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Sunday, July 18, 2010

A LESSON ON GIVING

Memories.
Some rue over it. Some cry over it. Some smile over it and some thrive on it.
I have my own memories.
A host of it, actually.
Old ones. Recent ones.
Now that I have been transferred to Gelephu as a bureau correspondent for my paper, I want to look back and reflect on my bitter-sweet experiences.
I stayed at the capital for five whole months and it was a learning experience.
I shared a small room at one of my good friend’s place.
It was cramped and far from being a palace. I stayed there for more than four months.
The modest quarter was shared by the whole family.
But I gleaned some important lessons from them.
My friend and her family never ever gave me reason to feel that I was a burden on them.
I knew I was occupying their private space.
My late working hours were another concern.
But my friend’s mom who runs a small canteen was one of the best examples of diligence, perseverance, patience and caring I have ever come across.
“My own Mother Teresa,” is what my friend calls her.
I couldn’t agree more.
Then there were her sisters and cousins, the sweetest girls I have met in a long time.
Ever-ready to help, to serve.
And the camaraderie they share is commendable.
I question myself.
I was never a long-suffering person.
I am known for my quick temper and tongue.
I am impatient and often too critical even with my own family.
But I saw exemplary patience and harmony here.
I learnt that affluence and mammon cannot guarantee happiness.
There are other things that count.
That are far more priceless.
Like love and selflessness.
We crib and complain about little inconveniences when we have almost everything that we need.
Even I do.
But I realized that I need to count my blessings before I harp on what is missing in my life.
And that there are people along life’s highway who are more willing to give than to receive.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

THE INNER DEMONS

She sees faces and hears voices, images blending and disintegrating. She can hear whispers…intangible, mysterious and derogatory.
She sees pointing fingers, scornful eyes and sarcastic smirks.

“Mom! Dad! Where are you?” She calls out to silence.

Suddenly she drifts to an abandoned island. There are no stars, only the full moon partially hidden behind a dark cloud. There is a gust of wind and she shivers in the cold, her tattered dress the only protection.

“Where are you?” She cries out again.

She hears a cackling, coarse laughter.

“Lost and scared, cry-baby?” Voices draw nearer…then an ominous silence.

“Help!”

“There is no one to help you here.” An icy voice.

“No!” She stumbles and gets up.

She scrambles away, trying to escape the voices. But the voices are ruthless, they won’t leave. They follow her, surround her from every side.

“You can’t run away from us…”

“Get away from me!” She shouts.

“We are you yourself kid…we can’t just go away…we are part of you!” The laughter echoes.

“No! I am different…I am not like you!” She yells. “I am good!”

“Accept it, you foolish child! Accept it!” The voices return.

“You think you are good, eh?” The tone of the voices is malevolent, triumphant.

“You are just another human being and they are all fools!”

“We are here to take you,” the voices announce.

“Come now, don’t fight us,” honeyed, coaxing words.

“I won’t let you take me!” She gasps, the cold getting into her bones.

The moonlight grows dimmer. She tries to run away but a strange force paralyses her…

“There is no escape. You can’t run away from yourself…”

“Come, come…all you have to do is accept us…”

She swoons, feeling a heavy weight descending upon her frame. The voices turn into murmurs, dying slowly. Everything fades into the blackness of night. In the distance, an owl hoots.

Night merges with the day. The cold gives way to warmth as the first rays of the sun rising from the sun falls on her face.
She hears the chirping of the birds and the singing of the cicadas. She opens her eyes slowly to a new day.

TO DADDY, WITH LOVE

I can see the lines on his face clearly. He looks so tired and old now. His hand trembles as he reaches out to feel the smoothness of the leaves. His body is shriveled up. He stoops when he walks. Soon I will have to buy him a walking stick, I think.

But something is different here. I am not looking at a pathetic sight. Something is not right in this supposedly sad scene. His eyes…yes, his eyes…They are gay and twinkling with mischief.

And there is a slight smile on his face. I don’t see the bitterness of suffering or the cynicism of old age.

I remember him holding my little hand, carrying me, guiding me. I see him working hard day and night to meet life’s demands and support us financially, emotionally, physically and in any other way he could.

“Apa!” I call out and rest my hand on his shoulder. He turns around and looks at me fondly. The way he looks at me shelters me with love and makes me feel like a child once again. I feel secure, protected and complete.

We walk together slowly on the little trodden path. He is not strong and sturdy now but I can see strength in his gentleness, a gentleness which can melt bones.

“You are growing up!” He says teasingly.
“Yeah, I have to! Do you think I will remain a kid?” I reply in mock anger.
“For me you are still a kid!” He laughs.
We celebrate life together. He is always there to help me, nurture me.

“I have lived my life to the fullest. Now it’s your turn,” he says.

I let the depth of his words sink in. I see the beauty of age and maturity in him. I look at him silently but he is busy gazing at a butterfly.

A BEAUTY IS BORN

“Can you see it?” The boy asked the girl. He was stretching a small oval mirror before her face and prompting her to look into it.

The girl was startled for a moment; then she looked at the reflection staring back at her. There was a dark blob for a face, a mass of wild curly hair and a mouth that was neither sweet nor voluptuous.

She hid her hands in her face.
“Take it away from me,” she sobbed.

The boy clasped her hands and lifted up her tear-drenched face.
“You don’t know how beautiful you are,” he said gently.
The girl looked at him to see if he was being scornful but his eyes were flashing with sincere warmth.

All her life she had bore the brunt of being the odd one out in her family. Her mother had been a conventional beauty and her two sisters had taken after the mother. But when it came to her, she had not been blessed with the fair alabaster skin, almond eyes, tempting ruddy lips and lissome rounded limbs that the other females in her family had.

Over time the mirror had turned out to be her greatest enemy and as a growing young maiden, she had always remained in the back drop.

Then he had discovered her.

“How can you love someone so plain, so ugly?” She asked as usual.

He stood silent for a long time as if he had expected the question.

“Today I will tell you how beautiful you are to me,” he said, “I have been waiting for this.”

“Look into the mirror,” he commanded.

“See those eyes,” he said, “I have seen sublimity in those eyes. I have seen love, gentleness and passion in them. I have seen the tenderness with which they beheld the sufferings of others. I have seen fire in them
When you fought for what was right. I have seen clarity in them when you had a vision to achieve.”

“Have you noticed your smile?” He asked. “Artificial, weak smiles I have seen in many women. They are intended to create an impression but when you smile it is as if the sun has just risen and made the world aglow. Your smile is the expression of your real, true emotions. There is nothing fake about it. There is ardent warmth, vigorous pleasure in it.”

“Have you noticed the beauty of your person? Your dark skin is like gossamer. It reminds me of the night studded with stars. Your hair dances with the wind to create a cosmic rhythm, your slight figure to me is a pure pillar of strength which houses a soul myriad times fairer and more precious than a gem.”

“You are not a flower. It would wilt and wither away. You are the likeness of one engraved in a priceless stone but with the freshness and fragrance of a newly blossomed rose.”

The girl slowly raised her eyes unto the mirror. She was seeing a new person… a beautiful, radiant person. She was prized and valued by someone she loved. She had never looked or felt so beautiful. She smiled and her smile merged with that of the boy’s who took her hand. They walked away together into a world where love had bathed everything in sunshine.

Thus, a beauty was born.

A PILGRIMAGE THROUGH THE SEASONS

Drops of water fall from a leaf- a steady trickle at first, then the flow abates and ends with a single limpid crystal sphere gently descending to the verdant growth on the earth below.

The rain has just stopped but grey promising clouds are still looming in the sky.

She watches the scene quietly from the window; counting the days. It seems like months, years, ages…

Once upon a time it was spring. The sunshine was warm upon her face. It threw mottled patterns on her window sill and the birds twittered to attract mates. The flowers bloomed in all brave hues spreading their heavy scents and a warm, gentle breeze brought with it glad tidings.

She could hear the promises he had made. She could hear his voice as if it were yesterday, his gruff laughter. She could feel the strength of his arms as he clasped her in a bear-hug yet there was the gentleness of his fingers on her face.

But even as she shared her little joys and sorrows with him, there was this battle going on within her- a raging battle. She could not explain it but it was there. The union of what she wanted and what she had to do, the clash between what she desired and what she believed in.

Very soon the spring faded with its sunshine and bright hopes. The warm breeze turned cold. The horizon seemed to wear a dull, gloomy look.

“Will spring ever come back?” She asked herself but her question was drowned in a flood of doubts and despair.

Then he left. All that remained of him was a host of memories. At first it was hard to understand. She thought it was hard to understand him and even harder to understand herself.

“One, two…” She counts absentmindedly. It is drizzling again. “Maybe after the monsoons…” She hopes and hums a song she does not hear herself.

The rains soon pass.

Autumn comes with its swirling winds and the courtyard is littered with dry leaves. Hope wanes. Every evening she sits by the window watching the change of season and she discovers she is changing too with time.

“Dear Diary, I feel I am growing. This pain is my tutor. I hope he is happy wherever he is. I pray there is no bitterness in the memories of our moments together,” She writes and smiles slightly as she closes her journal.

Winter brings with it the freezing cold. The rivulet near her home turns into ice and icicles dangle from the eaves of her cottage roof. Flakes of snow have fallen like pillow feathers on her courtyard and garden and along the streets, blanketing everything in pristine beauty.

She sits by the window yet again.
This time a warmth and love fills her heart despite the chill outside as she reminisces on the past year. She feels stronger because she feels neither she nor he is to blame.

She closes her eyes. “We will always be together no matter what reasons or distance separates us. We are a part of each other,” she whispers.

“It was not us. It was circumstances – circumstances that destined us to be apart. God meant it that way.”

The new spring awaits her as she sits by the window and watches the birds migrating back home. Tears trickle down her cheeks but her face is lit with a smile.

IN THE LIGHT OF A BURNING HOUSE SHE CRIED FOR HER CHILD

She stares at the fire as it flickers and burns. Shadows play on her immobile features. The flames swallow the wood, crackling and hissing but she is oblivious to the noises. She possesses eyes that have seen and witnessed. Her gaze is fixed but she perceives nothing.

She hears it again like she always does…shrieks and wailing coupled with shouts and sadistic laughter. Gunshots fill the air along with sounds of glasses shattering, the trampling of hurried footsteps and the flurry of confused voices…

“Mother!” The wail again, the sound that she hears again and again, the agonized cry that haunts her endlessly in her sleep, in her dreams and in her waking hours. The last word she heard and the last word she remembers.

The cold night wind bangs the window shutter against the wall. She jerks awake from her stupor and gets up slowly. Age and suffering have made movement laborious. Limping slightly, she reaches for the window and latches it shut.

Closing her eyes, she tries to forget that she once had a family, a place, a hope, a sense of belonging.

Even after so many years the images are fresh, persistent- a terrible nightmare.

“Why did they do it?” She wants to cry, vent out her grief but her eyes are dry. She feels she cannot weep anymore.

“Will I ever forget?” The pain, the anguish. It seems as if a knife has sliced through her heart.

“Mother!” An explosion, a searing outburst of heat and a dark cloud of fuming smoke. The house was blown into pieces.

She remembers running wildly, pushing against the crazed mob of terror-stricken men, crying women and lost children, making her way to save her child.

Too late.

After that everything passed like a dream. A silent motion picture….of ruin, disaster…There was no sound, no weeping and mourning for the deceased…complete dead silence.

The streets were littered with charred and bloody corpses without names. A pungent smell of burning flesh and sulphur.

Days, months and years have passed. Today is the day that marks twenty five years of her child’s death. She never counted but she always knew. It was something that came to her automatically, like eating, drinking and sleeping.

Twenty five years of pent up grief, guilt and questioning.

“Why?” She asks, “WHY? WHY?”

She doubles up, reduced to a heap on the floor. The flood gates open. The heart rending wail emerging from her lips reaches a crescendo. She cries for her child, she cries for human suffering, she cries against the hatred and cruelty that exists in the world. She cries for the loss of love, goodness and innocence…the impending doom of the human race.
“My child, my child…” an involuntary whimper escapes her lips.

THE FORBIDDEN ESCAPE

Not again.

She thinks as the slow and steady trickling tears dampen her pillow. The night has engulfed everything in darkness and the moon has cast its shadows on the curtains.

“Why me?” She asks in a wretched whisper lost in the all-encompassing silence.

Downstairs there is a slight thumping. Audible music and laughter. “They are at it again,” she clenches her teeth suppressing a sob.
“Why am I different?”

The door creaks open. “Is she asleep?” A girl’s amused voice.
“Yeah, I think so. I saw her mugging up for her final paper the whole night.” A chortle.

She wants to scream, say it is not that way. “But what is the use?”

“Miss Goody Two Shoes, Miss…” A familiar chant reverberates in her ears. From down memory lane, pictures of her childhood move like a slide show before her: a frail sickly child, nose buried in books…She hears voices that won’t let her forget… “A very good girl,” “A well behaved child, “Best student”….

“No!” She wants to yell out but her voice is just a whimper.

“Why can’t they let me be?” She tries to control the exquisite quiver of anguish that runs through her body.
“Am I the only one to blame?” She is furious now. Her breathing grows more laborious.

Rules, yes, rules did this to her. Rules at home. Rules at school. Rules in the society. Suddenly she hates her family, her friends and she hates herself. For complying. For not breaking the rules. For accepting unquestioningly. For not being brave enough.

A click.

Light streams into her half-closed eyes. “Are you sleeping?” A voice. She does not answer, pretending to be asleep.

“Leave her alone,” another voice.
“She is queer, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, a sad little thing, but then she has the best brains. One up against us, right?”
“Hmm…I agree. A poor little thing. But can’t blame her too. You know what the world can do to people but daresay she isn’t affected.”

She holds her breath till the retreating steps are out of hearing.

“I don’t need your sympathy, damn you! I hate you! I hate you all!” She almost blurts out but controls it by biting her lips.

“This will be the last,” she is determined. Tonight she would end it all.

She looks at the empty bottle of sleeping pills on the table and relaxes.

The clock strikes midnight.

Drowsiness slowly creeps into her eyes. A gentle languor overcomes her tense body. Her eyelids close.
Then she finds herself in a different world. She is with the others, lots of them- having fun, laughing, whooping, dancing.

Back in her room, the moon light streams full on her face. A slight smile plays on her lips as she escapes and slips slowly into the unknown depths of her beautiful dream, for eternity.

Downstairs the music blares loudly. There are more shrieks and laughter.

CAN YOU HEAR THEM CRY PART II

Today I visited a place.
It was different.
From the places that I have visited in the past.
It was a complete diversion.
From the luxury hotel I have been staying in at Chennai.
The place was Rajiv Gandhi Nagar- a slum on the city beach inhabited by a community of fishermen and their families.
The vast sea and the beach were there.
But instead of the sense of beauty and sublimity that such a setting would usually inspire, desolation loomed large in the hot, humid horizon.
A settlement of dingy shanties made of crude materials; filth and garbage piled up by the road, stench emanating from it, starved dogs and flies hovering around, murky puddles, stuffy, dark huts, half naked children and emaciated looking aged people.
One of the areas affected by the Tsunami six years ago, killing 60 from the community and causing massive structural damages.
The fishermen and their families live in the most sordid conditions dreaming of a better life which does not seem to be materializing.
They are expecting the government to build them proper homes.
They don’t have access to clean drinking water so they have to consume brackish water.
They have no toilets or sanitation facilities.
Interestingly, according to the leader of the fishermen, the government announced the state budget but nothing was mentioned about their rehabilitation.
For the last 45 days, the fishermen could not go about their business because it was the underwater breeding period and the government paid a compensation of a measly Rs 750 for the whole period (the cost of a fishing net being Rs 8,000).
Smaller examples of suffering:
A 60 year old widow diabetic and suffering from an eye complication after a wave hit her desperate to get help talks to a so called journalist who swindles money off her.
Three families share a single hut- the men folk sleep on the beach at night.
A young man claims he drowns his sorrows over his hopeless situation in alcohol.
Stories of poverty. Stories of want. Stories of exploitation.
We hear them every day. We are bombarded with such news by every newspaper, TV and radio channel.
Stories from all around the world, near or far.
The danger is- we have become numb to the effect.
It is terrifying.
We are so overwhelmed by stories that we have become insensitive to issues.
My other journalist friends stood at a distance talking to the slum dwellers.
We had come to ‘experience the other side of life.’
I stood and talked to the slum children who had stars in their eyes and wide, ready smiles greeting me.
I smiled back and patted their faces.
How genuine was my smile?
How genuine were my sentiments of solidarity?
Was I thinking of the AC bus or a relaxing, cold shower back at the hotel?
What about high ideals of ‘changing the world?’
Or making a difference in society?
Sometimes guilt is good. It prompts us to action. In little or big ways.
We tend to become so accustomed to a cushy life that we forget.
We forget how privileged we are. We forget to appreciate. We forget to be grateful.
“I want to complete IAS,” says a scrawny little girl with pigtails who has been fortunate enough to be enrolled in a nursery school. The other kids surround me and extend their hands to me in warm greeting and attempting to communicate with me in broken English.
Hope- stuff that dreams are made of.
These kids may or may not be aware of the extent of their deprivation.
Yet they hope. They have dreams.
Do we have a duty here? A calling?
Or are we just hypocrites?
Talking about spiraling poverty rates and famines during socialite dinners?
Clucking our tongues sympathetically and making high claims of altruism and charity while living a life of inertia?
At least don’t pretend if all you can do is talk.
Don’t pretend that you care if you don’t.
It is very important to look within yourself and check your motives, even when you give.
Actions are more important than words but then the thought behind the action is what counts the most.
I can’t claim to change the world.
But I can change myself. And that is where it all begins.
That is half the battle won. The other half depends on what direction you channel the energies of the changed you.
Maybe that is what making a difference means after all.

CAN YOU HEAR THEM CRY

We don’t always realize how lucky we are.

This is the thought that flashed across my mind as I sat listening to P. Sainath’s talk on poverty and exploitation last night.

P. Sainath- the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, and the famous author of “Everybody loves a good drought,” who has travelled widely and reported extensively on impoverished and deprived sections of the Indian society.

He spoke of the ‘rotating hunger’ among Rajasthani tribes where family members take turns to eat to their hearts’ content while the others virtually starve so that the ones who eat their fill can go out and work the next day. The following day, the members who have to go out and earn for the next meal would again eat satisfactorily while the others would eat the minimum amount possible. This is how they struggle against hunger and shortage of food.
“People can’t eat more than there is,” said P.Sainath.

He narrated another incidence where Nepali rickshaw pullers from Mussouri would pull rickshaws 30-40 kilometres away and not being able to afford the bus-fare back home would walk from nearby Uttar Pradesh for 8-9 days.

He spoke of septuagenarians breaking stones in 40+ degree Celsius heat because they could not afford the most menial meal due to meager pension and food inflation.

He spoke of widows having a tough time getting employment in construction sites at their own in-laws’ society because of ostracization.

“The least-nourished people have to do the toughest labour,” he said, citing an example where 12-13 year old girls draped themselves up in extra large sarees so that they would appear older than their age and get work requiring them to dig deep craters in heat so scorching that water had to be poured on the dry, hard, parched earth before digging if they had to make any head way.
“Think, how atrociously cruel it is,” he said.

“And girls are more emaciated than boys because mothers in Indian society feed the boys first and better,” he pointed out. A case he gave was of a certain locality where people were falling sick after consuming crabs from a tank. It turned out that chemical waste from certain factories were seeping into the tank and the crabs which absorbed it became poisonous. But interestingly, only the young males were getting sick. Why? Because the female-folk in the families were not given the chance to partake of the nourishing delicacy.

Come back to Bhutan.

The so-called land of Gross National Happiness.

Maybe we don’t see the shocking levels of poverty and deprivation as in India and elsewhere.

But that does not mean poverty is non-existent in the country.

Think farmers. Think labourers. Think menial workers. Think people who have to survive on the minimum wage rate.

Then think yourself.

Ever appreciated the fact that you are well fed, well clothed, educated and living a life millions around the world would only dream of?
And, this is not altruism, but ever paused a while to really FEEL the suffering of someone deprived and suffering from want, even of the most basic amenities?

Agreed, we can’t save the whole world, but ever given yourself the task of at least FEELING the burden of someone else in need? Because, it is from what you really feel that action and humility arises. Not a condescending, gloating feeling of superiority but real empathy which allows them better dignity than pity or sympathy. The understanding that they are also human, in howsoever degrading a situation they may live.

P.Sainath said something which really touched me.

Every once in a while, “just to remind himself” what constitutes human dignity and how our fellow human beings all around are suffering, he goes to “break stones” too.

“Try it,” he challenged, “and you will write the story differently.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

WHY DO THESE TEAR DROPS FALL?

I ask myself for the umpteenth time…why is sadness engrained in me? I would like to believe I am a happy person because I am keenly aware that I am lucky to be what I am and lucky to have what I have….I am not an abandoned orphan nor am I friendless. I have been lucky to get an education and I am not among the starving millions of unfortunate people around the world dying from bodily hunger, diseases or unsatisfied needs…I KNOW I am lucky, even blessed. Then why? I don’t want to place myself on a pedestal or set off on an ego ride but I can’t seem to understand myself. I am an enigma to myself. The more I try to explore the hidden recesses of my mind, the unexplored aspects of my personality, the more I ponder over myself, my character and nature, even obsessively, I can’t seem to figure myself out. At times I feel I know myself so well and almost feel smug about it but during moments I experience such as this, flashes in the timeline, I realize the hollowness of my contentment with the self-knowledge I feel I have.

Then what is my problem? What disturbs me? I don’t know….sadness, melancholy….what is it? Everything I see, I think of, remember, makes me SAD….not a heart-wrenching pain, not grief which produces wails and anguish, not unbearable torture…..but a GENTLE pain, a wistfulness, a yearning, a longing……nostalgia??? Even beauty produces pain in me. Am I abnormal? Don’t I have the capacity to be happy and enjoy life? But I haven’t forgotten to smile, laugh, crack jokes…I have kept my sense of humour more or less intact, then what is wrong here?
Or is something at all wrong? Hmmm….soul-searching.

Something as mundane as sighting a wild flower I used to pluck with friends during idyllic childhood days, or seeing an old beaten track while on a bus-ride, or smelling damp earth on a rainy afternoon or the whiff of pine wood brought by a passing breeze produces a thousand and one feelings in me….myriad, mixed emotions, and sadness is one of them.
Sometimes I feel scared….I ask myself if I am I addicted to negativism. But is this negativism? Black- holed depression? Psychosis? But this emotion is almost pleasurable though it is sad…it is like looking at the beautiful starlit night and longing to fly towards its vast expanse to explore its mysterious depths…a desire, a longing, a yearning for fulfillment…..

Do I sound crazy, folks?? ( i don't blame you if you think I do).

THE KATHMANDU EXPERIENCE

Flying to Kathmandu was the first time I was literally flying. Excited, I got up at four in the morning and set about with my last minute tasks. My friend who was also attending the workshop picked me up at six whereupon we drove towards Paro airport.

It was a fun flight- floating above the clouds which spread below me like a mobile feather bed. I could see the changing landscape and snow capped mountains. As our destination approached, a whole new civilization sprawled before our view, welcoming us.

Completing formalities at the airport, we were received by a porter with a placard. After taking us to a waiting cabbie, he demanded a hundred bucks but wore a disappointed look as l shooed him off with just ten.

We reached the hotel and were shown to our rooms. I was praying that I would get an amicable room-mate. I need not have worried. My room mate was an extremely nice girl from India, originally from Tibet. We clicked instantly.

The next day, our workshop started at the Panos- South Asia office. Twenty three of us from various countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri- Lanka and of course Bhutan were present. Starting with introductions, we slowly broke the ice.

Classes were fun most of the time but at times it did get tedious. So we usually took breaks for merry-making. Stolen glances, laughter, yawns, howls and questions were usual in the agenda.

Among the resource persons, a talk by eminent environmentalist turned journalist Kunda Dixit was the icing on the cake. I was simply floored by his intellect and charismatic personality. “Wow!” was all I could think. Later, in the privacy of our hotel room, my room-mate and I discussed our secret crushes, giggling like school-girls.

Talking about crushes, several guys who attended the work shop were going through heart-ache. A senior Pakistani participant was divorced (maybe that was the reason why he could not keep his hands to himself when he was in the company of females), a young brain from Delhi and a soft-spoken guy from Bangladesh had just broken up with their sweet-hearts. But amongst us was a happy new father also who proudly showed us his baby’s picture.

We laughed at another Pakistani guy who always called me and my Bhutanese friend Cambodians by mistake. Then there was this guy from Guwahati who relentlessly and over generously urged us to visit his place back home where he said he would play host and serve us drinks. Another peculiar character was one of the Panos coordinators who asked me- “How are you?” thrice a day, everyday.

There were only three women in the workshop including me. Both the others were married. So I enjoyed the attention thoroughly! (Or was I imagining things?!)

One night, I mixed soft drinks with coffee and ended up with a bad tummy-ache. The next day I could not attend the workshop. In bed the whole day, I broke down feeling weak and home sick. But the concern my fellow participants showed was touching and luckily I recovered the following day.

Another night we had a dinner reception at a Russian restaurant. A cultural programme supplemented the free flowing drinks and sumptuous food. Much too happily, the guys downed countless little clay bowls of local wine. The excitement charged evening ended with a rowdy bus ride back to the hotel and intoxicated men bawling their lungs out.

Company and food were good. And shopping and travelling in the evenings were even better. We had a blast every day.

As the week long work-shop approached to its end, we exchanged our good-byes and shared gifts, time and tears.

This worth-while experience is something I will always cherish and look back at with fondness. I learned how little I really knew and it fired me with zeal to learn and see more..….it sure is a wide, interesting world out there.

ONCE UPON A TIME...

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. A girl with pig-tails and a big teddy bear. Her mother bought her chocolates and dolls every time she went to town. Her dad bought her fairytale books every time he went out of town. She read stories till late night. Every time before going to bed she would look out of the window, count the stars and muse over the moon.
While sleeping in her cozy little bed, she would dream of delicate fairies, exotic lands and beautiful princesses. She would see knights in shining armor fighting the dragons and evil sorcerers. She would dream of dashing princes going down on their knees and claiming the hands of the lovely maidens.
The little girl lived in a world she could call her own.
As she grew up, she gradually came out of her childish dreams She began to attend school, deal with the daily routine of studying, mingling with her peers. She started to have new feelings, newer aspirations and ambitions. But a part of her still remained in the world of the fairytales.
After that, her bubble burst. Faced with situations she had never expected and circumstances that she had never encountered before, she withdrew into her shell. It never occurred to her that this was all a part of growing up, learning.
Time passed. Now she was a young maiden. She was forced to come out of her shell. She went out into the world. She met people- some seemingly nice, some seemingly bad. She got into situations that demanded careful decisions and called for sensible judgment.
She saw, she experienced, she fought, she accepted. She grew up.
But now she is at a cross-roads. There are two paths before her.
One path offers instant gratification. It seems so right to follow this path, so perfect….at the moment. The way is easy to tread. You could blindfold yourself and tread this path….you would not see the final implications but you would find it just so easy.
Blind to everything, you would not care about your own principles, the feelings of other innocent people whom you may hurt in the process, just because you want to be happy. But, it would take a lion’s share of willpower NOT to take this way.
On the other hand, there is this path….filled with thorns and brambles…there are pot-holes, lots of them. The thought of walking this way is fearsome…Every time she thinks of what she has to forego in order to walk this way, she trembles. But she knows that an untroubled conscience is one of the greatest gifts in life.
She wants to exercise her maturity and sensibility here but the confusion is so overpowering….it is deadening her senses…..
I saw her one night. She was sitting on the steps leading to her house…..looking at the stars and the moon like she used to when she was a child …searching for an answer to her predicament.
Do you have an answer for her???

MY INNER BATTLES

There is so much hidden inside me that I cannot show. I go through different phases and for each phase I have a different face.

I can't understand myself so I can't really expect other people to understand me. And no, no romanticizing out here. It is not like those scary movies or books where you have a split or multiple personality disorder and go around making life miserable for people or become a psychopathic killer. It is more about the inner conflict...the battle within.

You know you are not doing the right thing yet you keep on doing it. You know you are doing the right thing yet your whole being rebels against it. You want to escape from reality. You are a tortured soul. You want to be stranded on an island. And the next moment a flicker of hope arises. You perceive it with some joy, some anticipation but the moment passes and you are again left with the crumbling remains of your unfulfilled dreams.

I may sound like a depressed maniac but there is this thing within me... I want to pour it all out in writing but I can only manage to do it in some part...I want to vent it all out... I want to purify my soul, my heart... I don't want to keep anything within...I want to start on a clean slate...But I know it doesn't work that way.

The past haunts me, the present troubles me and the future beckons me with some promise but are these promises really meant to be fulfilled in my life? I have nothing to complain about, no one to hate or keep a grudge against....I don't know if that is happiness but I am longing for escape...Not escape as in death... I want to be free of myself and my complications...I know I am creating them. But I guess every one of us is complex... there is hardly a simple human being in the true sense of the word.
Folks, please don't misunderstand me. I am a very normal and a very ordinary person...the only thing is that my inner battles which I experience every day of my life makes me sound a bit too .....whatever that maybe. Don't you feel the same sometimes??

LOVING YOU

Maybe loving someone was never this strange.
Here I sit alone in a room, soft melody playing in the background.
I am thousands of miles away from home, yet he is with me.
A tangible presence, so near I can almost touch him.
His memories as sweet as the first rains falling on parched soil, or the fragrance of drenched mud or the aroma wafting from blossoms dripping nectar.
He is in every breath of air I take in, in every beat of my heart.
Distance means nothing.
Even his indifference means nothing.
Human beings were born to love and be loved.
If the latter cannot find fulfillment, at least the former can.
We cannot force someone to love but we have the freedom to love.
However painful it may be. However futile it may seem.
A fool’s paradise? Maybe. But even a fool has the right to live.
A right to happiness.
Divine draughts of poisoned water, as someone aptly put it.
I thirst. But there is no quenching.
Sometimes loving someone is the greatest irony.
You love, you survive on his memories, and you find meaning in life.
But you can never be with him.
You just feel him, see him, love him and love him……
Hoping that one fine day your wait will be rewarded.
There is nothing on which to hope.
Yet you just hope, wait and love
Because ultimately even if love fails to accomplish the desired end
You never lose by loving.

LOVING AGAIN

Sometimes you find things where they are least expected.

Like tragedies, miracles, and opportunities. Like hope, friendship, happiness and ……love. Who would have thought…? How could I have imagined….? Is this just an escapist illusion? Or maybe a sweet delusion?

Can I call it love? I can never brush it off as just a casual encounter, a brief escapade…..those days and nights filled with ordinary yet special moments, those fresh effusive feelings, the gentle jabbing and natural bubbliness, secret shared jokes and chuckles, shy downcast-eye smiles, the trace of a slight dimple….there was no staring at the moon, no extravagant promises made for the future, not a word of commitment, yet the moment was there…..captured against the expanse and reality of time and the brisk movement of daily life- like a master piece carved in exquisite gem, like the breathing, living words of soulful poetry, as if God was watching us at that precise moment through a telescope and zooming in on us…..was that love?

I have been through my share of heart ache but the charm of falling in love again, risking your sentiments, laying your heart bare for someone to write upon, making yourself vulnerable to someone you want to share everything with…..cannot be underestimated. Love does that, you see….the ticking and working, the intricacies and subtleties of human hearts can hardly be fathomed…No scientist or thinker has managed to do that…apart from churning out physiological, psychological and philosophical concepts or so I think.

We were not meant to be but we were. It was like fatal fatalism. Our paths were star-crossed but we were together still. One day we would part, both of us knew that, but it did not matter. What mattered was that we had reached out to each other, gone beyond the cursory. It was a beautiful feeling. Our hearts, nature, and words warmed us to each other, touched our souls. It was like watching a ballet….grace and delicacy on tip-toes, like sighting a rainbow after a thunder storm- the view had never been clearer.

I wonder how it happened. I never suspected it. And I never thought myself capable of that….but it happened. It just happened. And there I was, holding onto the moment….living it, treasuring it because it was fleeting…it would pass away. There was no room for permanence but at least it was there for sometime. And you always cherish and value something or someone more if it lasts less.

And now here I am, once again alone, but there is no bitterness or sorrow in me…I loved and I lost but not in the usual sense of the word. There was no pact between us, no agreement, no promises or compromises….it happened, was lovely and enriching while it lasted and ended not in tears or rancor but with a tender, soft understanding and acceptance of fate which could not be altered.

And I am ready to love again.

Friday, July 2, 2010

CHILDREN OF HEAVEN

I was never a child-lover and I don’t claim to be one right now.
I remember getting irritated with a nephew of mine because he walked all over the place including my freshly laundered bed-cover with shoes on and his mom said nothing so I concluded he was a spoilt child.
I never had to change diapers or nurse nappy rashes because my two younger half-siblings were raised in a different home. And I am not married so I don’t have kids of my own.
I was never familiar with baby-talk or lullabies. I still don’t know how infants should be fed or weaned.
But as I grew up into a young woman (lady?) I started liking kids. “Adoring” is too strong a word. I just started liking them. I don’t know how, when and why (Maternal instinct?).
I love those wide, innocent eyes, the round, dimpled limbs, the toothless smile, their lisping chatter, their sprightliness (if they are not too mischievous).
I love talking to them, teasing them, and once in a while when I am in a wild mood, playing with them.
I have never done a crash course on child psychology but I think I understand kids pretty well and they understand me, too.
When you like them genuinely, they return the affection and that is what makes it so worthwhile.

My maternal uncle’s kids run into my arms whenever I visit them. (Sigh) These moments make life worthwhile.
One of my cousin sister’s son watched me with huge, imploring eyes as I turned to leave as if pleading me to stay behind and play a little while longer with him. I felt an irresistible urge to gather him in my arms and kiss him but I controlled myself.
Even the “naughty” nephew I mentioned is a cutie. He is round all over. And simply brilliant (he is always on a computer). Maybe he will outgrow his “naughtiness” with time.
Okay, I love kids and they (hopefully) love me. But I don’t indulge their every whim. I know when they should be appeased and when a “No” should be a resounding “No.”
And I know they respect me for it. Maybe even love me more.
One day, I went to the Swiss Bakery. I had an appointment with someone and was waiting when suddenly a group of maybe 5-6 little girls entered and started ordering for some goodies.
I called one to me, a cute little girl with a ready smile and asked her whereabouts. Then the group settled down on the sofa next to me.
They had ordered √©clairs and maybe hamburgers (I don’t remember exactly). And “Pepsi.” I made small talk. They warmed up to me in no time (innocent beings).
Then I said: “Pepsi is not good for kids like you. Why don’t you take milk or fruit juice?” Not in the way adults usually speak. Just a suggestion.
They did not say anything but going by their facial expressions I knew they were listening.
They asked me questions. I answered them.
Suddenly the door opens and a Black woman enters. She must be a tourist. Her corpulent figure is covered in a pair of tight jeans and a flowery top. The girls burst out laughing. They are highly amused.
I make funny faces at them. And smile secret smiles.
The woman leaves. I ask them why they were laughing.
One says: “Her bottom is huge.”
Another quips: “Her hair is like Maggi.”
A bout of giggling ensues.
I then say quietly: “It is not good to laugh at other people.”
I look at their down-cast faces. Their eyes are lowered.
I ask gently: “Would you like it if others laughed at you?”
Silence.
Then I give the final comment: “Funny looking people have problems.”
I know they have learnt a lesson so I brighten up and ask them if they would like to have anything else. The camaraderie resumes.
Suddenly, the door opens and a fashionable woman with a weird hair-do enters. The girls burst out laughing.
I can’t suppress a smile. I get up to pay my bill and turn to look at them:
“Remember what I said, girls?”
They are already running out almost shrieking with laughter. I run out, too.
Another incident. My uncle’s little son is a gentle spirit but one day he was acting difficult. He would not put on his slippers. I coaxed him but he would not listen. I went to my room and he followed. He was trying to play with me. “Don’t come here. You have not put on your slippers,” I told him in mock-anger. He went to the next room and started crying. Uncle lifted him up. I went there and gathered him in my arms.
“I am sorry. Please put on your slippers,” I said.
The stubborn little guy still refused but such incidences tell them what they should do and what they should not. I believe it remains in their sub-consciousness and will help them to be better-behaved in the future.
Next I have a bubbly, sweet cousin sister. She will be in Class X this year.
She adores me.
Once she told me that she is scared of losing me.
I prod her to study and do well academically. I ask her to read and when she told me that she likes funny, romantic and horror novels I bought her one from each genre.
She watches TV excessively. I told her it is not good. I told her to watch TV only till 10 PM. I told her reading has far more benefits.
She listened. Why? Because I was not commanding her. Just reasoning with her. Giving her options. Moreover she trusts me and my advice because I treat her like a good friend and confidante. Occasionally, I treat her to chocolate (she is still a kid).
So you see, sometimes to live with children and make them listen you get into their shoes and become a child yourself if needed. It pays.

LAUGHING AWAY TO LIFE…….

Laughing has never been this better…..it starts as a mild tremor in the body, spreads slowly till it starts shaking it convulsively and then often ends with the volcanic eruption of loud laughter rocking the whole frame.

I am silly if silliness means laughing at the most incongruous of reasons….I am stupid if stupidity means asking the simplest of questions just because I want to know the answer or because I am curious, I am immature if immaturity is letting go of myself or behaving like a kid because I am just like that…..

Some things in life you can’t enjoy by doing…you enjoy simply by being.

I don’t know why….I find humour in the simplest of things….a flashing expression or even a seemingly innocent phrase or funny incident makes me go into splits; often hysterics and I remember them at the most inappropriate moments so I have a hard time suppressing my laughter and protecting my image of sanity.

I have to repress smiles all the time because I know if I give full vent to my rather unusual sense of humour in public, then I am really a goner. People will think I have flipped the lid.

My recent trip to Delhi had me burning a lot of calories because I was laughing like crazy. Not all the time. I had my low moments (come on, I am also human). But the light moments, my good acquaintances and the new learning experiences made up for all the tears I shed, I guess.

Like I am curiously absent-minded. I don’t know whether this happens with others or I am just making a big deal out of nothing but there were these soup spoons placed alongside soup-bowls and plates. Our cutlery was already at the table. And when I had served my food on the plate, I picked up the big round headed spoon and marched to my table. Only when I got there, I noticed and I would have forgotten about it but the next day I did the same thing and even went a step further- I was actually eating with it. You know I found it so hilarious.

Another incident I still remember was what I call the “desert disaster.” I wanted to have desert during a high level luncheon and I went to the podium and was searching for it. But I just could not find it and I was having a tough time keeping a straight face when a particularly dignified looking figure in a uniform caught my eye and asked me- “You seem to be looking everywhere.”
I was blushing when I said wryly “I can’t exactly seem to be finding the desert,” because I did not have anything better to say and I could not summon up the presence of mind to make up a smart reason at the crux of the moment. I don’t know if the dignitary thought I was a simpleton but he was kind enough to guide me to the desert table. I collected my desert as fast as possible and was ready to flee to my table when someone asked me-“Running away?” I was in such a hurry to get away that I did not even look up to see who had passed the remark. I just fled the scene and I will never know who the Good Samaritan was. I mean it is very funny if you consider the situation I was in. A novice learning and you know, the little hiccups she faces which when she looks back she can laugh at in the future.

Another incident which I found particularly funny- I was watching television at the embassy with my friends when a dignitary and a colleague of mine entered the room. They went behind me and I was not facing them. I got up to go away when I heard a dead-pan voice saying-“You leaving?”

I thought it was the officer who was speaking to me. Without turning I just said “Yes sir, I am going. Good night.” Then when I suddenly turned back, you should have seen the look on my friend’s face. It was just precious. The Chesire cat grin with amused oriental eyes (if he reads this, he will crucify me). And I could not think of a better response than just keeping a poker face and quipping-“Oh, I thought it was you, sir. It turned out to be my friend.” Then I marched stiffly to the door, shut it and back at my own room I confided in my friend and we broke into endless stifled giggles because the guys were just next door.

Numerous incidents like these happened and I just sensed the humour of the situation. I laughed and laughed and I laughed. It made my sides ache. It gave me crow’s feet. But I don’t mind. I just want to throw back my head and let out all my mirth. Joie de vivre.

I want to feel the wind on my face. I want to watch children play. I want to sit alone somewhere, maybe under a tree and contemplate life or read a good book. I want to learn even if I appear foolish. I want to be free enough to be myself. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I am not.

But in some company and with some people you can’t always be yourself, even if you are a free spirit. Your level of comfort counts. And it is good to exercise decorum and discipline when situation demands it. It develops self restraint, gives you time to observe, interact and gives you broader understanding of life. But then if you are obsessed with rules and let it dictate personal image and perception, if you can’t think for yourself, if you don’t exercise a certain amount of detachment and independence, then you are having a problem. You are living but not as yourself. And you always know which rules bind you and which doesn’t. The right rules make you free enough to be happy.

HOW TO TREAT A WOMAN

Listen up, men. Listen to us, women. We find men who listen special because for a woman the easiest way to un-burden herself is by communicating. We know you would rather fix a leaking faucet or watch a football match with your buddies, we also understand that you like your guys’ night out and you have a major problem with “opening up,” but sometimes it does good to think over and understand why a woman feels and acts the way she does. You think they are complicated? Good. All the more reason to read this little note. But the more important reason is because without women you are lost creatures just as without men we feel incomplete. Grinning at the last admission? You can but let us get on with this.

Women want to feel special and cherished by their men. They love surprises BUT what counts even more is the intention behind it.

Surprising her with flowers on her birthday when you know she is celebrating it alone will make her feel more special than you gifting her a diamond (!!!) bracelet just because you want to show off that you can afford to.

Just telling her she is attractive because you find her really so is more appealing than telling her that she is stunningly gorgeous in an attempt to flatter her. A woman is not stupid. She can see how sincere you her.

Appreciating the fact that she is intelligent, capable of taking decisions and managing crisis and thus giving her due respect will make her feel more special than you ogling at her legs or drooling over her vital stats. Of course, however efficient she may be, sometimes she needs help from you….a little pampering does not hurt.

You may think women are clingy and crave attention all the time. Wrong. Women also need space. They need space to develop themselves, think things over, put things into perspective and last but not least go out with friends. They will appreciate it if you don’t act possessive, as if you own them. I say possessive, not protective. Protectiveness makes us feel cherished.

Don’t think a woman is dumb because she can’t discuss guy things. She may be an expert in her own areas which are beyond you. Surely you don’t want us to think you are stupid just because you can’t knit a pair of socks, do you? And there ARE some women who are brilliant in areas you pride yourself to be undisputed. Maybe she just does not want to make it too obvious.

And when a woman starts distancing herself from you after you have been through particularly good times, don’t always think she is acting pricey. If she is distancing herself after bad times don’t always think she is getting back at you.

You need to understand that she may just be trying to move on…She may have absolutely no ill feelings toward you. She is not trying to prove anything to you. She may just be trying to protect herself…and that is instinctive.

Finally if you have found THE WOMAN for you- the one who makes you skip a heart beat even in old track pants and a lousy sweat shirt, NEVER EVER let her go. It is real, real hard for a man to come across the right woman as it is for a woman to find the man of her dreams so don’t take chances. Love her, cherish her, be loyal to her. Prove that you are worthy of her.

Women love sensitive men. They are not sissies. There is a difference between sissies and sensitive men. Sissies cry for the wrong reasons. Sensitive men are not afraid to cry for the right reasons.

HELP!!!

Lies, deception, politics, lechery, debasement, ego, perversion, hypocrisy, vulgarity.
Free flowing liquor, ideals gone up in hazy cigarette smoke, dingy bars and shady pubs, loud raucous laughter and leers.
Curses and cuss words.
Welcome to my present world.
People whom you look up to fail you.
People whom you trust let you down.
People whom you love don’t care.
Is this even ‘my’ world?
I am alienated from myself.
I no longer am myself.
I am being drawn into a world I had only heard of.
And the scary part is I am getting attracted to it.
What the hell is happening?
It is as if a sheet of virgin paper is being blotted.
No, I am not glorifying myself.
But a world where ideals are considered trash
And principles are scoffed at
Where morality is considered old fashioned?
NO, I protest.
I don’t belong here.
I loathe this world and I loathe myself.
I loathe what I am becoming.
I loathe what I have become.
I try to clutch onto the last remnant of hope.
I gasp for a breath of fresh air.
No relief.
I need to save myself.
I need to tear away.
I need to go away somewhere.
Some place where I can be sane.
Some place where I am unburdened
By the struggle to keep myself afloat
On the raging waters, swirling, forming an eddy
Around me, trying to drown me.
I must breathe.
Help.
I feel hot, pulsating heat
I hear harsh breathing
I hear voices, mocking, insulting.
I see smirks and twisted smiles
Winking eyes and deceptive gestures.
I cry out loud.
They surround me.
They are closing in.
I tremble.
My legs are jelly, my heart thumps
My voice is a whimper.
Someone help me!
GOD! Are you there?
Rescue me!
Before I turn insane!
Before my brains burst.
Before I sell my soul to the Devil.

BUMTHANG, CHILDHOOD AND TOM SAWYER

I have fond memories associated with Bumthang and this is not only because it is a place at once pristinely beautiful and vibrant. Some of the happiest memories I have are associated with it, my most idyllic childhood days being spent there.

I still remember those days- as fresh as the chilly nip in the air, the whistling of the wind through the pine jungles and the sparkling icicles on the roof eaves melting in the warm winter sun.

I never realized the enormity then of their words when elders said that childhood was the best phase in a person’s life. I was too busy in my carefree, make-believe world. Even as a growing teenager I wasn’t convinced because I was entering an exciting phase in life and could not wait to grow up. As I neared adulthood, I was too busy preparing for the life of an adult.

But now I have crossed these phases. I am 25 (mid-life crisis?) and fairly well settled. I am an independent working woman, I love my job, I have a car (though I still have to master the art of reversing without getting the tyre into a ditch somewhere) and I have a loving family always forthcoming with their support but then they have faded into the back ground now, as it so happens when you grow up and get on with a life which you call your own (sadly).

And now that I am fairly mature and can settle down into moments of quiet introspection without getting carried away by extreme emotional tides (except occasionally) unlike those painful, teary and fiery withdrawals into yourself common during raging hormonal teenage years, I can look back at life and even manage a smile.

A wry smile. An amused smile. A wistful smile. A sad smile. A fond smile. Many a times a sunny smile.

And when childhood memories beckon me, when the sights, sounds and smells of yore pervade my being, my senses, I am transported once again to the world I once belonged -the world of nicked fingers and bruised knees but a mom ever ready with first aid, a world of Tinkle comics and Cadbury, a world of rosy cheeks- the result of playing in the sun and running in the autumn breeze chasing falling leaves, a world where handing a toffee was an easy way to reconcile after a tiff.

I remember we used to live in a beautiful, spacious house in Lama Goenpa. A double storied structure- partly wood and partly concrete, it stood at the base of the rolling wooded hills yet offering a satisfactory view of what was going on below up to quite a distance.

We had a chicken coop and a kitchen garden with a green house. There was a compound to play in and lots of neighbourhood kids. What more could we ask for?

Very soon, I had joined the other kids on “skating sprees” in the woods. “Skating” simply meant riding down the slope made slippery with dry brown pine needles on wood planks with polished bases to aid the skate down hill. Often we toppled down peeling the skin on our knee caps or knuckles but it was fun alright.

Then playing “hide and seek,” “Am I right,” “rubber band,” or skipping rope and in more adventurous moods, “super heroes(iones)” and “ninjas” (too many cartoons and action movies, I daresay).

Then, one fine day I had a bright idea. I was inspired to form a “secret club” after reading Enid Blyton’s “Secret Seven Society.” Producing my colour pens, scissors and paper, I set to work and soon I had made membership badges for my would-be “secret club members” of which of course and most obviously I would be the leader!

I remember going for picnics too. Once we had cooked “wai-wai” but which could not exactly be termed palatable because the egg we had stirred in was still raw! Another picnic had us eating almost uncooked rice because of our premature culinary skills (or the lack of it).

But as a child I was very interested in cooking. I remember trying to prepare a sweet dish from a “Milk-Maid” recipe-book I had managed to salvage from somewhere and if I remember correctly, the household devoured it! (Should I then say that I was a natural in the kitchen? Ahem! Ha, ha…To be honest, my elders helped me with it. They could not trust me, not at that age!)

Then there was school. Dressing up for school was not an ordeal for me. It was though for my dad who used to help me with my “kira.” Once my grandma fixed my “kira’s” open end the wrong way so my friends in school undid the error. Mom gave up on it. In fact her kira used to be fixed by dad.

Going to school was an experience in itself. If all the neighbourhood kids- a noisy, restless bunch at that, could not huddle into the rickety, green jeep which dropt us every morning, we would be strolling through the secluded woods, breaking off whole branches of wild red berry shrubs, munching all the way to school. The process was repeated on the way back.

In school, lunches meant shared tiffins or oily “puris,” hot “aloo-dum,” thin white tea, cheap biscuits or raw “wai-wai” brought from the nearby canteen.

Then there were the senior girls or “big-sisters” making a fuss and babying the little ones.

And oh! Wasn’t I an avid dancer! Our school cultural programs had me prancing about excitedly. I remember playing the part of “Sleeping Beauty” in a nursery rhyme skit once! Ha, ha! I am one even now. I can’t claim to be a beauty (not blatantly) but sleepy, I always am! (As for dancing, lately I have developed two left feet so I can’t qualify for the title of a competent dancer).

It is strange but even at that age you do have an inkling of the inexplicable chemistry that exists between the opposite sexes, so you imagine that even you are part of it. I remember childishly “liking” a few little boys and snubbing a few others if they evinced an unsolicited interest in me. Ha, ha….those were the days…

As I looked at through the bus window during my most recent journey via Chumey, I could not help wishing I was living in that magical little valley. I stared at the tranquil forests, clear brooks with smooth round pebbles winking beneath the silvery little ripples and the schools. Yes, the schools….that will always remain an integral part of my childhood.

I could see some lanky adolescents taking a leisurely stroll on the lonely cold road, another group engaged in playing basketball and yet another group comprising mostly girls sunning themselves by the school gate. “Growing children,” I mused.

As the bus moved on, winding through the flat valley punctuated by gentle slopes, I smelt again Bumthang- the smell of my childhood: the smell of pine needles, saw-dust, burning fire-wood- a subtle fragrance.

Chumey undoubtedly is another wonderful thing about Bumthang. The goods which adorn the front of the handicraft shop are a visual treat for any passerby. Then come the farm houses- traditional two-storied structures with stretches of tilled land before them. Some of them are spread with fine earth while others have big clouts with the faintest trace of frost on the surface so that they look like big frozen chunks of ice cream. Prayer flags flutter spasmodically to sudden gusts of chilly wind. Little huts made of matted bamboo are scattered among the houses. Picture perfect. I drink in the beauty.

There are numerous pine trees along the road. Pine trees hold a special place in my heart- I remember them for their sharp sweet smell, their hard brown cones strewn across little traversed paths, and little brown pine nuts which we used to pick up gingerly and crack in between our teeth.

My heart soars as I catch a glimpse of Chamkhar stretched out below me- the large serene plain, the river running through it, the familiar structures… It is getting dark now but as I observe the Chamkhar chu , flowing swiftly past the road, deceptively shallow at some stretches and dangerously deep at others, as I look at the mini-islands with the shrubs laden with sour, yellow berries, feeling their tangy taste on my tongue, I again drift back to a childhood fantasy.

Maybe some readers will be surprised at this but as a child when I read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” I could not get rid of my burning desire to be in Tom’s shoes! Agreed he was a boy, a naughty little boy at that, but I guess at that age, gender matters little as long as you can have fun, so there I was- longing to run away from home and stay at one of the islands on Chamkhar chu much like Tom did. His living the life of a little Robinson Crusoe (only his isolation was self imposed), fishing, fending for himself, fooling around with friends was a dream adventure for me. I loved every bit of it.

Finally, we entered the town and the bus came to a halt at the bus stop. I was back- back from my childhood Bumthang to the present one. But as the sights and sounds again surrounded and seeped into me, I knew Bumthang was the same- it would always remain so for me because it grew up with me.

ALONE

I walk alone.
The street lights cast a garish glare on my face.
I walk on.
Tears blur my eyes.
I hear the honking of numerous vehicles rushing by.
Nameless faces, blank stares, lifeless forms which move.
Night falls. Shadows. Dark silhouettes. Strange leers.
I am alone.
I am being sucked into a vortex.
Where am I?
Where is the life I knew?
Where is the warm sunlight and the twittering of birds?
Where is the joy, the anticipation with which I welcomed each day?
Where are the fresh, bright mornings?
The noisy albeit concerned neighbours?
The reviving meals and laughter shared amidst kith and kin?
The heartwarming prayers and wishes at every gathering?
Where is fulfilling leisure?
Where have I reached? Where am I?
I can’t even watch a sunset or muse over the moon.
I hardly find time to scribble a note or enjoy a poem.
I can’t even feel the breeze through my hair or hear the pitter patter of rain.
All I feel is hollowness and weariness.
All I feel are tear drops running a marathon on my face.
Is this what I asked for, God?
Is this what You willed for me?
Time seems breathless.
And memories hung in space.
I am just a mortal, God.
I can’t bear more than what I can.
Don’t test me unbearably. I can’t stand it.
See how weak I am, how frail….
I am mere dust; I need your strength and power.
I know if I live in you I live.
Otherwise, God, Oh how hard it is for me!
To survive.
When I am on the verge of tears, I have to smile.
When I am about to fall apart, I have to put on a brave front.
I can’t go on like this.
Help me, God.
Lest I lose my sanity.
Help me, I pray, help me.

THE PAIN OF LEARNING…

Human beings are a peculiar lot….some think they know everything, some believe they are learning continuously. The people who belong to the latter group are the ones who are in most danger of living in a delusionary world….a world where you feel though you are learning you have already learnt more than what you need to know…that is the greatest ignorance in fact. They are even more egoistic than the former group. Why? Because the former think they know better than anybody else and try to bull-doze their way while the latter know they are better then this set of know-alls so their ego is even supersized.
I think I belonged to the latter category.
Pretending….pretending to be someone you are not, craving for people’s attention and approval until you are no longer true to yourself, deluding yourself that you are so much more special and different than others, parading yourself until you are actually making a fool of yourself without realizing it.
I used to be this shy, little book worm….living in my own little world. I grew up to be a studious student but extremely shy and self conscious.
With passage of time I started opening up and after I joined my first job as a journalist I made friends, met interesting people, started to travel, mingle more with society.
Then I started being more confident, outgoing and talkative. Exposure to the outside world and official trips outside the country. Independence and financial security. Appreciation and favourable criticism from various quarters. Then the changes started……
I don’t know how it happened….it started slowly, subtly…..I don’t know how I could change so much…I never realized it until recently….When I look back I see it all now….the attitude- all those “witty” wisecracks intended to impress, the over smart remarks and rejoinders in un-necessary situations, the strutting and posing, the “care-a-damn” stance, the slangs and cuss words ( although used covertly), ridiculing others, cracking mean jokes about people just to get a cheap kick, the sly glances and sarcastic smirks especially while observing others, bad mannered chuckling in company…………
I never knew how bad the situation had really become…..I thought I was being admired when all I was doing was making an ass of myself. Artificiality, superfluosness, showing off, acting, superiority complex….hell, what had I become?
When did I lose touch with myself? My inner self?
When did this descent into delusionary madness begin?
The ego, the condescension, the spiritual pride, the vanity?
I don’t know, even as I write this whether I am really free of the grip of these vices now, but I am glad that I have made this realization. It does not pay to pretend, it does not pay to be someone you are not.
If people like you for what you are it is good. It is great if people appreciate the real you, if they are impressed with YOU, the real YOU.
If they are not, it does no good to pretend. You can take constructive steps to improve on your shortcomings, you can develop yourself in the best possible ways but that is all you can strive to do. That will improve you and maybe you may even earn appreciation but that is it.
Donning another persona just to impress people is equivalent to being a hypocrite.
And at the end a hypocrite never ever wins.

WHERE IS THE LOVE?

Idealism sounds like a bad idea in today’s practical world filled with practical people. And virtues like love, spirituality and loyalty are scoffed at; people who try to hang onto their principles and salvage the last remnants of sanity are ridiculed, considered freaks or simply considered as lagging behind in the process of human evolution.

In a world where heinous crimes are committed without batting an eyelid and where countries rise against each other, where the poor are exploited, the innocent made scape-goats and the already terrorized are hunted down, I would not be surprised to witness a conflict of interest or friction between political parties and other such divisions but what I witnessed at the Wagha Border in Amritsar, the border town between India and Pakistan during my recent visit there was something which not only thoroughly disappointed me but even drove me to the point of despair despite being aware of the fact that this is a practical world.

I was perturbed by the open hostility displayed by the Indians as they howled, shouted and jeered to show their disdain and contempt for the Pakistanis on the other side of the border as soon as they had finished their ostentatious show of gyrating to loud and supposedly patriotic music. Most of the dancers were young women and a few were really flaunting their stuff. It appeared more like a vulgar night show in a disco than lobbying for the good name of your country.

And what disgusted me more by this so called “program” (as the Indians there called it) was that, the authorities organizing this “program” was the government. There were the soldiers parading, strutting, and kicking into the air while the head or coordinator (whatever) of the whole thing who looked very much like a well educated, civilized man was encouraging and driving the already wild and angry mocking crowd to fever pitch agitation by gesticulating and shouting for more noise, roars and claps. Sick.

I could not really see how the Pakistanis were acting in the situation but it seems even they were holding a similar “program” of their own in an open show of ill-disguised ire.

After all the diplomacy and sweet dialogue of friendship shared by the two countries and advertised so aptly by the media you would expect them to show the same tact in reality which sadly was missing undoubtedly in this shameful scene.

If the authorities who can turn the flow of public opinion and thus change the tide of events themselves resort to such cheap gimmicks, I really can’t imagine to what extent the future generations especially the easily influenced sections of the society like the illiterate people and youth would go to.

I could not help wondering if the authorities brainwashing these people were at fault, whether the people themselves were completely free of blame because they had managed to fan and keep alive the fires of communal discord even after so many years, so many lost lives, lost homes and after so much blood-shed and tears.

And I ask myself whether we in Bhutan will also come to face such a situation one day- the signs are already there- we derogatorily call each other “Bhoteys” and “Bjaghas." If a Lhotshampha or Drukpa causes us some inconvenience, we promptly swear and take sides depending on which ethnicity we belong to. It is as if just because we have different ethnic or racial origins, we are superior or inferior to each other when first and fore most-we are just human beings. Simple human -beings. Vulnerable human beings. Mortal human beings. And above all human beings who need each other to survive happily.

And at the end it is only that which really matters.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF INTELLECTUAL SNOBS

I will be candid: There exist few intellectuals but more than a few intellectual snobs.

Who are they? Books, you name it and they have read it (As for me, I did not even have the patience to go through Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children.” I thought it was a “heavy book”, most of my high school days being spent reading Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel and Barbara Cartland).

Those who throw you a pitying glance as they ask “You haven’t read THAT book?” Makes you wither with shame and question yourself“ Am I still living in the Ice- Ages?” as the other supposed intellectuals in the group cluck sympathetically whilst rapidly enumerating various other titles or authors you haven’t had the fortune or misfortune to hear of. Sounds like the names of extra-terrestrials to me.

In fact this has become a fashion statement for those who want to flaunt their brains (and a serious lack of humility). That does not mean there aren’t a few who read for the pure pleasure of it or to add to their storehouse of knowledge or to put it simply “for the joy of learning” but to boast that you have actually completed reading the whole set of classics including the modern ones before you passed 8th grade or the ones touted as best-sellers just “hot off the shelf”….there you go…intellectual snobbery at its best.

And you know what the scary part of this world is? The fact that in due time you get influenced…influenced by all this….parading your qualifications, the countless number of books you claim to have read, hungering for approval as you give your rehearsed comments, trying to gain a foothold in the coveted “class” of “extraordinary” brains, seeking to impress people especially the less educated and being condescending towards them……the ride of the ego can turn dangerous if unchecked by the desire to be an authentic individual, more so an authentic intellectual.

Round table discussions may sound impressive, so do facts and figures, so does rattling off the names of exotic literary works but our motives come into question. A very thin line separates intellectual fulfillment from intellectual snobbery.

THE LOVE SONG

Hunger for love and acceptance is a primeval craving in human beings, an inborn instinct, a powerful driving force.

How else do you explain the tears of a growing child who has been snubbed by his play-mates? Or the depressive withdrawals of a teenager who is taunted by her peers as being “weird” or different from them? Or the broken heartedness of a budding Romeo when his muse fails to respond to his declarations of everlasting love?

Or who can fathom the pain and self-questioning despair of a married woman jilted by her husband? Or the grief and silent suffering of an old couple whose children have abandoned them in pursuit of their own overwhelming interests?

Isn’t it because every person wants to love and be loved? Every person needs a kind word, a gesture of sympathy or some kind of solidarity once in a while, if not every time.

A little bit of love and approval shown by something as mundane as a simple compliment or a smile can do wonders.

Take a good look around you. Do you see that scowling stranger whom you meet every day at the park? Well, he may have that look on his face because his wife nags him at home and his boss gives him hell at work. Why don’t you go and make small talk? After all you see each other everyday, right? You falter? Okay, just go hang around him a bit, and when he gives you that grim look of his, flash him a smile…Chances are he may ignore you but the better and most probable thing he may do is smile back at you. There! He will feel better and you even better for making someone else’s mood better! Worth it, right?

Okay, let us go to work ourselves. The alarm did not ring, you are late for work and the boss is not exactly smiling at you as you enter through the office door. Worse, he grills you on work (not) done. You fume, you fret. You badly wanted to impress him since you joined the company. Since you can’t stick out your tongue at your boss and ask him to go to hell (not to his face, at least I would not do that) you explode at your colleague whom you had always found mildly irritating but used to humor anyway.

See the point? People are always hungering for approval, acceptance and love either in family, at work, in schools, anywhere and when they don’t get it, they react in different ways.

Some withdraw into their shells, some turn into raging bulls ready to gore down anyone in their way, some become show-offs because they feel inadequate, some go into manic depression, and some may resort to self-destructive habits or even go to the extent of manhandling others.

All these are varied reactions. But why? Most of the time it is because THEY ARE HURTING. And hurting bad. When you find yourself unaccepted by your own and especially by someone you love, whose affection or opinion you value, it hurts. Bad.

So what do we do, you ask? We can’t become saints and love and compliment every Tom, Dick and Harry we meet, right? No, of course not!! That is impossible, impractical. But we can start in small ways, right? At least within our sphere, our circle? That is not too much to ask for especially when we and the people we care for will be the greatest beneficiaries.

First thing, love God. I am not an atheist neither am I an agnostic. I am a Christian and I think that is the greatest blessing in my life. Love God, yes. And those of you who are either rolling your eyes or yawning, hold on.

I will not tell you to believe what I am saying…you can give me the benefit of doubt, I don’t mind. Not at all. But let me at least tell you that I love God because God loved me first and the fact that He is always there for me, not as some kind of unfeeling energy unleashed from somewhere in space, not some autocratic power ready to swallow me up, BUT a feeling, a loving, a compassionate yet a holy and intelligent supreme being, some one whom I can talk to, confide in, pray to….and BEST who is always there for me…well, that is one wonder I can never get used to, fellas.

Anyways, to get back to the point, when you are hurting, you question yourself, you question others, you question the whole world…..but loving God helps you love yourself and others.

Strange? Not at all.

When I love God, I know God loves me too. So being accepted by SOMEONE as perfect as God makes me love myself. I feel cherished, cared for, protected.

Now, the other part.

When you are not accepted, you lose self –respect, confidence, self-esteem. You may start indulging in self-pity (which is a costly indulgence if I may say, speaking from experience). Then when you don’t love yourself (not to the point of narcissism or egoism, there is a difference), you find it very tough to love others.

You may develop an aversion for company or you will go to any lengths to win approval or attention.

“I don’t think he loves me for what I am, it is better to avoid him”
Or
“I don’t think he loves me for what I am. Maybe I should act like this, do this, be this….”

Got my point? Ultimately you turn reclusive or you go to the other extreme and become clingy and desperate, which is not love, it is DEPENDENCE. Or you try to act different, try to be someone you are not or you just try to stand out in a crowd.

Then hurting others and yourself stems from the same malaise-you are in pain.

“They don’t care for me so why should I?”
OR
“I am a hateful person. Nobody cares for me.”

What is the best way to deal with such pain? Raw wounds, a dull ache or fading scars which are still sensitive to the touch?

I think the prescription is simple. LOVE.

You love others when you love yourself first. And to do both you have to love GOD. Simple.

So the next time you feel like pouncing on someone or launching a tirade, stop. Is he doing this to me intentionally? Or is it because he does not understand my point of view? Is it because I have done something wrong which I am unable to accept? Or is it because he is hurting?

And the next time you hate yourself, think. I have done something very wrong but I am human, fallible and when God has assured me of forgiveness, I think I should forgive myself too. I will try not to repeat this mistake. Or I will try to make amends.

Even as I write this, my friends, I tell you I myself can’t practice everything I have written all the time. When I don’t get approval or love from those I expect, I fall into various pitfalls myself but then I do think and TRY.

And trying always leads to growth. Learning. It is dynamism.

It doesn’t hurt to try.

Millions around the world are starving for physical nourishment similarly a lot of us are starving for love, a little bit of love and acceptance.

Are you one of them? Or is someone near you? Reach out. You can make a difference.

P.S. While hungering for love and approval is natural as I said earlier, it is good to learn some discretion. We can’t please every body. That is a well known fact. And while not being approved by some one not very dear to us may not cause much pain, there will be situations where how much ever we may try to be loved by a loved one he/she may not respond or understand. In such a case, you just have to move on….Human beings are just that- human beings…they are not the easiest creatures to deal with. But look UP- find comfort in God’s perfect unchanging love. (Because ultimately only HE is the greatest Lover).

KEEP THE FAITH :)

SOMETIMES...

Sometimes it hurts more to be loved than to love
Sometimes a loved one can be your greatest foe
Sometimes you just can’t be black or white,
Sometimes life can offer you two options- both of which you may not like but must choose from
Sometimes you have to cry not for the good things missing in your life but the life missing in good things you have
Sometimes you want to die because you hate life but there are those who are willing to live so that others can love life
Sometimes reality can be harsh but illusion much harsher
Sometimes it is good to help others grow but it is better if you let them grow
Sometimes sympathy can be good but empathy better
Sometimes tears and smiles are more eloquent than words
Sometimes glamour is beautiful but simplicity lovely
Sometimes beauty can win, charm always does
Sometimes fighting back is good but forbearance deadlier
Sometimes love means release
Sometimes happiness is just one step away
Sometimes in a moment you learn what in a lifetime you don’t
Sometimes no matter what the world says it is good to listen to yourself
Sometimes stripping away your masks can be a good way to get healed
Sometimes crying means you are strong
Sometimes saying “no” doesn’t mean that you don’t care
Sometimes excessive concern kills
Sometimes letting go of someone means growth
Sometimes being an intellectual doesn’t make you wise
Sometimes being emotional doesn’t mean you are a fool
Sometimes being sad makes you human
Sometimes happiness is not the end, it’s the process
Sometimes a pricking conscience can be your wisest critic
Sometimes anger is required
Sometimes it is better to have an ice-cream than an apple!

SAY IT OUT LOUD!

Bitching is an art.

An art which comes most naturally to the fairer and notably louder sex, an art which can be perfected and which is most easily perfected because it is inborn and can be cultivated with utmost, in fact excessive pleasure bordering on addictive indulgence.

There are several kinds of bitching. One is the in-your-face rudeness, impudence if you may call it, or even audacity. A crude catty form of criticism. Scathing outpourings. “Did you hear the latest? I heard that she was two-timing two boyfriends with a third one!! How cheap can she get?” “I heard she sleeps with her boss and his wife is her best friend!”

And especially when there is a group of females, expect a volcanic eruption of sizzling tid-bits. Often the same females comprising a group and bitching with so much ado about others will be bitching against each other in different company.

Then there is another sort of bitching- bitching to extract information to bitch more about. “Did you know she is contemplating divorce with her second husband also? Poor thing!! I wonder how much alimony she is going to get, she deserves it and her husband is so sinfully rich!”

Then yet another sort- the honey coated words with the wasp’s sting. She pretends to sympathize or condole or express her unsolicited solidarity when she means just the opposite. “I heard she was a very studious girl in school. Poor thing! Imagine, she failed thrice in her 1st year of college! How could she? I have not failed even once but of course, I am not diligent like her!!” Ouch!!!


Bitching is an integral, indispensable part of the female psyche unless she is truly altruistic. God!! The games females play and the gift (curse?) of the gab they possess!! Bitching is an institution in itself and deserves an annual function with different-category awards. I really won’t be surprised if this wonderfully versatile art evolves into other potentially distinguished forms in the near future.

(And I also won’t be surprised if males in female company start stacking up on cotton wads to plug into their ears though I sure am not being fair on men if I say male bitching does not exist).

JOURNEYING INTO THE HEART OF THE MATTER

There are journeys and there are more journeys but this time I was gearing up for a memorable trip which I had not really foreseen as one that would bring a wry smile to my face and produce moments of amused introspection.
Called to the headquarters for the media awards and the office anniversary picnic, I was at the capital for a fortnight, dividing time between work and fun. I filed in some stories for our weekly, shared jokes with friends while biting into pizza at The Seasons, went on shopping sprees spending a bomb on girly stuff, wept copious tears alone at the clock tower due to reasons best left unsaid…two weeks passed.
Finally, came the day of return- two days’ travel from Thimphu to Trashigang. I knew what they say of ordinary buses….they are famous for causing discomfiture and muscle cramps. Coaster-buses are heaven compared to the afore-mentioned big, menacing monsters. But I really didn’t care. I just wanted to get back home in time.
So I boarded the ominous structure on wheels and waved a last goodbye to my uncle who dropped me till the bus stand. As the bus roared to a start, I looked around at the other passengers. This was difficult because the space was so cramped I could hardly breathe.
The seat next to me was occupied by a man who looked friendly enough but the jacket he wore was so big it seemed to be smothering him at the neck. Luckily or unluckily, he decided to shift to an empty space next to two other men and I was left alone…at least for sometime.
As the bus heaved to a halt at the first stop, I was accosted by a woman who decided to sit beside me. She was a simple villager judging by her unkempt appearance, faded shoes and the small dirty ruck-sack she was carrying.
I have nothing against villagers but my senses cried out to be rescued at the foul stench emanating from the woman. And she decided to give me company. She kept throwing me irrelevant questions which I tried to answer in Sharchopkha as best as possible.
To get some respite and a breath of fresh air, I opened the window but the next moment the guy behind me pulled it close. “It’s raining. Close the window,” he uttered, no, in fact, ordered. Wanting to avoid unnecessary trouble, I did just that and the woman did not exactly smell of roses.
Some chemistry was brewing between the two young pretty girls in front of me and two young lads at the back. I noticed it every time the bus halted. The guys seemed to be seriously smitten by the girls going by the amount of ogling they did. I chuckled to myself inwardly… “Kids!” I thought.
The journey ended after twelve excruciating hours, at Bumthang.
The next morning I boarded the bus at six exactly. The same people, the same faces…and my companion- the friendly village woman was also present, flashing me a toothy smile.
As the journey progressed, a soldier to my right who was sitting with two other passengers started a monologue. I guess he had encountered endless adventures because he just could not stop talking about his travels, experiences and blah..blah…
Many times I dozed off; lulled to sleep by the heat and exhaustion and when awake I kept myself occupied by newspapers and a book I had newly bought.
As we neared our destination, my companion started thanking me profusely for the few eatables I had given her. She seemed to be genuinely grateful. All of a sudden, she glanced at my hands and showing hers- rough and worn out, said, “Your hands are so smooth unlike mine but can’t help it, I have to work!”
I just kept quiet because I didn’t know what to say. In fact, at that moment, I was feeling ashamed for treating her in a condescending manner. Yes, though she was poor, illiterate and far from tidy, she was also a human-being with needs, desires and wants similar to mine. How could I have thought myself superior to her?
The last journey of my two days’ travel ended at 7:30 in the evening when we reached Trashigang. It had been a tiresome journey but I now knew what it meant to travel, not in an air-conditioned Prado or even a Maruti car, but in a bus- the people’s bus to be more precise. And I had learnt something.
To really understand life, sometimes it just is not enough to sympathize intellectually. Every privileged person can do that from his ivory tower. You have to come out of your comfort zone and learn from people whom however ordinary or inferior they seem can teach you what no posh school or college can. This was a lesson of a life-time.
P.S. Of course, you must have a sense of humor.

BEAUTIFUL HANDS AND BEAUTIFUL HEARTS

Last year on a bus journey I met a woman- an unkempt, illiterate villager. And I remember her for what she told me as we neared our destination: “Your hands are so beautiful. As for mine, I have to work at home.”
Those wistful words lingered in my mind. Maybe what she will never understand is that her hands-rough, callused and dirty as they were are in fact the MOST beautiful. I can’t compare my own pair to hers neither can I draw a parallel to it in the softest, fairest, most expensively manicured hands.
I look at my hands- they are diminutive, fair and smooth enough, no done up nails but clipped and clean. Occasionally, I slather on moisturizer just to maintain their decent appearance.
I have seen other girls’ hands far better looking than mine- perfect nails, perfect skin….but somehow the village woman’s hands keep flashing before my eyes.
Why do they seem to surpass the insurmountable beauty of lovely, well kept hands?
I see a connection- my bus companion’s hands were connected to her heart, in more ways than one.
And her heart was as beautiful as her hands. The combination was lethal.
I never asked her but I know what she does back at home.
Work- House chores. Farm work.
From the crack of dawn till night falls, she is engaged not in frivolous pursuits but in back-breaking labour.
The water, the wind, the earth, the rocks, the wood, the tools- everything she handles tear at the skin of her hands, dehydrates them, roughens them. Her nails fill with dirt; they chip, wear out or simply thicken with age….but her heart can’t protest against the abuse her hands undergo.
She has to survive. Her family, kith and kin have to survive.
She has to slog. She has no choice. But I daresay she never complains.
She has accepted her obscure fate, her life as it is. She knows she has to work and she does. Willingly, if not cheerfully.
She does not complain about bad hair-dos, pimples and pigmentation.
Her life is too important for such petty matters.
I look at my own hands again- are they really as beautiful as she said?
Have I ever done a good deed with my hands?
A comforting squeeze on the shoulder of a despairing friend?
A gentle, loving caress on a dear one’s face?
A light touch accompanying a wink to convey a funny message?
A slight brush on the face of a weeping child to wipe away her tears?
A gift handed without hope of returns or without a feeling of condescension?
I think.
I do remember a few such moments.
When I have dared to stretch out my hands and enhance their beauty.
But I also remember all those lost opportunities and moments when I could have listened to my heart and made my hands follow their commands.
The village woman paid me a wonderful compliment without realizing how much weight her simple but wise words carried.
Her compliment was one of the most genuine and precious compliments any one has ever given me.
I smile and tell myself I will try to make my hands live up to her words.

JUST IN PASSING

I once sat on the top of the world. I watched what was going on below me. I could see and hear everything but I was deaf to the little voice inside me that was whispering, trying to gain my attention. It spoke softly but its very gentleness struck me with force.
I don’t know if this is wrong, or the situation is wrong. All I know is there is a rising surge of joy in me. A tenderness fills my heart, I have grown mellower. My words are calm yet firm. My steps are slow but steady. I walk the path everyone has to one day, but I can grasp the wonder of what is happening.
I am seeing beauty with new eyes, my heart sings like a lark yet tears of joy and wistfulness drop from my eyes. I hear a symphony…it is neither Bach nor Beethoven…it is a melody more lucid and yet the more touching for its simplicity.
I observe the hustle and bustle, people coming and going. I hear the words they speak as if I were a separate entity. I float above the world yet I am so much a part of it. The skies, the oceans, the vast meadows and the great mountains along with all the wonderful living creatures awaken in me feelings I had grown to suppress.
My soul feels like crystal-purified of all stains…clear, sparkling and I face the world with a new vision. I fear this phase is transitory but I also know that if you fear, you won’t know and if you don’t know you will never learn.
Learned I have, yes…Once I was alone, isolated…I feigned everything was alright, I pretended I was happy…but then I was deceiving not only others but myself. I questioned God. I questioned myself but little did I know the answer was in me…so simple I had failed to see it. Now, I know. And my heart is hopeful, freed of the tediousness and tenacity daily living brings.
The growth of a human soul is beautiful…pain is a part of it but even pain imparts a maturity, a wisdom that is timeless. A fire suffuses through my being- new courage, new zest, renewed hopes…spreads its hold over my being.
I learn to take one day at a time, live at the moment. I feel in tune with the cosmic universe, connected with the web which links everything and everyone….yet I am detached and can observe the workings of my heart, my soul’s pursuits.
I find my place in the Master-Plan.