowed Beelzebub.

‘But it might be written differently somewhere else,’ said Crowley. ‘Where you can’t read it.’ 

‘In big letters,’ said Aziraphale 

‘Underlined,’ Crowley added. 

‘Twice,’ suggested Aziraphale.

‘Perhaps this isn’t just a test of the world,’ said Crowley. ‘It might be a test of you people, too. Hmm?’ 

‘God does not play games with his loyal servants,’ said the Metatron, but in a slightly worried tone of voice. 

‘Whooo-eee,’ said Crowley. ‘Where have you been?’

___________x__________________

The Great Plan, The Divine Plan, The Gods’ Plan. All of these are common to all major religions. Come to think of it, so is free will. The will to choose differently because times, circumstances, experiences, and Heaven forbid! people’s minds have changed. As great as it is for those who want to believe in it, could be more rightly renamed The Ineffable Plan.  A Plan that is so vast and profoundly simple that describing it in one way would certainly mean there are other possibilities, where we could potentially be doing something better (or worse) in the exact same situation.

 

So the next time you, my precious reader, think about how you must follow a plan, or have to follow someone else’s plan, remember the ineffability of it all.

Remember Inception, that movie where dreams transformed into a seriously cool but sinister playground for the rich businessmen and the sleep enthusiasts?

Yeah.

There are levels of the Bigger Picture we can’t understand or reach yet because we still have further to go. Something more to complete and learn before accessing the next level. Even the most well constructed plans can fail because one person didn’t want it to happen. They chose for it not to.

The next time you choose to do something, you could just be the latest butterfly of the Chaos Theory unfurling your wings of free will.

The Plan will never be the same again. The future has changed.

____________x_____________

 

Image by J.L Westover, available at: http://www.mrlovenstein.com/images/comics/50_no_mere_coincidence.png

 

What would a grown up do?

There’s been a shift in my thinking about many things recently. Especially about the way power relations work – at work, within families, between friends.

We all know how it goes:

Someone above you has a bad start to the day, they take it out on you. Then you, being the ever diplomatic and considerate person, decide to take out your frustrations on someone younger or weaker – or both. Imagine this continues as a chain, all the way down to a parent taking their inadequacies and pent up rage out on their child because they are younger and weaker. What a wonderful way to walk into the house, sit down with a cuppa and rant about how awful the world is when all the family really wants is some peace, quiet, and help with their homework.

Yeah, those of us who have to sit back and take this behavior from grown-ups know exactly how this feels. It feels like our successes and sorrows are paid better attention outside home rather than by the family, where it should actually be shared. But hey, I wouldn’t know about this because I’m not an adult yet. Honestly though, what’s Ohana without setting some time aside to listen to what the family could be doing better? When did constructive feedback ever damage something?

Nothing in the world enrages me more than someone who complains about the choices they make. Especially when adults do it. And I tend to enrage myself quite a bit. Like just now for instance. I’ve noticed more often than not, parents bicker about the smallest of things because they can’t make up their minds about the big decisions. Choices can be anything from the brand of dishwasher soap to where the family should move to next.

When you make a choice for yourself, it’s ALL ON YOU. You hold the power to say yes or no. Especially when you have the choice to decline something, and don’t. When you make a decision for the whole family however, without bothering to consult the people whose lives are hanging in the balance, don’t except it to be a simple matter of moving everyone to your side. It doesn’t work that way. No matter how diplomatic people are, their ropes will run out and when it does remember that NO ONE is going to show mercy, be a supportive colleague, a should to cry on, or even bother to listen because you put yourself and everyone in that position. And it makes things even worse when you are constantly, incessantly belittling every good thing you’ve got going for you. People haven’t got time for your shit. Or your ego.

So the next time you decide to shove your “misfortune” in other people’s faces, ask yourself if you actually have the right to do that. Especially after all those people you complain to / about have done to make sure you have everything you need. If they didn’t, then its all good. Carry on ranting.

Now this isn’t to say that I’m a perfect human being who has no complaints or regrets. I am flawed, I am a hypocrite, I tend to favor some more than others, I go from being absolutely sure about what I want in life to being annoyingly indecisive about important decisions. What gives me the license to rant about others who make life a living hell with their constant urge to put people and positive ideas down, is that I work my way out of it. I have learned the power a genuine apology has on relationships. I know that people have my back because I let them know they are valued, that their presence in my life only makes it better. I make sure that advice on how to improve my character and behavior is taken seriously, however hard it might be for my ego to accept.

The poverty of richness is real. We get so much good that we begin to see it as normal…something we are entitled to. It threatens what we hold dear. It damages relationships which can improve if only we take the time to ask ourselves where WE are going wrong.

Tangible or intangible, good things are taken for granted and when our attitudes leads to our fall, we end up taking people we care about down with us. Especially those who have been kind enough to take our shitty attitude for this long. We are not entitled to the goodness of people without having shown some ourselves.

Enough is enough.
The next time you want to criticize someone else for the effort that they put in, ask yourself if you did it better.

Take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if this is how you want to be remembered. Ask yourself: what would a grown up do?

Another day in the life of women

They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

But what makes a woman beautiful?

Poets have described our soulful eyes, our adorable anger, our swaying gait, and our gentle touch. Artists have positioned us in every way, in every hue; making our beauty seem ethereal. Even cast in stone for the world to admire. Lyricists try contain us in their songs of ardent love and unwavering devotion. Directors fit us into an hour and 35 minutes of stardom, while society tries to find better, higher, more professional places for women to be – yes, even success makes a woman beautiful. This side of the story will never sit well with us though.

Here’s why:

We put others (and their interests) before ourselves. We cast aside our worries out of concern for those we love. We willingly let go of our dreams, support others’ dreams as our own. We smile for the camera, we laugh for the videos, and we hide our disappointments from ourselves. We move through life trying to find the God of small things, because that is all we allow ourselves. And again, this side of the story won’t sit well with us.

Here’s why:

The strength of women. Our dedication. Our effort. Our perseverance. Our dreams. Our prayers. Our talents – let’s face it ladies, we can do anything. Women use all these and more to make lives better. We feed our souls through nourishing others’. We find solace in our prayers for those we love. We are resourceful in any situation, good or bad. We find joy in others’ happiness. We find hope in the darkest hours. We give life. We teach life. Remember your strengths today, and every day. This is what makes us beautiful.

Happy Women’s Day ladies.

Remember to remind yourselves of the fire you are born with. If as individuals we have the power to warm homes just as much as we have the power to burn them to the ground, then imagine us collectively. We are force to be reckoned with. Don’t ever forget your strengths.

____________________________ X _____________________________

Image source: http://info.umkc.edu/womenc/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/everything_know_feminism_31.jpg (Accessed on 9/8/2016)

Up in the air thoughts

Turbulence. Bloody life-sustaining monsoon season and travel. We’re on a roller coaster at 41005 feet in the air halfway to Hanoi.

Jomo Kenyatta wasn’t so bad after all. Seeing as the flight was delayed, Kenyan Airways provided meals while we waited. Sitting on the floor of what looked like a circular airport, my new friends and I enjoyed what we could of the food –  mostly the conversation though.

 

Halfway through our midnight snack, a happy looking cleaning staff come over and one of them decides to come and tell me that I am beautiful. Think what you will of it, but being called beautiful at 1:30AM by someone who (I like to think) genuinely meant it is a positive thing.  Okay fine! So I got hit on at the airport.

Moving on, I miss having someone whose shoulders are available to sleep on. Nanaaaaaaaa!

After 3 hours of being fitfully awake, I decided movies wouldn’t help either. So this is adulting? Where I give up movie time, which I craved as a child, to make sure I’m still awake and able to keep an eye out for both myself and the group? (Yeah, I did that thing again where I get myself into a position of responsibility to keep myself out of trouble. Only difference between high school and university is that I like it better now – people can do as they wish and I won’t get blamed for not keeping an eye on them).

OH MY GOODNESS THIS DAMN TURBULENCE IS ABOUT TO MAKE ME SCREAM!! I CAN’T WRITE SENSIBLE WORDS ANYMORE.

I did hear one bit of good news: we are currently flying over Mumbai which is currently experiencing Monsoon weather, which is currently making me miss home and…!!!!!!! DEAR GODS  (whoever is listening), PLEASE COULD YOU HELP THE PILOTS LAND THIS PLANE SAFELY? THANK YOU. I’M SORRY FOR SHOUTING BUT I’M SCARED. OKAY. THANKS.

*2 hours and some scintillating conversation later*

Currently flying over Hanoi, Vietnam, as the sun sets over this spectacular country. The landing strip is right next to rice paddy fields stretching out into the city; which itself is a beautiful blend of urban pockets of roads and houses surrounded by vast farm lands.

We couldn’t leave the aircraft though – I was deeply disappointed. But whatever I saw from the windows reminded me of home. The blast of humid air when the doors opened, the hazy sky, the smell of heavy rains. Monsoon season is by far the most dangerous for flying, terrifying to travel in, but also my favourite.

The Captain just announced that we’ll be taking off now, so it’s onward and upward to Guangzhou!! Finally.

*1 hour and 5 minutes later*

“Aaaaaaand it looks like Christmas threw up”  (K, Halse. 2016. 20:38PM. 1500ft above Guangzhou tarmac. 1000kph. 26 degrees Celsius.) This is what I heard when I told my tour mates that I cold see Guangzhou from my window.

NB: we’re academics. We reference.

__________________________________ X _____________________________

*Exactly 24 hours after I started my journey*

Well fed, clean, and currently trying to get some sleep before the opening ceremony tomorrow morning.

More about this vibrant country to come – watch this space.

[Disclaimer: all of the above is entirely my own words, but the tone may vary because of multiple factors, namely: sleeplessness, jet lag, and 100% excitement about my adventure]

 

Photo: Taken from the emergency exit door’s window because we weren’t allowed to disembark.