Bubble of one.

They said you can travel within the UK. I did. Took a few days off and invited myself to a friend’s place in Aberarth, Wales. Excitedly booked a ticket from London Euston to Aberystwyth via Birmingham and back.

I’ve never had so much space travelling from anywhere to anywhere, ever. It was like moving from one fake film set to another. A story where nothing happens. No one meets anyone. Nothing is exchanged. No conversations are overheard. Even my tickets were not checked. I was truly in a bubble of one. The announcements were made by invisible human voices. Welcome to … but there was no one there. No shoulders brushed. No smiles. No queues at the solitary coffee shop at Euston.

Finding a window seat was no problem as there were at least 30 to pick from. As my train sped out of London, land and sky were revealed. Every now and then I got a glimpse of little streams of water holding a string of multi-coloured narrow boats along their edges. The sun glistened the patchwork of fields. The horizon was a long horizontal line interrupted only by thickets and vertical carpets of green.

Townships appeared with colourful children’s play-areas crying out for children. Don’t know why I tried to log on to the Train Wi-Fi but they wanted me to agree to a multitude of things which was the perfect excuse to put the laptop away and simply enjoy the ride. Branches burgeoning with white, pink and yellowish-green life, embellished the pliable black skeletons of trees, dancing to the tune of spring. Spring, the upward thrust of sap through roots and trunks to the fulsome tips of cold branches.

Nowhere to buy a bottle of water at the normally chaotic Birmingham International Airport Station. No noise other than the oh-too-loud announcements. Toilets, the cleanest they’ve ever been, on and off the train. From one desolate platform to another, I changed to a country train with 2 carriages meandering through gentle hills and fields towards the sea, stopping at places I’d never heard of before – Y Trallwng, Drenewydd and so on. I felt my fists loosen to receive this new freshness.

The next 3 hours were a dream. Ewes tailed by their cute little lambs scattered on both sides of the rail track. Lamb ears sticking out of their heads at a jaunty angle and their tails wiggling with joy! Clear waters mirrored the dance of life all around. Green slopes rose and fell in a soft rhythm. And I was here. My eyes were dry and my heart open. I clearly witnessed the fresh air and bright sun work their magic.

A few years back I had believed the season would never change. It would forever be autumn. But it has changed. It really has.

Things people say.

Dr Indu was broken inside out. She felt like a big black boulder and could barely hold her weight. After all these years of marching on alone and doing the ‘right’ things, this was her reward. Most of her friends had no clue what to say or do. After a few days it was clear that many of them could only stand by her for a week or 10 days max. This is when Indu remembered a passing acquaintance, Ruhi, a girl who wore long flouncy colourful skirts and big dangling ear-rings made of feathers and other dreamy things. She thought of her as a girl even though Ruhi had silvery grey hair and was seven years older than her.

Indu wanted to see Ruhi again. She didn’t know why but it had to be done. Indu posted her an invitation and as back-up, sent her a text with details.

The clear bright day was trying to cover-up the immensity of this death. Ruhi came in a flowing black dress with multiple strings of black wooden beads in various lengths cascading down, from her slender neck to her shapely waist. The ends of her long black sleeves opening-up like flowers to reveal her delicate hands. Not only did she have a pink lip-gloss on but also a serene smile. On this tearful day, she smiled on as if that was the most natural thing to do. No defiance or disrespect. A subtle involuntary smile, puzzling and misplaced.

She walked up to Indu and held both her hands in hers for a few frozen moments. She went on to open her arms and enclose Indu in them like a baby. “One day you’ll be grateful for this”, she whispered in her ear. By now Indu was used to hearing non-sense like “be brave”, “you’re so strong”, “such is life” and so on. She had learnt to ignore a lot. It took too much out of her to do anything more than that. “You have no idea what this is like” she thought to herself, feeling like a duplicate of herself amongst all these people. She drew back from Ruhi and looked into her dark brown eyes through her tearful ones. “Believe me. You will” Ruhi said softly.

Seven years have passed. Now Indu is as old as Ruhi was then.

And she remembers her horror at what Ruhi had whispered in her ear that day. The chains are falling off. Her vision is clearing. She notices more, within and without. She wants to live the truth. Be it. She knows it now. It’s all a ‘seeming’. All of this. It’s so clever. It fools us into believing it’s real. She has felt the presence of the divine in her broken heart. The blessings of a few fleeting golden moments of absolute grace have left her charmed with life and thirsty for more.

Indu and Ruhi meet up at the café that plays Bossa Nova jazz all day. They catch-up over large mugs of cappucino, sing and dance and take long walks together. They laugh and cry with abandon. Both wear pink lip-gloss and without knowing, they smile. Light as dust.

A missed opportunity.

Never have I had so much time and predictability. Days have been rolling at a soft rhythm. This whole drama started nearly a year ago. What have I done with the advantages I’ve had? What do I have to show for it?

Nothing.

People have started new businesses, done a whole lot of voluntary work, written books, got fit, learnt to knit and sew and cook and all that jazz. I am just the same as I was at the start. Still subconsciously judging me based on my productivity. Old habits, like patterns that repeat themselves on an unending roll of synthetic fabric in a psychedelic print. I must admit there is a strange kind of gratification in that. Self-flagellation is a modern virtue.

One lesson we can learn from a dog – it never tries to be a better dog. It is fully accepting of itself. It has no concept of ‘self-improvement’ or ‘achievement’. It’s free of the notions of ‘self’. You might want it to be a better dog but as far as that sweet creature is concerned, it is purely its unadulterated self.

The world was given an opportunity to unite and it managed to cut itself up into even smaller bits – the ones who wear masks everywhere and the ones who don’t, the ones who think that vaccine is God and the others who don’t, the ones who drive beyond 5 kilo-meters and the ones who won’t, the ones who use public transport and the ones who don’t, the ones that can’t wait for the lock-down to end and others who can’t bear the thought of it ending. One side trying desperately to convert the other. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. People went as far as snitching on their neighbours – all in the name of a greater good. Not really for themselves but for other people.

The list of criminal offences has more than doubled in this time while basic human rights have been trampled upon or willingly surrendered. Who would’ve thought that leaving one’s house more than once a day could be classed as a ‘criminal act’?

I suppose I can congratulate myself for staying out of prison for one whole year.

Felicitations dear World. You have just given birth to a baby religion.

Being a Rose

Scent as soft as

feathers touching

the skin on the tip

of my nose.

Subtle. Almost invisible.

Gentle. Like a fine drizzle.

Smell? No.

Fragrance. The colour of orangey-peach petals.

A rose is nothing but non-rose.

It is the cloud that sent rain.

The sun. The soil. The seed.

The gardener’s sweat.

A conspiracy of the cosmos.

The rose

Cannot be herself alone.

It must inter-be.

With molecules of minerals and

Little particles of me.

All this, I touch

when my fingers hold

the tender stem.

I touch reality.

The non-self-ness of the rose.

Seeing real close-

A rose no longer rose.

A river no longer river.

A mountain no longer mountain.

The Season of Giving

In July, looking for inspiration to think and write beautifully, I spent an hour on 3 consecutive Sundays listening to David Whyte, a wise and warm poet of English/ Irish origin who speaks and writes, seemingly from his spirit. I thought he was some kind of a magician as I felt mesmerized, awakened and soothed by his presence and his words.

He described the simple involuntary act of breathing as a life-sustaining exchange for the planet – inhaling is receiving and exhaling is giving. Generosity and gratitude – reciprocity in every moment. Last Sunday he spoke on the seasonal subject of ‘giving’ and I can’t help but share the synopsis of his talk in his own words here.

  1. The foundational understanding that giving is not just a logistical act of transferring something from one person to another, but an art form to be practiced. Like all art forms, practicing it takes time and spaciousness and the ability to create a relationship with the unknown, the invisible and the unspoken.
  1. To learn to give is often the simple, heart-breaking act of giving again.
  1. Giving is an essence of relationship. To stop giving is often to call an end to relationship.
  2. Giving asks us to have a close relationship with both time and timelessness. All gifts change with the maturation of both the giver and the receiver.
  1. Giving is an imaginative journey into another’s life with all the implications accompanying that journey.
  1. Giving can be a form of blessing, a way of empowering another life. The blessing is made through giving what a person does not even know they need themselves.
  1. Giving, in the words of Shakespeare, is ‘Twice Blessed’. Through exploring the edges of our own generosity, we come to understand where we have trouble receiving ourselves; and this teaches us to ask for what we ourselves might not feel we deserve. In the enriched relationship, giving becomes a reciprocal harvest where giver and receiver are not so easily distinguished.

(PS: On 3 Sundays in January 2021, he speaks about resolutions for new beginnings. Recordings and written resources available if you are able/unable to attend the live event)

Isness of Is. Clayness of clay.

T: It came to a point when she couldn’t bear to celebrate Christmas with her family. Her brother and sister and their respective spouses could roll out one child per year effortlessly while she had been through all kinds of tests and procedures, and nothing. Absolutely nothing but heartache and multitudes of unbelievably negative pregnancy tests to show for it. Six years of nothing.

S: Yes. I suppose nobody’s got it all. Some of the missing stuff is obvious and some not. Surely, even those who appear to have it all have their painful stuff hidden away. Who said everyone has to have everything?

T: It’s hard for her to watch other people with their babies. Intolerable. I can understand.

S: Isn’t that like saying no one should walk in front of a man in a wheel-chair? They might be offended. Let’s all pretend we can’t walk. Poor man! It might be intolerable for him.

T: That’s harsh. That’s a completely different situation.

S: It is an extreme example. Yes. It’s all about comparisons though. Isn’t it? You have something that I don’t. By right I should have what you have. Everyone should have it. But everyone is different. Their life path is different. The lessons coming their way are different. Her unhappiness comes from ‘yours’ and ‘mine’, ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’. Kids come with their own brand of drool, cackles, dirty nappies and tantrums. Those things are there for everyone.

T: But her sister’s kid is not hers. That is fact.

S: Indeed. However, the kidness of the kid belongs to the whole world. It’s okay to be jealous – nothing wrong with it. It’s also okay to know there are other possible routes to take, other possible responses to make. She could choose to recognise jealousy as the most conditioned and expected response and embrace it. She could also be present to the pastness of the past, the kidness of the kid, the sisterness of the sister, the aliveness of her life, the heartfulness of her heart and work with that. See what happens. She might be surprised. There might be a beautiful garden behind that wall.

T: It’s hard though.

S: It’s worth a try. There are more Christmases on the way and they want to be happy.

Denials.

Amongst the heap of books with colourful book-marks popping out at jaunty angles, amidst the papers printed and plain lounging about, inside a laptop open but its screen black, behind a glass of orange juice half-full, inside a bunch of blue and purple pens and underneath a lime-green I-pad. I looked everywhere. Could I find it? Nope.

After 2 years of carrying it with me all over the world at the bottom of my handbag, hidden inside a red polka-dotted Cath Kidston case. Never letting it out for fresh air. Squinting my eyes to the point of distortion. Cocking my neck to extremes. Adjusting the length of my arms till they wail. I pushed it as far into the future as possible. Avoiding reading as much as I could, especially the list of ingredients on a packet of food or drink in the supermarket. Enlarging the text-font on my phone so much that people whose eyes might fall on the screen would spontaneously burst into a loud laugh.

It had been long overdue. This change. It’s here now.

No glasses, no reading. No glasses, no writing. The pair had to be found.

Went upstairs to peer under my pillow, just in case … not there. Popped over to the dressing table and caught a flying glimpse of it … in the mirror … perched on top of my more-salt-less-pepper head of hair.

Now it was my turn to laugh out loud. I used to make fun of my dad when he went up and down demanding his glasses to appear – if it wasn’t this pair, it was that. And now it’s me. Si threatens to buy me a string of loosely put together baroque pearls to hold my reading glasses firmly around my neck. That would be too much of a declaration. It’s too early yet. I believe that was a one-off. Yes, what has happened cannot be undone but its highly unlikely to happen again. Isn’t it?

Blue Rose

She was the colour of almonds. Her smile so bright, it made the sun shine. Her hair waist-length, wavy and a very dark brown, like a heavy veil down her back. Her petite frame, shy, smelt of sandalwood. She was only 19.

Her friends had rebellious red, pink and green highlights in their hair. Some had happy multi-coloured beads and braids woven in. Others had playful ribbons platted in, like flower-girls at hippie weddings. She sat on her aquamarine blue sofa with her laptop, peering through colour-charts. She wanted her hair dip-dyed. She hadn’t picked a colour yet.

It was going to cost a bit but her mum had agreed to pay for it. She often did.

When alone in her room, unable to sleep at 2 am, Rose had looked up Helium and what it does. She didn’t know why. It was an involuntary act. It was nonsensical. Her body and mind were no longer of her.

Her hair appointment was in a couple of hours. She had to decide now. It was important she got this right. It was an expensive decision. The staid Royal blue or the scintillating Moroccan Turquoise? Silky peacock blue or the majestic sapphire? She wanted a straight horizontal line to run right across the dark sheet of her hair. The bottom one-third of the length a startling shade of blue, like a designer curtain.

She played classical music on the violin. Her ears didn’t particularly savour the Blues. They jarred her. She didn’t have a taste for blueberries. She preferred the ‘rasp’ variety with big dollops of double cream. Her wardrobe was a smattering of whites, pinks and reds. No blues there either, except the denim jeans and shorts. She was a proper girlie-girl. Blue skies made her spirits soar. But they left blue stains on her heart. She hid them like children hide pretty pebbles in corners of drawers. Her smile kept feeding the sun through the blueness.

She hand-wrote letters to the people she shared the house with, in blue ink. To her mother she said how wonderful a mum she was and she should take better care of herself. To her sister she expressed her appreciation for her companionship, friendship and laughter. Her little brother never left her side. She never turned down his invitation to play any kind of silly game with him. The dogs were all hers. They didn’t know they weighed as much as her. She had to sit down when they clambered all over her saying ‘we love you’.

The blue stains on her heart were expanding like drops of ink drip-dripping on a white blotting paper. She knew it was happening but didn’t know what it was. It’s creepiness had no name. It made her want to escape. It compelled her thoughts to convince her that her deepest desire was to implode. She had no say in the matter. It made her hands look up Helium on the internet. It kept her eyes wide open at night. It made her tummy churn, her legs restless and her head hurt. She now had 2 hearts and she moved between them. One blue. The other not. One wanting out. The other wanting blue hair.

“I am finding this difficult Mum.”

‘We need to leave in about 20 minutes for the hair-dressers my darling.’

“Yes. I am thinking about it … looking up the options on the internet.”

‘Good idea. We can take your laptop with us. I am sure the hair-dressers will have some ideas for you. Don’t worry.’

“I have some ideas but haven’t decided yet.”

‘Take your time. No rush.’

Midnight blue was the final choice. She was happy.

Over the next year that wretched blue embedded deeper into her heart and from there, leached into every cell of her body. Then it burst out, released itself and merged back into the midnight, the sky, the ocean.

That was 5 years ago. Till this day, her mother’s mind twists into painful knots when she remembers that day. How could her lovely Rose have wanted to live with blue hair and at the same time, to not live at all? At nineteen! How?

No one knows. Sometimes it’s like that.

———————————–

A video for every parent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BByqa7bhto

Logotherapy

It was late 1930s. He was a young man in love. She was a young woman who was delighted to be asked by him. They were married. Soon she was to be a mother. But the clan they belonged to were not allowed to procreate. She was made to abandon the baby even before it was born. They both were sent to different concentration/death camps. But their love story did not end there.

Despite shoveling snow with no shoes on, going for months without proper food, constant beatings and humiliation, not knowing which instant he would be walked to his death, he carried on loving her. He did not know if she was dead or alive but he loved her every second. He hoped to see her again. His longing kept him alive.

Four years later, he was freed and he found out that his sweetheart had passed away soon after their separation, at the age of 24. His father, mother and brother had met the same fate in that ugly assault of humanity on itself. His sister had survived and moved to a faraway land.

Viktor E. Frankl was a Psychiatrist. He took 9 days to pen down his learning and thoughts which became a book – ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ that sold millions of copies all over the world as it helped them transform their suffering .

He pioneered a new way of counselling patients called Logotherapy or ‘meaning-based-therapy’. When asked of the difference between Psychoanalysis and Logotherapy, he said, “In Psychoanalysis the patient must lie on a couch and tell you things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell. In Logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

It is a future focussed approach through which the patient is reoriented toward his unique and specific attributes aligned to a purpose which can be fulfilled by him/her alone. It is based on the premise of freedom – the freedom to choose our response to our experiences, the freedom to choose the stance we take when faced with a difficult and unchangeable situation.

Over the last 5 years I have read Frankl’s book at least 5 times, each time deriving new inspiration. Last week I had the good fortune of being able to share some of those insights on-line with a community close to my heart. The Compassionate Friends helped me discover that Frankl’s love story will never end. It is interwoven into yours and mine and with the love-stories of those yet to come across it.

Herbal life

Whenever he picks mint or basil or bay leaves, he says a polite ‘thank you’ to the plants with a subtle bending of his head and all. I watch him and smile. How pointless, I think. If that’s his way, fine by me. Happy to be entertained for free by Si, the country-boy.

All the extra time at home over the last few months has meant lots of herb-pots overflowing in the garden. The relative dryness has meant lots of watering of the plants. An urbanite at heart, every two days I go around with a watering-can and make a leisure activity out of it. Slowly, select the order in which I go, pick the spots where the water drops in and carefully consider, how much.  As I tilt the can into the basil, a waft of basil-fragrance envelops me. Am I imagining this? On to the thyme, a cupful of water and the air suffused with thyme-odour. I had never noticed this before. I wasn’t convinced. I move to the lavender and pour more generously, and there it is again, filling the air. The same unmistakable gesture comes from the profuse apple-mint.

I am not imagining this. They are all saying ‘thank you’.

For the first time, I am paying attention.