Life at the edge of losing it

Sometimes one seeks the thick, the green, the shadowy, the plentiful jungle from a parched, denuded life of the city. Lot of wishing and thinking, planning and waiting finally leads to the thick of the jungle.

But the jungle is not very different from the human heart. It doesn’t reveal itself – not so easily, at least – shrouded in the dark.

It’s not just the jungle that remains wrapped in the dark

Meeting the dark in the evening gives hope that one might find life in the day.

But the day reveals the contrary. One wonders what happened to the lush, rich, bountiful thick and green. Or any color for that matter. Save some tiny dots strewn on the ground, all is perishing as the brown slowly swallows it all.

 It would all be brown soon (c)margieparikh

Was the starkness outside, that was being spotted? … Or was it …?


The answer was not that easy. For one, there indeed was the dry, brown world all around. Every inch of it was an open flashback to the endless, relentless heat that dried out the last drop of life.

Or could it?


One only had to lift the gaze from the ground and look around.



It was a middle-of-nowhere place.

Everyone goes there at some point 

Not to worry, this is not just the issue of territory under GPS. One only has to look inside. There are countless, nameless phenomena, relations, and areas of being that can give a good competition to the zones like this.

What does one do when the life leaves wit the leaves?

For now, back to the nameless area and leafless life – all around, as far as the eyes can go. Tree after tree, zone after zone.

The thorns have an ethos of their own

But wait. Hope lives. Even when the life seems sucked out of it, even when thorny skin is all it has in the name of cladding which rips the skin at slightest of the contact, the dry branch reaches out for another.

A moment of rest, if not shade to the passers-by

They stand out for the others who pass by, may be just for a moment.

Amid all the dryness, I see the eternal wisdom.

When robbed of glory and ripped of grace, look for others, think for what can be done for them. That seals the distance from one day to another. That is how the severest of heat is seen through and nothing ever lasts, even the heat.

The glory and grace come back.






Tumhari, Sulu

The movie began. Would it be about pen pals? Love affair? Scene after scene passed by – but it didn’t feel like a movie at all, forget about the plot.
The lead actress, the supporting actors, their setting, and props – nothing looked or felt as if it was a movie. Probably for two reasons: either I had been too conditioned about what a movie should be – perhaps I expected superheroes and sirens frolicking in fantasy land. Or, and more seriously, perhaps the movie was about something so common that it didn’t come to my notice as movie stuff.
Yes, that is what Tumhari Sulu is about: an everyday story of the woman next door, whom we meet so often, whom we mock so often, who we are so much so, that we have to be sequestered into a movie hall to spare two thoughts about.
Had I not met such Sulus myself, I would have hated the movie. Instead, I watched on. I saw the woman who waltzes through her daily mundane tasks so that others can do what they can, the woman who suspects that she *can do* [it] but has had no chance to discover quite what, the autistic education system that can sense only the academic scores, collective mediocrity, movie actors as benchmarks of performance, sprouts of warmth and belonging, striving to survive in a relationship without sunshine, the pole-vaults of assertion indenting the lows of question-less submission and compliance.
Worst of all, a toxic family.
Writers, poets, and women themselves have revealed enough about the dark realms of the in-laws. But, who talks about the refusals, denials, and put-downs that come from one’s own parents and elder siblings? Some parents sound legitimate, but they actually discriminate against one child – because one (usually the elder) is bright in a regular way, but the other (usually younger) is ‘differently able’.
Experiences like that are so historically painful that they hurt without one realizing where the pain comes from.
The movie dramatizes the story by handing Sulu a job when her husband’s job is in jeopardy, while she is asked to do what is somewhat questionable. But what about other Sulus who are stopped, questioned, criticized, assaulted, branded and stereotyped, ostracized, and punished, just because they are trying to discover who they can be? Why is their struggle laughable just because they could not discover it earlier in school? Why is their discovery any lesser because it does not involve marks in schools?
Let’ talk about it.
Tumhari Sulu is not a movie, this is a slice of life from a large percentage of women you and I meet every day – and God forbid, live with.

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The Birth Canal

“No man steps in the same river twice”, said Heraclitus (not these exact words).

But if that river be the mighty, gushing river of life, most people get cold feet.


Such is the momentum of the river of life that let alone stepping in the same waters twice, sometimes the whole life passes by before dipping as much as a toe in it.

That is the state of having cold feet. Cold feet are much like a laser gun.

Cold feet are much like a laser gun. They cut the life into two: the life that is…


and the life that could have been.


What could have been a crowning glory is dismissed out of fear that it will be a drowning fury.

While the life as it is, goes on with full apparent glitter, one cannot know if it is hallow or full, unless one puts the ears to the ground.

But one only puts the feet to the ground.

The feet cannot hear.

So – we pass through the canal of this birth like this: Wide, pulsating, gushing flow – followed by a built up, stone-walled, restrictive life –

Birth canal.jpg

Then there is a hope only for the next life to be liberated again.


That PERHAPS has a promise only if something was done to explore this life.

But if something was done in this life, then the canal of birth will not be a narrow conduit.

It will be a bankless, endless, ageless flow.


Free Turtle

A mile
Under the ocean
Under a cliff
Under the rock
Under the shell
A turtle draws out the limbs
And says
I love my freedom

Do you smell a flower? Or …

What happens when you smell a flower? 

You say it smells sweet (or something like that), right?

When you put a drop of honey in your mouth, you say that honey is sweet, right?


What if it was not right?

Today I was browsing Kaushitaki Brahmana (कौषीतकि ब्राह्मण) and came across some text – interesting piece even if slightly turned around in meaning.
न वाचं विजिज्ञासीत वक्तारं विद्यात् न गन्धं विजिज्ञासीत घ्रातारं विद्यान्न रूपं विजिज्ञासीत दृष्टारं विद्यात् ….न कर्मं विजिज्ञासीत कर्तारं विद्यात् न सुखदुखे विजिज्ञासीत सुखदुखयोर्विज्ञातारं विद्यात् … न मनो विजिज्ञासीत मन्तारं विद्यात् …।
For the uninitiated: we all know there are four Vedas, right? Right. Each of the Vedas have four – let’s say, subsystems, or modules. Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads.
The Sanskrit text above translates thus:
Let’s not try to find out what speech is, let’s know the speaker. Let’s not try to find out what smell is, let’s know the one who smells. Let’s not try to find out what form is, let’s know the seer… Let’s not try to find out what action is, let’s know the doer. Let’s not try to find out what pleasure and pain are, let’s know the one who knows pleasure and pain… Let’s not try to find out what mind is, let’s know the one who possesses the mind.
Yet, the way our senses and our understanding of sensory signals work, we do precisely the opposite. We smell the smell (perfume) of the flower and we claim to have smelled the flower. We taste the sweetness of honey and we say we tasted honey. We experience (some/few/one or two) qualities of a person and we say we know a person. We have experienced a bit of life and we say we have known the life. How accurate is that?
Sometimes (much more than ‘some’ times) we fall prey to stereotypes and generalizations. we seek the sweet middling tendencies, universally applicable ‘truths’ and deny the other person any deviation from that ‘normality’. Although the passage above is about knowing the Brahman, I read it in a more worldly fashion. Think about the empathy and sensitivity to the uniqueness in the other it implies.
We think that ‘scientific’ approach is superior, but that is also miserable. In the name of science and ‘systematic’ approach to creating knowledge, we get tempted to take abstractions at such higher levels that they no longer apply to the chunk of reality we have in our hands. There is nothing wrong with grand theories, but in the name of grand theories, we misplace the actual point of interaction between ourselves and what we experience. And all the while, we think that we have a universal, objective truth. We think that ‘the reality’ is objective, and one for all. We establish standards and ‘cut-off’ s of ‘normality’ and brand the deviations.
It might be fine at times, and necessary at some others. But a habit of making a conclusion at a level higher than where the experience occurs is a gross error. While we do smell the smell, we do not smell the flower. Saying that we smell a flower is a gross denial of all the parts of a flower that either do not smell or have a smell that human nose cannot register. Think of what it means when applied to our interpersonal ties with others.
Does this paragraph not knock on the doors of dynamics of leadership and interpersonal relations?? What do you say?
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Pickles, identity, and more

Fifty-three years passed by before I shopped for Gujarati pickles – the Saurashtra variety.

Studies at first, then kids, work, more ‘important’ tasks… the excuses were many. I had the resourceful mom, masi, masi-sasu and friend; there were ATHANA (Gujarati word for pickles)-enthusiasts at home and my mother-in-law loved to make them — so I simply enjoyed them. My mother-in-law never even half-jokingly alluded to that fact that I had not learned how to make them myself. Add to that the notion that it was better to eat fresh vegetables and fruit. In short, yours truly was a big zero when it came to the ability to make Athana.

Yet, on some days when Khichadi was made, I’d longingly remember the kind of Gundaa (glueberries) my mom’s grandmother used to make. Passing from her hands, they had come to my mom’s mother, and to my mother. Sometimes the thought of Dala-Garmar (the roots of Coleus Forskholli are “Garmar” and “Dala” are their stems) would flash through my mind like the sparks of memory flashing amid amnesia. But that was about it – nothing more.

This vacation, my work involves the reading of Vedic literature. Energized by reading those amazing texts in the morning, I feel ready to greet my household to pull out of it one of those several tasks that remained neglected, avoided, and buried deep at the bottom of my list of priorities – just like one of those divers who pull out the water chestnuts from some lake. What could be a better way to structure that part of the day than to liberate one entry from the to-do list?

It was in that connection that I went to buy fresh vegetables. It is not my usual job. As soon as I entered the shop, I saw the fresh, green gundaa and got hooked to them. So, I bought raw mangoes to go with them. Next to those were Garmar. The bunch of them looked like a grieving widower without Dala, so I rescued them as well. On way back, I also swooped some mustard oil, and dry chilis – a combination of Kashmiri and Reshampatto, to balance color and taste.

My MIL looked aghast with shock when I got back home. I had to reassure her that there was nothing to worry about. But MIL was her name! She also braced up and strode into the kitchen. I had already had the recipe from mom (although it was one AM her time, she outputted the whole thing without so much of a pause), and plugged some FAQs with the help of Masi and my Dilojaan friend.

Swiftly applying PERT-CPM, I initiated the project on two- or three parallel paths and began to clean Garmar, when my husband came for his tea.

“What’s this?”


“What’s that?”

“For pickle”

“Ohh, the kind that Punjabis make?”

“The kind that Nagars make.”

It was just the mention of the word Nagar – my community, but much in a way that a mere scratch on a ragtag wall draws the whole lot of rubble, the word brought forth with force, the memories of my childhood, days and nights of summer vacation, grandparents, great-grandparents, mother,  and much more – the way a sprout bursts out of the loose coupling of a tap with the pipe. Tears welled up in my eyes. Husband knew that sound of heavy breathing meant to pull the snot up. He pressed a silent punch on my sleeve in his bro-spirit.

I prefer to keep myself to myself. Within a moment the world outside got muted, and I began to match pace with my inner self. Preparation for pickles turned into some ancient meditation and connected me to my loved ones. Tears dried up and the smell of memories of cherished ones and cherished times began to fill my soul up.

Cutting the raw mangoes with care, arranging each piece in a matrix on a spread of cloth, making sure that no piece had the residue of the hard case of mango seed … such tiny details tuned me up with the women of my family and the qualities they had: attention to detail, finesse, and diligence began to get sprinkled over me. That I think, was the Samskara. Piercing the ears, shaving the head off, taking steps around the sacred fire are mere rituals. Things that we don’t do naturally, things that someone has to teach us, and teach us in a way that we begin to perform them without boredom and do them well – that, is Samskara, I felt. My elders must have sawn some into me,  and a few of those began to sprout. In my childhood, my mother would have asked me to do many things, and I would have simply run away without ever doing them. Today, those tasks that I never learned began to pay some of the debt. The heritage of making Athana stirred from slumber.

I told my MIL, “You are not going to do anything. Just sit here, tell me ‘Do this / Don’t do this’, and supervise.” She also agreed. And we had some idle debates on which jaggery was superior and such. She said she had got the chili powder for pickles, and I said I was going to grind my own. I can be stubborn at times, so everyone ran for cover and came back to the kitchen with gingerly steps only when convinced that there was no chili discharge in the air. I also showed my appreciation by filling up the jars just as told.

Thus I was initiated today as I wet my feet in one of those many many streams of way of living in which the women of my family have become buffed to a spotless shine.

While I await the result of my BA Final… at the age of 52 7⁄12

“Make haste slowly. When you think you have arrived, press on and don’t sit down”*

Well, it was not all fun. Especially because it came in a package. To study 10 papers in Sanskrit, I studied 4 in Psychology, 2 in Gujarati, 3 in English, and 6 as Soft Skills and Foundation courses. 10:15 is not very efficient. But then, there are other considerations. Like, many of these may be complementary. And they make sense if you love the 10 part.
As far back as I remember my high school days, I had wanted to study Sanskrit. I was good as languages, and that is how I wanted to study, if at all – because I was not at all ambitious about studying. I would have been happy as a child bride, to admit it candidly. But those are perhaps crazy non-notions that you have about yourself. I guess if someone did take me in, I would have been reading and writing all day I imagine. I loved biology, but Physics and Math were not for me.
I found myself marching forth, through Commerce, into Management, and so on. Oft and again, I would remember my dream. One day, post-50, I enrolled for the Bachelor’s in Arts. While these sentiments are fresh, I note them as the lessons to myself:
Cycle (or spiral, and not a circle) and not a line: My model for the life must have been a straight line, because I sometimes regretted studying what I did and wished I had studied language. I perhaps assumed that if you come away from something, you can never go back to it. But now I think that my love for language has proven itself, I have not done so bad for myself, and now that I also studied language once again, it seemed that I could have done it before as well. So, you don’t have to move away. You come back, but at a different height.
Complementing, not competing: In fact, my previous learning made me a better vessel for absorbing the richness and beauty of Sanskrit in all of its profoundness.
Beginning, not the end: I actually think that this bachelor’s has only opened the doors of a promising future of further discovery, exploration and amazement.
Choice, not blame: It could have been easy to blame someone for why I did not study Sanskrit earlier. The reality is, my love proved itself undying, curiosity intact, and now I showed to myself that you can respect others’ wishes as well as satisfy your own will.
Doing what you love – a perfect upset: I worked for a Ph.D. later than expected, but just when I thought I had a book to my name, a doctoral degree, and the usual academic work going on, going back to a Bachelor’s was a perfect indentation to what would have otherwise been a waking slumber.
Reason, not accidents: Finally, I believe everything happens for a reason. I was meant to go to commerce college, I was meant to get an MBA, and I am glad I did. At the same time, I was meant to study my language of love, and finally I have just begun!
All, and not one: I might be thinking that I am the one studying, but it is all because the social side take a back step, mind has a new absorption, and schedule has a tendency to get rigid. Some people give way, and some hold hands. No one does nothing all by themselves.
Studies, not degrees: Lastly, this one is true for all the times. I would do something if I love it. In this case, the unfulfilled wish to study Sanskrit – degree is what fallows. I won’t say I don’t care, but that’s not the reason: I know you know it.
* Modified from Goldfrab, J. A., The Journey of a Humbled Heart: A Life Guide for the 21st Century, p.85.