Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Remedy

Have you ever blamed a compliment on your saree  for the blob of malai kofta curry you dropped on the pallu subsequently? The evil eye! Your admirer's  expansiveness turns to guilty dismay, "I should have gushed less!" You recover shakily to assure, "It is alright, I will have it drycleaned, " but the moment is marred. As a rule, Indians have a colicky equation with admiration. We are spasmodic, both at giving and receiving it. How often have you drooled over a friend's silver bracelet only to be hastily assured it is a cheap imitation? She fears your envy! Or doesn't want you to feel any lesser. "What a gorgeous bag!" you exclaim. The wearer splutters, "Oh, it is very old, a hand me down from an aunt." If sounding ungracious helps save mishaps, so be it. We must be the world's most comorbid race. We acknowledge envy exists and  guard ourselves with mantras, chillies, limes, prayers and charms. We spit, make frantic signs, rip white rags into seven strips,  swirl camphor smoke and emanate a range of audio effects to banish ill will. Families store and apply these formulas as traditional, customized arsenal. A runny tummy? Out springs a fistful of rock salt. Falling grades? Water and kumkum. Emotional rejection? Wait, we have the perfect poultice of mustard seeds. And the all time, all favourite Indian domestic deterrent to rival the Tsar Bomba? A black dab from the adoring eye.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Donkey

Have you niggled yourself occasionally that you failed in life on
the projection front? That you remained a donkey at work rather than a peacock. All plodding, no show. You were not street smart enough to give your boss a peak into your late night home work and traffic lights notations. You were raised to believe that hard work paid! No one said anything about its qualifying visibility! You laboured over a near flawless report but there it was, your plain plastic cover tucked under your rival's ethnic themed folder on the Vice President's table. While you were racing back from a last minute administration tie up, he was rounding off the "With your blessings" routine. Your sincere interactive sessions with your juniors paled in comparison with  his resourceful hobnobbing at the executive table. While you flailed to keep up on a sputtering stream of organizational loyalty, he flew on the asics of unadulterated self-interest. You kicked yourself every September when report cards were being rolled out. Why didn't you update your boss more regularly? Why did you get boxed into a hole? Why did you get defensive when being criticised? Why didn't you raise your head from the grindstone once in a while? Then along came the man himself one day, asking you to stand in for him at a graduation speech while he went globe trotting to pitch business proposals. He tossed you his prepared text, "Here, should you want to use it. The topic is: Hard work does not speak for itself. You do!"

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Space (Micro fiction 2)

Sartaj did not commit. He liked to keep an exit route free. Was this fence sitting of his out of concern for any disappointment to the negotiating partner should the proposed plan fall through? Or was it just self-preservation, honed to a craft! Ira could never tell considering she was a study in contrast, with her arms held wide open to all that life could bring her. She said yes to plans, projects, ideas, trips, requests, tasks; quite a ‘bring it on’ woman. His mantra was, “Count me in, ninety nine percent”, while she was in the habit of declaring, “Let’s do this!”

“Darling, the Fernandez’s are inviting us over for Christmas cake, shall I say yes?” Ira would begin tentatively and pat would come the response, “Tell them, we will try our level best!” This shadow committing peppered the mundane of their lives together too. Ira had lost count of the days Sartaj would first give his word about an evening walk together or a movie over the weekend only to take it right back as the hour drew close. The reasons could be anything from, “I have work to catch up with” to “I have to wash my hair” or just plain “I feel like taking a nap.”

“Sartaj, we should forewarn the family we are reaching in a week’s
time so that they can make their plans”, Ira was uncomfortable with the surprises they routinely sprung on their kith and kin. “I don’t like disappointing them. What if our plans change at the last minute for some reason? You know what my work is like!” Sartaj would defend his maddening method. It could be frustrating at times. Ira came from a family that flirted with plans freely and had no trouble keeping schedules and coming clean with commitments. It bothered her that she could not confirm to her mother any vacation plans until they were actually on their way. “You know how it is Mum, we will let you know as the trip evolves. But you should go right ahead with your calendar, don’t miss out on anything just waiting for us to firm up,” she habitually kept her folks in a limbo.

Their couple dialogue followed a map of maybes and perhaps. Ira knew better than to get her hopes up or look forward to anything too much. Their friendship had taught her a certain equanimity of excitement. She had also started to break away from the socially prescribed couple theme to assume responsibility for her own fun and pleasure. They had begun to settle into a rhythm of an easy and unfettered individuality. It was not unusual for her to watch a movie alone when he perceived a threat to his pressures. She did not seek his approval for every action of hers, at times he learnt of her adventures after they had been had!

“When do you two meet at home guys? You always seem to be at two different places! I see you walking alone too,” their friends were fond of observing. They might even have suspected a fault line somewhere. The two would joke about it, “Sartaj, we should occasionally act lovey dovey in public, the next you know there will be talk of our divorce eligibility!” and “How about you seeing me off to work lovingly and being home when I return so the neighbors get the right message!” The pair had trimmed their togetherness to an optimum functionality. What had begun as varying energy levels for living had ended up giving each the permission to plug into their personal selves in a safe space.

Ira discovered a hidden talent for linguistics; Sartaj found he had
the notes for some stunning vocals. They used their time and energy away from each other to expand and grow. It added rich and authentic nuances to their hours together. “I have to wait for my husband. He hates going anywhere without me. I so love lazing in my bed first thing in the morning but he insists I come out and have bed tea with him in the lawn!” Ira had several awe struck friends, they marveled at the autonomy she had found in her marriage. “You are so lucky Ira to have such an understanding and accommodating husband,” they were fond of reminding her.

Ira would nod with the same vigor as she would use to reach behind and pat her own back, “Hats off to me! Rather than bemoan the perfect dancer, I did good to learn the dance!”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Peripheral (Micro fiction 2)

 “You are the closest to me my girl, the only one in this world who has heard the sound of my heart from my inside!” Rupika shifted weight on her aching legs. Her twenty five year old daughter Maira was walking away into the international terminal to check in for an outbound flight to New Jersey and the parents were merely awaiting her security clearance now. There was no place to sit it out; the only bench in the vicinity was loaded with Canadian Sikhs. “She has checked in Rupi, shall we start back for home, she has her cell phone in case she needs us?” the father asked tentatively. He knew his wife would not only wait for as long as feasible, she would be on edge for the entire duration of the flight, tracking it online and constantly checking for word on Maira’s safe arrival. Her protective antenna stopped quivering only when Maira confirmed she was safe and sound in her American apartment.

“Mum, you have to stop imagining the worst, it is bad energy,” Maira would often explode with annoyance at her mother. “Fear is a terribly low emotion; you attract disaster when you rehearse tragedies like this!” Rupika usually reacted to these outbursts with silence. She knew of no words to describe the debilitating singeing that happened to her innards at the thought of Maira leaving her side. How do you explain the urge to reach out and grab her back? What cursed emotions were these that caused her knees to dissolve at the very thought of her child being in any kind of peril? Was it nature’s way of ensuring the survival and continued protection of the species? Or was it a cultural conditioning? She did not care. It was alright so long as she knew where Maira was and her voice sounded cheerful on the phone.

“This has to be the most non-reciprocal love affair in the world,” Rupika laughed at herself with her husband. “I see you bleeding for her Rupi, you have to step back a bit, start taking care of yourself,” he would often advise his wife. “Let her be, she has to live her own life, make her own mistakes and grow. You cannot “fashion” her after your own heart. She too is a guided soul who has come with her own destiny. You have done your bit by raising her with values and giving her a good chance with stellar education. You need to disengage a little now. Give her space!”

“I would dive under a car for her, I could give her any of my organs
if she needed, I would fight any force for her survival, I would never ever give up on her,” Rupika talked to herself. Vignettes flashed through her mind’s eye of the hospital stay during Maira’s birth, the sleepless nights, the inoculations, the school years, Maira’s High School angst, the pressure of her own vision for her daughter, “Don’t try to live your life through Maira!” she had heard that over and over. “You are obsessed, you are taking her around to too many classes, she needs a break Rupi, this rushing around is hampering her creativity. Let her taste the world at her own pace!” there were so many well-wishing friends.

The world, it was a toxic place! The environment was anything but enabling. Eve teasing on the roads, bullying in the cyber space, a nasty competitiveness inside the workforce, ideas of sexual revolution and myopic feminism on the TV, any number of video games and interactive fora in her digital vicinity, easy access to alcohol and marijuana and friends that were all too often, fair weather creatures. “I must be a low, malevolent creature to have such pessimistic views,” Rupika berated herself. She had instead driven Maira around from one stadium to another dance studio to a music centre hoping that she would grow up with life affirming values of discipline, inspiration, skills and human interactions based on awe and admiration.

She dialed her mother’s mobile standing there, “Yes Mum, Maira has checked in, I don’t know when I will see her again. She never calls on her own. She is forthcoming on the logistical front but as soon as I begin to ask more, she says she is very busy! You know, we were driving past the stadium last evening where I have spent hours in the parking whilst she trained inside. I would carry all kinds of nutrition for her, don’t know what she fills up her stomach with now.”

“I am listening!” Rupika’s mother was soft.

“It’s funny how I have avoided calling her in the past just so she does not get homesick for us! I have told myself it is better for her not to go close to those feelings even though I would love to know what is going on in her life.”

There was a long sigh at the other end, “Don’t take it personally Rupi! Maira is central to your life but you are only peripheral to hers. You are navigating a painful separation; let her take the lead I would suggest. She has to extend into her future…without you Rupi! Just as you did!"

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Birthday (Micro fiction 2)

Monisha looked at the birthday cards piled high on her writing
table, the morning after. “Have a great one; many happy returns; pamper yourself; may you have a great day”, the wishes were pretty much predictable and safe. They were standard messages and exactly the strings she used when greeting others. But what assailed her at the sight of the left over birthday cake and the wilting flowers was social fatigue, a form of weariness with platitudes that everyone routinely mouthed. When she herself put pen to a greeting card, she tried to summon a congratulatory emotion from really deep within so as to make the experience more enjoyable but it reverted to a mechanical exercise quickly enough. Wishing, both giving and receiving had become chores, quickly to be done with and on time, the earlier the better.

But had she had a special day? She sat swinging in the bright green front lawn, staring at the palm leaves bordering their neighbor's garden. The lady was moving about on her terrace, yanking crisp laundry off the clothesline. She waved out at Monisha, “Where is my birthday cake?” Stung with neighborly courtesy, the birthday girl grinned and nodded vigorously with just the right amount of saccharine cheer expected of her, “Oh I have saved some for you, coming up right-away!” she scurried into the indoors.

Barring half an hour of cake cutting with her immediate family and some fancy snacks, her day had been usual. Yes, some flowers and gifts had trundled in but she had not unwrapped anything as yet. “Change the water in the flower vases,” she instructed her attendant and walked out into the patio with a Tupperware box. The sun was an affectionate golden, tiny rainbows winking up from the dew on the lush grass. The bird houses rang with excited chirps and warmth snaked over her limbs. “Take this cake across,” she handed it over to the guard, returning quickly to her favorite wrought iron garden chaise.

There were Facebook notifications to clear, she copy pasted her gratitude to friends who had responded to the app reminders. She fought unsuccessfully the residual guilt she had felt at her anxiety over fake smiles and compulsive birthday surprises, she did not enjoy them and thankfully there were none the day before. “Am I abnormal to feel so empty about my birthday?” she asked herself silently. "I am supposed to be joyful and excited…this feels nothing like the childhood birthday mornings! Where has the magic gone?”

Monisha’s head fell back on the chaise; she gazed at the garden Buddha. There was an imperceptible half smile on the restful face. It was just clay but the particles were reaching out to her, she quietened and sat up straighter at the streaming presence. Her eyes squinted at the suddenly luminous leaves. A calmness had descended on the garden, it filtered the cacophony of life around her. She dragged deeply at the vast confidence and certainty of the presence that had spread out in ripples from the statue to as far as Monisha could see or hear or sense. Why, everything was perfect, in place and exactly as it should be! A butterfly described an arc across her eyes. She had never registered the rugged beauty of the tree trunk. There was something terribly potent and abundant in the diversity of life around her. The pigeons cooed, her pet dog sunbathed and a peacock went treading through her poinsettias. She marveled at the order and discipline and contained infinity in the air. There was no room for an iota of doubt. She felt connected, uplifted, charged. Her throat ached and hot drops stabbed her eyelids, “I am so very glad to be alive!”

“Happy birthday to me,” she sang to herself as she vended her way to the writing table inside and pulled out her leather bound diary. There was no fear; she had a task to do.

“Birthday resolutions 2017” she inscribed carefully. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Forgiveness (Micro fiction 2)

“The Forgiveness Prayer is extremely powerful! It works. This is that one part of healing that can be said to have guaranteed results. You must repeat this daily for forty days at the least,” the Healing Class was in the midst of a Level 3 session. There was the waft of lavender oil; someone must have scrubbed salt and a drop to ward off negative energy after their bath. There was no telling how many of those present sported rose quartz medallions under their shirts to nourish and brighten their heart chakras. These sessions were conducted in a semi-formal manner, there was so much personal accounting to do that the sobriety of reflection just did not sit well with regular cheer and bonhomie. The students sat still with their eyes closed while the Master moved about, blessing them with energy unlocked from his own channeled reservoir.

“Forgiveness is essentially a letting go, a releasing, and a stepping back. Not only do you make a gift of forgiveness to all those who have caused you pain, you ask it of them for yourself. So often, we knowingly or unknowingly hurt others, with our voices, our bodies, our thoughts, our intentions even…living is such a process of evolution, there are bound to be mistakes. And don’t forget to forgive yourself. Often times, we are the harshest on ourselves! Let it all go; wash it off, scrub the grief and sense of betrayal clean. Forgive!” the teacher intoned.

For several minutes, only the chirping of birds and the stray honk
of a passing vehicle punctuated the peace in the hall. While the bodies sat still, minds took flight, there being no telling as to the distance and direction they anguished over. Was there regret? A sense of satisfaction with the way their lives had turned out? Did anyone experience a Eureka moment? Yes, some Adam apples bobbed and a few throats swallowed invisible pain, helpless salt water sneaking down resolute cheeks. No one intruded into this spiritual nudity, everyone understood and felt connected.

“Where is Charu? She hasn’t been attending even though she gave her assent in the beginning. This is the third time she has renegaded, seems she is not able to organize herself and keep a commitment. Has she been visible on our WhatsApp group? Any information, anybody? Do check what is up with her?” Master had hurled a pebble into the energy flow of the room. Eyes flickered open, foreheads went burrowing and heads nodded perceptibly before peace regained lost ground.

“Alright, rub your hands together, pat your eyes and face and remember to practise the Forgiveness Prayer tonight,” people had begun to gather up their mats and bags. Some lingered longer for social exchanges. Master had flipped open his diary and was running down figures in columns. He looked up, “Charu has not submitted the fees too, and this is not the right way to go about earning entitlement. Do convey this to her, those of you who know her,” he addressed the room at large. This caused a slight break in the departure rhythm, only the slightest, the hall emptied soon enough but for Nisha who also happened to be Charu’s neighbor. She approached the Master earnestly and began in an apologetic tone,”Charu in fact has sent an envelope for you Master,  it slipped my mind to hand it over before the class began, I am so sorry!” Master plucked it out of her outstretched hand, “Thank you so much!” he took a deep breath. The two remained silent for some moments, him out of reflection and her out of reverence. Master resumed softly, “Sometimes I feel my impatience with Charu has something to do with her name. Charu Smita used to be the CEO of the company I resigned from fifteen years ago. I remember, to the date, the humiliation of being superseded by a younger man.”

“Forgiveness Prayer Master,” Nisha whispered under her breath on her way to look for her footwear on the shoe rack.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Secret (Micro fiction 2)

“You are chattering with your fingers! Are you trying to keep down a secret?” Manyar remarked with a frown. Henna, her childhood friend stopped plucking at the lint on her trouser and shifted weight in the cane chair. She struggled to rearrange the grimace on her beautiful face, “I have bad news and it hurts!”  Manyar was dismissive, “It is not the news as much as repressing it that is eating you up. Come on, out with it! Tell me what happened.” Just the bow of betrayal had begun to emerge from the fog of anguish in the room. “I swore to my friend it would remain between us. You know how gossipy people can be!” Henna mewled. “Yes, but we are not being malicious, it is just sharing so as to feel lighter.”

The two women sat in respectful dilemma, unable to break away from the spell of a secret. They were like sailors, marooned on a desert island, their throats parched for succour but staring at a mashk that did not belong to them. Their eyes met! “Alright, just between you and me. Not a word to anyone else,” Henna entreated. Manyar was beside herself with curiosity, “What could the matter be?” She leaned forward unconsciously, trying hard to sit still just in case her friend changed her mind about sharing the titbit. She waited while Henna exhaled deeply around the waves of guilt assailing her at the impending treachery. She leaned back, an arm over her eyes.

“Listen girl, gulping down a secret requires constant effort, it will cause you unnecessary tension, in fact it might wear your body down. Have you heard of how people come down with common cold just because they are sitting on a piece of news they have been forbidden to share. The more you try squashing it down, the more it expands, takes too much mental space Henna. You want to be careful there.”

 “Alright then, make a pinky promise to me. I have only shared it
with my mother so far!” responded Hennna.
“What? You mean you have already broken your promise?” Manyar was incredulous.
“Oh come on, telling my Mum does not count. She can be very tight lipped about my affairs; she does not give out much to any outsider. Yes, she is close to her siblings but that is about it.”
“That makes it four people already in the know," Manyar ran her thumb over the fingers, counting. “And if each of them is close to four other people in turn, that is a whole bunch there. Your secret is no more one!”

Henna was dismayed, “My family is default ear for all my secrets Manyar. I would come down with depression and loneliness if I did not let them in on my emotional quicksand. I get migraine if I do not confide in them. It is not about just being better than only one other person on the planet, you understand I am sure.”

“Oh absolutely! Sharing secrets teaches empathy and social skills moreover. Now tell me quickly, you were saying?!”