God of small things

“Do you believe in God?” my 10 year old asked me straight at my face. Eyes large with expectation of an honest answer. No I could not lie to him. I remember the first time I asked myself that question, I was about his age. It was a moral science class in school. Nothing made sense. My mother being an extremely God fearing lady, made sure to follow all the rituals, say all the prayers & inculcate the same in us. I never had the courage to talk to her or anyone else about my views. So I simply played along. Played along for the next 30 years of my life till my son spoke to me. The next thing he said was a matter of fact kind of statement, ‘I don’t’. All of 10, and he had decided something so complex, so important. What I did next was not any good Indian parent would do. Neither did I reprimand him nor did I instil fear in his mind. I just appreciated his honesty & let him be.

After the initial doubt, it took me the next 3 decades to realise that I don’t believe in religion, but I believe in spirituality. It took me that long to figure out that while religion is external. Spirituality comes from within. In the end, it’s all about seeking peace from your thoughts, conduct and action and about being a good human being. These are the values I’d rather inculcate. So I gave my son the space to find his beliefs and stick to them, rather than carve a path and force him to walk on.

The stranger I married is extremely god fearing. He makes sure to light the lamp every day and pray too. I, on the other hand have been looked down upon and judged for not doing the same. But when we took our marriage vows in front of the same fire and in presence of God, It is me who took those vows seriously and lived up to it every day. When there were problems/expectations/responsibilities, It is me who faced them without running away. I lived up to every promise that I made with or without the fear of God. Somewhere in the rush of life and in the forced need to believe in God, the values of life seem to be lost.

My answer to my little one would be: No I don’t believe in God, so I don’t seek him externally in places of worship or in words of prayer. But I believe that there is a little bit of God within everyone that shows in their conduct. That is the God I seek within myself and everyone around me.

 

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Diaries of a traveller

Recently I was on a holiday to Kenya. My 9 day trip was packed from day 1. Visiting different places each day & many long game drives. I had planned for night flight back home with the hope to catch on good sleep & wake up fresh in my home country.

The flight had two columns with 3 seats each side. We were at the second row. The take-off happened quick & it is only when the first infant started wailing did I realise that in just 3 rows consisting of 18 seats there were 8 children aged below 5. (yes I actually counted) Maybe it was holiday time & everyone was going home to meet their grandparents. I felt sorry for the moms who had to pacify their wailing child. Felt relieved that I had crossed that phase in life as I looked at my young man peacefully watching the movie ‘Superman’ as the flight took off.

Soon it was time to sleep & here began my ordeal. The flight per say was very comfortable. It’s the co passengers that I forgot to take into account. The first row of 6 seats, 3 each separated by an aisle was occupied by a single family. One man, two women and 3 children all related or maybe close friends. They obviously forgot that there were other passengers on board. Because they kept ALL the reading lights on through the night. While the two little boys slept peacefully under the bright light that was used as a makeshift night light, the 3rd infant just decided to play all night long under papa’s supervision. This gave the young moms their most required me time. Sitting on the centre seat on either side of the aisles, they started off on some family gossip in a local language that I very well understand. Chatter chatter chatter through the 6 hours we were in air making sure that I know exactly which Aunt said what and which sister in law wore/ate what.

Soon the lights came on and the pilot made an announcement that we had entered Mumbai & would land in 30 minutes. I started hearing sounds like that on a cell phone. Being completely sleep deprived, I thought I was hallucinating, when I saw the lady in front of me actually turn on her phone and check messages while we were still flying. It took 20 minutes to descend and touch ground after that. While the flight was still taxiing at good speed, our family (by now I felt like I was a part of them as I knew so much) got up, opened the overhead cabins, got out their luggage & then with all hand baggage and children in tow, started moving towards the exit. The aircraft was yet to stop. (It is unfortunate that they didn’t know how to open the door, or else I’m sure they would’ve jumped off too. It would have done the world some good.) The cabin crew were still buckled up like all the other passengers, waiting for the plane to halt.

For now, this is the travel lesson I learnt: ALWAYS carry earplugs and eye masks when on an overnight flight.

Marriages are made for Men!

Story of Urban India..

There was a generation where women were not allowed to be educated. Marriages really worked well then, because the rules were set by the men. Women were completely dependent on their man for money, so in turn they took care of all other responsibilities. There was a balance. It did not mean that work distribution was based on ability. Marriage just followed set rules & it worked. Women were accepting & the Men were a happy lot.

Then came a generation where education was provided to all, but preference of higher/better education was reserved for the men in the house. So we saw women who passed school or college but could never do more. The women of this generation realised that the rules didn’t favour them. They realised the value of financial independence. Marriages still worked, but there was an unrest. Both men & women were confused.

After this came our generation. We were raised as equals. Studied as much, worked & earned the same as the men. Now we expect roles to be defined as per capabilities and not pre-set rules. We don’t depend on men for money. We need them in our lives, but they don’t have a specific role to play. Marriage now, is more of a collaboration. Women have their source of income, friends & a neat list of ‘what I want from life & my man’. While the men are still confused!

This is the generation that has seen maximum divorces. The generation that is raising children who are questioning the system of marriage itself. In the generation to come, many would choose to remain single.

So when we look back, we see that marriages worked perfectly as long as we followed the men’s rules. And started getting shaky as soon as women began questioning them. I have seen several marriages break in the recent time. What I found common was that, while most women chose to live alone, in almost all cases, the men chose to remarry. This is just a general observation. But it also got me wondering whether Marriages are made for men?

Celebrating 60!

It was his mother’s 60th birthday that week. There was a small family get together coordinated by her loving son that included all relatives. A big table full of people, laughing & dining. Two chairs lie vacant & she thought how those could have seated her & her son. The stranger she married & lived with, had gone to visit his parents earlier that day. It was meant to be a routine visit. Nothing about a family get together was mentioned.

She was a part of a family group on social media where this photo was uploaded. His entire family including all relatives except them both were present. They never commented on each other’s post on the group, this was a protocol that they maintained. But from a string of chats, she gathered that this was a sudden plan that just fell in place. Something did not fit. She knew him & his parents too well.

None of his extended family had a clue about the real status of their marriage. Most assumed that theirs was a regular ‘happy family’. It had to be a planned party that he and his parents intended to keep her out of. Masking it as an impromptu plan would keep away people from questioning them about her absence. It was a way to remind her that she did not belong. For the first time she wasn’t really hurt by their behaviour.

Until then, it was just a lazy weekend without him around. She spent the whole day alone at home with her son. Cleaning the house, baking a cake with him & cooking his favourite meal, just being his mom. She spent her extra time discussing various topics of his interest like science and sports; making sure she filled in all the gaps & played the role of his father as well. As always.

Now, her mind wandered back to the various times when she would drop everything & run after the stranger she married, like a lost puppy. Completely uninvited, but with the hope of spending some time together, to feel a sense of belonging & with the hope of being accepted. How he would always walk away from her, keep her out of his plans, not introduce her to anyone, just leave her abandoned, to fend for herself. And how each time, she would try to keep a brave smiling face & deal with it all, pretending that everything was perfect, just the way it was meant to be. All those years flashed by quickly like an old movie. Tears rolled down her cheeks that she wasn’t really aware of. All the times that she had trusted & was let down. Nothing had changed & nothing would.

The sadness, hurt and tears, did not belong to this incident though. Nothing really mattered anymore. She no longer held any expectations from him or his parents. It was just a reminder to her to walk out & that too soon..

I run because… a runners perspective

I came across an anti marathon campaign today & was shocked at the restrictive thinking. The campaign could have been anti-being-a-couch-potato or anti-smoking or anything else. But seriously, anti-being-active-and-fit was not something I would ever expect.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_antimarathon/2016/05/running_a_marathon_is_a_dangerous_expensive_stupid_meaningless_task_don.html

I have been running half marathons for about 7 years. I have seen several runner start from couch to run ultra distances. I have witnessed major transformations that leave the rest of us in complete awe.

Here is a post from a runners perspective:

Running is a hobby or passion, just like painting, dancing, reading, travelling or singing. (wonder if there would be any anti-campaigns against one of these too. Don’t paint & waste your time. Just work harder & do something more productive :p )

There are runners & then there are non-runners, its only a matter of choice. Either you love it or you don’t. To each their own. No one can be really forced to run a marathon. Don’t like it, don’t do it. Simple isn’t it?

It’s a sport & not everyone who runs is a star. But we all are achievers at our own level. You don’t always have to win the Olympics to be an achiever. Yes we post it on Facebook, because its important to us. If its looked down upon as spam, there is an ‘unfollow post’ or better still, ‘delete friend’ option available that can be freely used.

You don’t need organised races to run. But think of it, organised races are a business by itself. It creates employment to many (event organisers & coaches), a platform to perform for some (runners), source of income to few (professional athletes) & entertainment to the rest (who need it).

There is a common fear that running leads to knee problems. I am sure that sitting around and doing nothing is equally dangerous! Both have to be done with caution.

Yes, there have been deaths on the tracks. There have been deaths on football fields too. But I can tell you with fair conviction that there have been more deaths off the tracks & fields!!!

There are so many industries benefitting from this sport – Apparel industry (running gear), Tourism industry (hotel/flights), Pharma industry (Doctors/Physios/balms & medicines), food & beverage industry (health drinks/ breakfast) etc. Sometimes we even travel to run. So a small sleepy town suddenly buzzes with activity during run season helping the locals make a quick buck. So in a way we are contributing to the economy as a whole & also promoting tourism. How selfish it is to think about individual fee as it is nothing when compared to the good it does at large. (wonder how investing in personal skill development as an alternate during training time can help the world!)

Do let me know how else you think running helps. (I have intentionally left out physical or mental heath related benefits). If you disagree completely, you are free to join the above anti – campaign and i would love to hear how it goes 🙂

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An update – got to know the campaign was supposed to be a comic take on marathons; but has resulted in serious discussions in some circles. I got the link from one such forum. No offence to the original blogger, i understand his humor 🙂

Oh Calcutta!

My long holiday to the North East part of India ended with a short overnight stay at Calcutta. The last time I set foot on this land, I was just about 10 years old. My memory of this place was pretty faded and I was really excited to be here after about 3 decades.

The cab ride from the airport to Park Street where I was booked for the night was about 20 kms away & took well over one hour with moderate traffic. It was a very humid Saturday evening & the drive wasn’t really a pleasant one. It took me just a little time to figure out that the cars here have their accelerator & horns connected to each other. The minute the driver presses the accelerator, the horn begins to sound. All the locals are comfortably deaf to this blare & it really doesn’t matter how much noise you make, no one budges! I was surprised to see an ambulance blaring its siren to deaf ears. Not a single vehicle moved aside to make way for the sick. What kind of heartless city was this? The entire journey was like a full speed roller coaster ride with me sitting nervously at the edge of my seat wondering whom we would knock off along the way. But amidst this thrill trip, I noticed that no one ever drove past any red light, no lanes crossed, no wrong overtaking & infact all vehicles on roads politely stopped well behind the zebra crossings; allowing pedestrians to cross safely. What a contrast in driving etiquettes.

Staying at a 5 star hotel is not what I really enjoy. Most often I find the smiles fake & décor too jazzy. The place I was booked, was no exception. There was no pretence by the staff to hide their frostiness or boredom on a Saturday evening. After a quick check in, I had decided to explore the nearby places by foot; just the way I like it. The first thing that struck me as I got onto the streets, was the number of smokers around. It felt like I was walking through a chimney & the strong odour made me nauseous.

Calcutta is famous for its sweets. And all along I had imagined that there would be atleast one sweet shop after every third shop where I could buy & taste all the local sweetmeats. Especially ‘mishti doi’ or sweet curd that they are famous for. I walked around for over an hour in the heat and humidity (even at 7 pm) & all I got was drenched in sweat. Not a single sweetmeat shop anywhere. Boy! Was I disappointed? I know all my friends from Calcutta are really proud of their city. Totally disappointed, I walked into a nearby restaurant called ‘Moulin Rouge’ & began texting my Bengali friends about how disappointed I was. The responses to my text in defence of their city was quick. Soon I had some names of shops nearby with directions.

As I sat in this restaurant waiting for my food, I noticed that the walls were used as canvas for paintings that seemed really old & slightly peeling, giving the place a very vintage feel. The curiosity got me chatting with the waiter who was serving our table & in the process got to know that he had just completed 27 years of serving at this place. No one really knew exactly how old the place was but said it has been around since the time of the British rule. There was an old man patiently playing the saxophone in one corner as we dined. Later, as we chatted at the exit, he said he has been playing music here for over 20 years. (Wow!)

With yummy food in my tummy, slowly my mood towards this city started to change. Post dinner I started off on another walk, this time with proper directions to the closest & very popular sweet shop – KC Das for my Mishti doi as dessert.

Next morning was a new day with new attitude. I walked again to Chowringhee road crossing the Indian Museum where the Ashoka Stupa is at display & then passing by the iconic Eden gardens to reach the sweet shop to pack some fresh sweets for my friends back home. As I walked past all the street stalls, I was reminded of the stalls we have back home at Mumbai near VT & Churchgate station. You could find everything here for sale, right from clothes, electronics, leather, jewellery to handicrafts. As I waited at the signal to cross the road, I felt secure under the vigilance of the traffic police who minded the speeding/honking traffic. I then had to wait some more for a tram to chug by and then a ‘tonga’ (a passenger carriage pulled by hand); not something you see commonly in other Metros. As I placed my order that morning, the clerk at the sweet shop asked me, if I had visited last night too, showing familiarity and an attempt to friendliness. No smile on the face yet, but the serious sober expression was not to be confused with inhospitality. This is the way the people were & it took me a while to understand that about them.

As I walked back to my hotel I could suddenly smell the city. Hear its sounds. See its colour. The heat, the humidity, the sweat, the colors of various merchandise, the crowded roads, the buzz of the local market, the old man in white dhoti selling ‘kurmurra’ (popped rice grains) at every corner, the kullad wala chai (tea served in earthen cups). The lazy Sunday Calcutta morning where every person on the street was discussing an upcoming cricket match as they lay their wares for sale or bargained at the shops already open. I couldn’t have enough & wished I could stay longer. Get just some more time here. But my flight was due. I sat in the cab with my nose out of the window, my hair flying scruffily, taking in how much I could & making a promise to myself & the city, to return & spend just some more time. Yes I was in love with this charming city, in less than 24 hours!

The Paramour

It was the festival of colors. One of her favourites. Not a year had gone by when she did not drench herself playing with water and colors. But today she decided to skip it & stay at home. This festival had too many memories attached to it. It was 5 years ago this day that the stranger she had married discovered her diary. It was five years ago that the relationship that was already shaky, started to completely disseminate. She had left her diary carelessly, part assuming he wouldn’t care to read & part hoping he would. Some part of her wishing he would read and understand her and make everything right between them. She had never imagined her marriage could ever breakdown. It was this day that the downward journey had begun.

Today, she decided to head out for a movie instead. It seemed like the whole city was celebrating the festival with their loved ones, as the streets were completely deserted. She drove down the empty streets and subconsciously stopped at the zebra crossing as the red light blinked at a junction. There was really no other movement on the streets that required her to wait. It did not matter that there was no one to see her. It was the rule & her mind just followed it, without any thought. As the seconds ticked backward in anticipation of the light to turn green, she wondered how the same mind allowed her to be with a man who belonged to someone else. Was there not an unwritten rule there too? She felt no guilt. Her thoughts wandered away to that Saturday night dinner with her friend that had ended way differently than she could ever imagine. She remembered the caresses, every word spoken & every kiss exchanged that evening. This chapter had made her conscious of her own desires. That evening, she had returned home as a different person. A dreamy smile was plastered on her face since. She couldn’t stop replaying that evening in her head over and over again like a record playing in loop. The songs that played on the radio that day hummed in her head, the words of which seemed to have found intense meaning all of a sudden. A week had passed since, but her mind could only think of what happened & what more could have been. She now knew that she wanted to go ‘all the way’ with her friend.

Her thoughts were no longer in her control. She felt as light as a feather drifting in the air, being carried around in every direction where the wind chose to take it, absolutely free, in complete trust but uncertain of where it would land. Where would this take her? Would she now be the Paramour? How would this end?

Love, Sex Aur Dhoka

It was the year of the millennium. Everybody had their plans for the big evening. The person she loved was not a party animal & she was sure he wouldn’t ask her out. They were still just good friends, she was still hoping he loved her back the way she did. So when a casual conversation with another friend resulted in a date for New years, she didn’t think twice before saying yes. She knew he was just a friend and had planned to spend the evening together as two single people with no better plans. It was a fun night and after several drinks, she talked to him about the man she loved and desired to spend her life with.

Sixteen years later they were still in touch. In these years, both had settled respectively into marriage & family & had moved to different cities for their career. He called her occasionally to talk to her. And they met not more than 6 times over the years. They didn’t need to be constantly in touch & instantly connected from where they left the previous time. It was a friendship they shared at a different level. As soon as he got to know about the problems her marriage, he flew down to her city to meet her. That was the last time they met. Six months later, today she got a message, ‘in your city for work, call when free’. She liked meeting him, it always ended up in them doing something very different, something that they would always remember & talk about. He believed in creating such special moments. They never had a photo together, but each time they met was etched in their memories forever.

She looked forward to meeting him today. It was the first time they would meet for dinner. Another first as always. They met up early for a drink, at the five star room where he was put up & were to leave for a popular club later for dinner. Conversations flowed freely with the drinks. The laughter & chatting continued through the evening as they caught up on the six months gone by.

He always made her feel special & subtly flirted with her. But she was too preoccupied to ever notice what she meant to him. Today, for the first time she had heard him out as he spoke about his feelings for her & was really moved. He had never touched her in these years, but tonight when he kissed her, it seemed like the most natural thing to do. He held her close & kissed her gently. She had been too strong for too long & was really exhausted with life. And here was a guy whom she had known so well and been such good friends with, who longed for her. She was too numb to think about right or wrong & just wanted to be held close the way he did. Sixteen years of waiting poured out in the most passionate way for him. And for the first time she felt what it was to be loved. He kissed her on her lips, caressed her neck and nibbled on her ear while talking to her. He held her close and then kissed her over & over again, never crossing the line or making her uncomfortable. She didn’t know whether it was the loneliness or the feeling of silent revenge (towards the stranger she had married) or a latent desire in her that she never even knew existed or just plain acceptance of this platonic relationship. But she enjoyed herself like never before. She was high but not drunk. Everything seemed right & she just wanted to live & enjoy the moment as it unfolded upon her. As always, another memory had been created with him tonight.

Later that night when she went back home & quietly slipped into bed right next to the stranger she had married, she knew her life had changed, yet again!

You’ve got a mail!

So, it was another ordinary day. She was busy with insignificant thoughts like what to wear, what to cook, whether to move out or continue to live with the stranger she married… While the former two were simple, the third one got her confused as always. Bored of the train of thoughts that took her nowhere, she decided to seek escape in social media. A platform that often bored her for being fake. But today would be different. She had a new message. It was from someone unknown, never heard the name before. It said , ‘Hi! Do you plan to run the Goa Marathon next month?’ It was normal for people to connect to her on running related issues. She had another life, that as a runner. She could’ve assumed, this was someone who needed help with some logistics; travel, stay, collection of the running bib or any other matter. But it couldn’t be. She had two accounts on the social media & this one, she never used for any running related  coordination. She had managed to carefully partition her life. She maintained a different account for that part of her life where she was a helpful, well connected runner & motivator. This part was where she was the really happy, confident, beautiful & carefree mother , friend & a family person. Cautiously, she replied with just, ‘yes’. She was ready to close and move on to something else, when suddenly this name turned online & she received her next message. Something that would change a lot for her in the time to come. ‘ok, see you there then. But promise, no hugs this time’

Seriously! Who was this? He didn’t need any help & then what about hugs? Not a person to forget things too soon, curiosity got the better of her. She clicked on the unknown name & a photo suddenly looked back at her. Here was a face she had seen on the running tracks before. A few cordial hellos had been exchanged earlier. He was from another city she knew. But what about hugs?? So the next message got sent. ‘what is this about hugs? What am I missing?’ An awkward silence followed, then a lengthy message. ‘ last year I was so excited after my good run, I hugged you at the finish. Felt stupid doing that as we don’t even know each other. Had been looking for you ever since, to apologise. So here is my sincere sorry for reacting that way.’ So here was a guy, who spent a year trying to find out her name & track her down for an incident so insignificant that she didn’t even remember! Sweaty hugs after a good run are not that uncommon. She was not the one to give or get them usually, but it surely wasn’t something she would make a big deal of. This guy was either a stalker or a really sincere & honest person. She decided to go with the latter & responded. ‘Apologies accepted. Touched that you took the trouble to track me down just to get things cleared. Funny that I had forgotten the whole incident until just now. Thanks to this, I will remember it for a long time to come 😀 cheers!’

A new friendship had blossomed at the most unlikely situation.

Somewhere in her real world, outside the beautifully painted social media account in which life looked perfect, things began to look different. A hope started to emerge. Maybe there was a life waiting for her outside these four walls, away from the stranger whom she lived with. Maybe she needed to give herself another chance!

 

On a break

Separated but still together!

How painful is that? Living in the same house that you once built together. Nothing here belongs to me, I live like a visitor but with the man I married. Still coexisting somehow. If there was one memory for every minute I have spent with him, how many memories would I have for each day? For the 18 years that I have known him? How can anyone erase such a large & intense part of their life? How can one ‘move on’?

I decided to put each memory aside little by little. Take each day as it comes. While doing so I realised that the good ones are the ones that hurt me the most, which break me into pieces, making it very difficult for me to get back into the present.

So I decided never to let that happen. I decided to look ahead at what I want, rather than to look behind to see what I’m leaving behind. It’s not easy & I have some really bad days. But in this process, I realised that writing is taking me back to the zone where I don’t want to enter. I don’t want to stop writing, but I want to first take control of my emotions. That’s why the hiatus.

AdiC, touched by your concern. Posting this just for you. 🙂