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Glimpses of Home

A sense of belonging is beginning to appear on the horizon, a feeling that has eluded me for almost a year now. The newness of this place refused to wane for much too long, leaving me in a bittersweet spot. I have been up and about town in the metaphorical gypsy garb, thoroughly savoring the sights and sounds that are local to this land. Yet, if you cared enough to take a closer look, you could spot a glimmer of yearning even in the brightest and  the earnest of my smiles. Yearning for a place called home. Or merely a sense of belonging.

Being less a go-getter and more a “let’s-see-er”, I have done little to quell this longing. This was partly because chasing the evasive feeling meant that I turn cold towards the alluring beauty of where I was. And the place is too beautiful for me to afford ignoring it. It was also because my hopeful heart vainly believed that time alone would bring the sense of belonging to my doorstep. And so I watched the seasons change. Cherry blossoms lent their pink hues to spring and summer wrapped the little city (village, actually) in its warmth. Fall opened a mesmerizing palette of colors, painting a breathtaking, awe-inspiring picture. Underneath the cold, barren robe of winter was a beauty you would have to see to believe.

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I reveled every moment of every season but my much-awaited “guest” was no where in sight. Life went on until one day…

On a certain Thursday, life in our little town (village, really) was interrupted by some unexpected water-supply related issues. I grabbed the opportunity and decided to visit a tad bigger neighboring town. Armed with a plan, I dragged my reluctant hubby to a much-talked-about arty coffee shop there. That place took me back home in Mumbai, where I frequented several coffee shops, one of which was just as arty. I felt less of a tourist for probably the first time since April 2016. But more importantly, it suddenly dawned upon me that pieces of what I define as home may just be around, waiting to be discovered by many a home-sick soul. As I entered my house that evening, both tired and elated at the end of a fruitful excursion, I heard the pressure cooker whistle from the apartment above mine. Home is not very far I thought.

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A Change Less Welcome

I have spent a lot of my waking hours as a child reading, among many books, comics. Intimidated by literature for some unknown reason, I found comics warm and welcoming (and, strangely, down-to-earth). Having already raved about my love for Amar Chitra Katha, I often fondly reminisce about my time with Archie Comics. Lost in reverie, as I searched online for Archie Comics one day, I let out a feeble gasp at what I saw. Archie Comics was recently subjected to a makeover and a major one at that! Although I have completely stopped reading Archie since decades now, I couldn’t help but frown at this new development. I do understand change being the the only constant in life and a lot of similar nonsense (which probably has more truth in it than the words of the wisest prophet), but our good old Archie is no moon of the solar system that is subject to periods of change!

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A Treat To Die For!

Over the years, the comical face of the characters and the silly story lines have earned a place in our hearts. Betty and Veronica Double Digests have silenced many a wailing kid (me!). I don’t remember the books reeking of “depth” and “philosophy” that adolescents so “ardently seek”. Wasn’t it was the funny rendering of enjoyable characters that drew a huge fanfare? And now they look all grown up and less silly. What’s left in Riverdale to turn to then? But since I am no longer the “target audience” (marketing jargon, really), maybe my lamentations about this change will fall on deaf ears. Let me, in that case, find solace in the fact that the “vintage” version of the comics to which I am so attached safely resides in some corner of the World Wide Web.

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A Time for Everything

I have learned to revere time. Of course, it still is not that kind of reverence that compels me to shorten my hour-long tea time. Nevertheless, time has earned a level of respect in my heart. It is with time that I have become more patient (“what patience?”, asks hubby). It was time that rescued me from the clutches of meaningless thrillers towards the elixir of literature (which requires patience to enjoy, I tell hubby with a serene nod and he wisely leaves the matter at that). I have learned to depend on it to comprehend seemingly incomprehensible “mysteries” like how to become more organized (time tells me, “in your case, it’s never happening, give it up!” I do and I’m a happy, unorganized person now) or what the heck is the big deal about Harry Potter books. Yes, you got it right. It wasn’t always that I liked Harry Potter books.

There was a time when it felt like the world was engulfed in the magic of Harry Potter and I was not a part of it. I had had a rendezvous with one of the books once, but it was brief and I had put it away to pick a Jane Austen. I had resigned myself as a non-fan, probably the only one in a Harry Potter-crazy universe. Years passed. I was happily going to dinner with Gone with the Wind, then on a tea date with To Kill a Mockingbird and dreaming about Great Expectations. Harry Potter was completely off my mind.

untitledI discovered a beautiful library near my place and became a regular there. The shelves carried Harry Potter books but I ignored them, not knowing that they were watching me with keen eyes. Their gaze probably had a mesmerizing effect on me because I don’t even remember when, how, and why I stretched my hand and picked up one of them to merely skimp through. Only this time, I was smitten. I couldn’t put it down. A few pages of Harry Potter became my daily treat. Now I saw what was it that was so magical about Harry Potter. Time had successfully converted this non-fan into a fan. With this miracle in place, I believe in the power of time even more. That is exactly why I am unconcerned that I don’t feel like reading critically acclaimed philosophical literature today. All I know is that there is another miracle in the offing.

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When It Is Always Halloween

This blog post is a tad untimely. But since “inspiration” struck me only now, here I am, taking a step back in time until October 2016. It was Halloween in this little village where I live. Considering that I originally hail from the gigantic, busy city of Mumbai, my brain is used to categorizing quaint, scenic places as villages. Otherwise, for the local people, this village is their proud city. Anyway, it was Halloween and this beautiful, scenic, quiet “city”decided to turn spooky. Shops turned all Halloween-y with their wares and people started “decorating” their houses with witch masks, spider webs and scary Jack o Lanterns. As I saw the city gear up for Halloween, I couldn’t help but snigger.

Here’s why. I am yet to see a place more beautiful than this one (it might seem like I’m veering from the topic, but please bear with me). It is lush green in spring and summer, and the autumn foliage is covered in unbelievably pretty hues. Little houses across the city peeking from behind the green, yellow, orange and red trees are a visual delight. However, the sun takes with itself all the beauty of this quiet heaven, probably as its wages for exuding warmth throughout the day. Upon nightfall, the city assumes a grim and somewhat scary demeanor, making it difficult for the faint-hearted (read: me) to take to its various lanes and by-lanes all by themselves. Dimly lit lone houses atop hills appear anything but welcoming. This is how it is all around the year. Then arrives Halloween to up the already high spook quotient of the city and thus escapes a little chuckle from my lips.

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My daily visual treat

Everyday, I feast my eyes on this charming sight (it indeed is beautiful during the day) along my regular route. But, Halloween or no Halloween, I wouldn’t dare to get near it at night. Because, at that hour, certain other facts overshadow the charm of the house. Let me present them in an increasing order of their “eerie-ness”- there are no street lights around it, it faces a cemetery and….no one lives in it!

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Forever Mine

92f6284f2532026ba3595c1427e0f350I still remember those late afternoons of my summer holidays, when I lay plonked on my favourite arm chair that I “strategically” placed right under the fan for hours of comfort. More often than not, I held a copy of Amar Chitra Katha. That too, that special one with the many-handed Goddess Durga in her “Mahisasurmardini” avatar on the cover. When I opened the book, I stepped into the fantastic world of gods and goddesses, of demigods and demons, of sages and apsaras. One ended and another one was opened. Durga was followed by Shiva, Shiva by Tapati, Tapati by Agatsya, Agatsya by Drona and Drona by Vasantsena. A battle here, a battle there, a demon killed, a princess kidnapped, an apsara cursed, a sage angered – pages after pages of enthralling adventures from the lap of mythology. Powerlessly succumbing to the irresistible beckoning from within these pages, I dreamily read them over and over again through the years.

naradEach passing moment of those afternoons made way for an everlasting memory sealed with magic to remain fresh forever. What else would I call it but magic when even the Amar Chitra Kathas I had not read have become part of my memories? How I longed to dive into the mysterious world that lay on the other side of the cover pages of Ganga and Shiv Parvati and how it remained elusive (courtesy, the perennially limited collection at the lazy book shops in my area)! How I regretted losing the one with the comical Narad on the cover page after reading it only once (having read it once actually did more harm than good, leaving me pining for more of it)! Today, finding these gems online has been a blessing no less than one by Shiva himself. All I have to do is pull out those lazy afternoons and that arm chair from my memory casket and I’m all set for a journey in time.

When Non-Dreams Come True!

These days, I am in the take-life-as-it-comes mode. And therefore I land up doing things I had never imagined I would do. Like, cooking traditional dishes. Now, people with whom I have ever conversed, even for a fraction of a second, are aware that only two things define me: my love for the movie Tamasha (please do not not watch it if you have not already) and my baking skills (non-skills, actually). But attempting traditional preparations? It’s like a whole new me, with a love for Tamasha, of course.

During the past few months, a surprised me has been dishing up Dal Dhokli, Handvo, Bisi Belle Rice, Umbadiyo, Chivda and their other traditional cousins. But the true highlight of my culinary expedition was my brain conjuring up the idea that I can non-disastrously cook this delight of a dish called Pineapple Sheera and my hands obediently whipping it up! Is this phase of my life really happening or have I entered my dream (honestly, cooking Pineapple Sheera was not even a part of my dreams!)? What can I say – life just happens (and along with it happen Pineapple Sheera  and Umbadiyo). So, I am just taking it as it comes and succumbing to the urge of going traditional in the kitchen! #Traditionalcooking

A Diva of a Newspaper

My Sundays have never been complete without flipping through the newspaper for hours. Back in India, a column by Ruskin Bond in the Sunday Times and a cup of hot ginger tea were among the many things I loved about slow Sunday mornings. When I came to the US, I was trying to get myself accustomed to reading newspapers online. It’s not that I didn’t read online in India, it’s just that I always had the option of turning to a physical copy at home and I often did. So, the habit of not minding the absence of a physical copy and making do with a digital one was more difficult to form than I had imagined. I missed the sound of the pages turning and the peculiar smell hidden in them. Desperate to engage my auditory and olfactory senses as I read through the news, one day, I gave up the monumental effort of acclimatization and picked up a crisp copy of The New York Times (NYT) that was sitting happily on the shelf at the supermarket.

I rushed through my chores of the remaining day with lightning speed in the lure of enjoying my evening rendezvous with the NYT. The luxury of leafing through the newspaper on a Sunday morning was something I had probably left behind in India. Anyway, the moment finally arrived and I held the NYT. Never before had any newspaper had this effect on me. It was nothing short of a diva in my hands that evening, leaving me completely awestruck. Peeking through the calm, lucid language of the articles was an electrified busy-ness that, I assume, is typical of this city that never sleeps. What baffled me was that I was no stranger to cities that didn’t sleep and their even-more-awake newspapers; I had read plenty of them, yet this was different. I had to meekly admit that I was intimidated (Do newspapers do that to people? I’m not sure, but it certainly was intimidation that swept through me as I reached a page right in the center). It was as if the NYT was telling me with an expressionless face in a confident, measured tone, “Let’s discuss news, shall we?” and all I could manage was a gulp.

Braving on, I finished reading it (after two days), but still have a buzz in my head (after four days). I have a premonition that it may not be the end of this experience once the buzz dies down because that’s when the thought of the city will take over. God alone knows what that will do to me.

Spellbound and How!

I do only two things in life: read and write. I’m a slow, selective reader and a slow, lazy “writer”, who suffers from a chronic writers bloc. But life is long, so who’s in a hurry anyway! This is what I tell myself to silence the angry me within me when I’m stuck reading the same book for 20 years and don’t manage to write more than “What do I write today” for over 20 years (I just popped an anti-exaggeration pill into my mouth but it usually takes about 48 hours for the effect to tick in. So, please bear with me). Again, given the length of life in general, the time I take to finish reading a book should not and would not have mattered but for a tiny problem. I TALK about what I read. So, let me correct the first sentence of this paragraph – I do only three things in life: read, write and talk.

Let me explain to you how that’s a predicament. Love in the Time of Cholera is a book I have been reading forever now. The problem here is every other sentence I read leaves me spellbound. I sincerely wish it left me speechless instead. But no, under the effect of the “spell”, my tongue gets out of control and I start talking, irrespective of whom I’m talking about it to. Family, friends, neighbours, strangers, the milkman, colleagues, shopkeepers – everyone is aware of how A fell in love with B in the time of Cholera, even though they couldn’t care less. As I’m surrounded by wonderfully patient people, it didn’t matter for the first month. Life was as usual then: me reading about love sometimes, Cholera at other times and talking about both at all times. Gradually, things started changing. All the wonderfully patient people in my life realised that my monologue about love and the blasted Cholera was becoming a perennial nuisance. Neither would the book end nor my rant about it. They felt taken advantage of and took some measures to deal with it.

The other day, when I called out to my maid, she appeared with cotton stuffed in one ear feigning an infection. My otherwise-friendly neighbour sensed that I was about to get on to my favourite topic and immediately cut the conversation short to run as if she saw Cholera itself approaching! The kid in my neighbourhood looked like he was about to cry as soon as he saw me (Yes, children too were not spared). I mentioned “the book I’m reading” and my friends started talking about “that girl they felt like bashing”. Grumpily, I decided to take the book away someplace and read in seclusion. What I forgot was that there is a virtual world too! Click, click and boiinggg…I started sending pictures of my favourite sentences from the book. The poor dead author would never have imagined that the poetry of his soul would someday, in some other part of the world, become an e-nuisance. But who has ever been able to predict the course of life.

Unable to stop me, people ultimately changed their tactics and it worked this time. One day, my reading speed appeared to have increased drastically. I read about 10 whole pages in a day (unthinkable otherwise) and this continued for more than a week. In fact, the wonder of wonders is that the end of the book is now in sight! The heart-felt prayers of my social circle have a big role to play in the manifestation of miracles of this stature. Soon and very soon, I will finish the book and the world will know it, as that day people will hear a collective sigh of relief from all my family, friends and acquaintances (but only until I’m left spellbound by another piece of art!).

Precious Bouts of Self-knowledge

The other day, I stumbled upon this sentence – To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom. “Easy peasy”, I thought, “Let’s get wise”. I woke up early the following morning, at 8:45 AM, with a heart full of resolve to get a peek into who I actually was. I cut my hour-long tea-time short by all of five minutes, quickly tidied up the room and sat in a neat little spot with a book and a pen to make notes, in case self-knowledge surfaced. I stared at the blank page for five minutes and then at the ceiling for another five minutes. Just as I was turning to my right to stare at the wall there, a speck of truth about myself appeared. I scribbled it down: “I’m not a morning person”. Then another piece of “self-knowledge” presented itself, “I’m not an evening person either”. That’s it. From there on, I was unstoppable. “Come to think of it, I start yawing by 11 PM, so that certainly doesn’t make me a “night person”. Mid-morning is when I’m too hungry and therefore irritable, so even that’s not my “best time of the day”. Afternoons are when I’m asleep and not exactly productive. I don’t even dream then. So even that hour of the day is, well, not “mine”. That leaves me with the lunch hour, which I thoroughly enjoy.”  That last sentence, I’d say, was of great consequence in drawing out deeper self-knowledge and eventually, making me wiser.

“Lunch hour” reminded me of food and the thoughts I penned next were “I love chocolate cake…but (and that was a significant “but”)…..but I hate it when it’s too sweet!! Bitter chocolate is exactly my flavor”. Now that explained why I’d never enjoyed the variety of chocolate cakes off the bakery next door (something I’d never been able to understand) – they weren’t exactly as bitter! Man, that was some self-knowledge, considering how often I’d fallen for yet another gorgeous chocolate pastry there only to find it inedible after the first spoonful itself! Thus wiser, I now haughtily walk past the bakery enjoying the merry jingle of the money in my wallet, which I would otherwise have splurged on another deceiving, not-so-bitter chocolate pastry.

A Sad Tale

It was a day when I was sad. So, I planned to catch a quiet corner in the house and cry a little. It had anyway been a while since I’d done that. It was not that there was no sadness in my life. It was just that somehow it was not intense and deep enough for me to shed tears. So, that beautiful Saturday afternoon when I was deeply and intensely miserable, I thought I’d cry and sob all my sadness away. I got a little happy at the thought of finally crying but then quickly stopped myself lest my mood changed. More so, because that day the ambiance was perfect. All the gloom of the world was with me. Firstly, I was alone at home. Now on normal days, that’s when I’m the happiest. But that day, I had vessels to wash. Gloom. Secondly, the internet was down. Gloom fermented into depression. Third came the shocking realization that my wardrobe already had the shade of green I had just purchased because it was “different”! My eyes began to moisten. But just as tears were welling up, something changed. The clock struck two. It was time. It was time to catch the next episode of Desperate Housewives. The re-re-re-run. Not a tear left my eye that afternoon. Vessels were forgotten and poor Mum landed up shedding tears when she returned. I was ashamed. But still without tears. Well, life moved on and sadly, I got happy the next moment.