To up and move the household every couple of years.
To tear away from the warmth of neighbours and friends.
To bleed quietly inside.
To have no say in matters within and without.
It was normal.
To have a new set of chairs, beds, books and windows.
To be the ‘new girl’ in the new uniform in the new school, again.
To prove oneself again.
To pick up ‘the way we do things here’ again.
To keep on keeping the balance despite shearing winds.
It was normal.
To make a home out of any old house.
To know there was only that much money.
To have aromatic homemade meals and smart hand-stitched clothes.
To extract as much joy and laughter as life allowed.
To create some more out of nothing.
To sometimes see grown-ups stressed.
To find blame and shame scattered around like unclaimed marbles.
To be expected to shine at all times.
It was normal.
To not know names of feelings.
To muddle along with them.
Mostly hide them in cotton balls of confusion.
To have no voice except silence.
To shed tears in dark corners.
To feel like a lone tree in a desert.
It was normal.
“… if bread is to be a life companion, then we had better be choosy about it…”
– Elizabeth David
I remember the weeks and months of ‘tea and toast’.
Food that whispered to my heart,
“Every little thing’s gonna be alright”. And still does.
Food that nourishes the soul and sustains the spirit.
If breaking bread together is gold-like comfort and trust,
making bread together is nothing less than alchemy.
Under the wise and precise tutelage of Hilary Cacchio
Si and I spent some time this weekend feeling kneady.
We got our fingers dirty making sourdough starters.
We got introduced to ‘Bruce’, a four year old culture.
He was named after the priest who blessed him when he was little.
He smelt sickly-sweet, more like beer than champagne.
His texture was spongy, like honeycomb and
he was the perfect balance of yeast and bacteria.
The stringent accuracy of weighing ingredients was scary.
Rye, spelt, white, brown, caraway, coriander, molasses…
The importance of ‘resting’ was reiterated time and again.
It must be as important for dough as for humans.
The art of stretching organic white flour
into fine glutinous strands felt like a
Dance between one hand flattening the dough
and the other maneuvering a fine pink plastic scraper.
The wooden worktop was like solid silk.
Luckily, after 10 minutes of dancing, and some resting,
our dough passed the ‘stretch test’
(a delicate interplay of fingers)
Got tactfully transferred on to trays and
went into hiding in huge industrial ovens.
What went in – Salt, flour and water.
What came out –
Golden-brown, fragrant, light and airy dollops of heaven.
A touch of butter on fresh warm bread.
Yes. Every little thing’s gonna be alright.
A long time ago, on a Sunday morning at a village fete I saw a beautiful black-clay handmade earthenware pot. I wanted it. He said that we shouldn’t as it might break. We brought it home. A long time ago, it decorated our home for a long time.
He said if something is breakable, there is a real chance it will break, no matter how much we feel it ‘should’ not. Each time we looked at it our hearts warmed like the insides of fur mittens. He said nature had its own laws of demolition. That was a long time ago.
Another day, we brought another sweet fragile thing home. It was delicate as a little bird. It claimed all our love, our time and our sleep. It cooed and cackled and played silly games. It decorated our home for a long time. Each time we looked at it our eyes sparkled like north stars and our hearts overflowed like rivers breaking banks. He said the cement of our love would keep us all intact and together. Forever.
We forgot that this thing was breakable. And we were breakable too. He said even if we moved across continents and oceans everything would be alright. He said even if we had nothing we would be okay. He said nothing would break. That was a long time ago.
Now the black-clay handmade earthenware pot from a long time ago sits in the centre of our living room, on a glass top coffee table, looking pretty. It’s breakable.
A mother of a teenager in Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels got this text message, “Congratulations,” it read. “Be proud of him. He is now a martyr. Be happy he died fighting the unbelievers.” Molenbeek is said to be the jihadist capital of Europe and has lost many of its young to radicalisation.
NATO bombs have been falling on migrant boats, night markets, residential buildings, motels, random vehicles, hospitals, wedding parties filled with innocent people like you and me, in the name of liberty and democracy, killing sons and daughters of many mothers.
Continuous shellings, massacres, occupations and sieges in places like Mosel, Raqqua, Aleppo, Ghouta and Gaza carry on for weeks, months, years and decades, claiming innumerable lives of children of mothers who mourn for the rest of their lives.
Some mothers have everything taken from them. They are unable to provide for the most basic needs of their children due to various reasons, one of them being the blockade to aid, such as the one in Yemen. Some have to exchange sexual favours for minimal aid. Some are forced to watch their kids starve. Some of the realities are unimaginable.
We all are on the same grid of heart-breaking, unconditional love. Today, on Mother’s day, I send my love to mothers all over the world. I salute their tenacity and commitment. I admire their strength. I hope for peace and wisdom for all. I honour their grace and grief. I pray for their healing. I stand with them, their pain and helplessness, their love and longing. Our empathy envelops this burning globe like a silk scarf.
After Saagar’s death, it felt as if a big black boulder had landed in the middle of our living room. There wasn’t much space around it. It occupied the entire room. I had no escape from this uninvited guest. I had to squeeze my way around it to get past. Its roughness abraded my skin. It was stubborn, heavy, ugly, lifeless, crude and unmoving. It had made a home in our house. It was here to stay. I had no choice but to live with it and look at it. It stared right back at me non-stop. Its weight was suffocating. It sat on my chest, jutting its chin out, determined to get me. I pushed with all my might but it didn’t budge an iota.
It’s still there. But I can negotiate my way around it without the jaggedness making me bleed. We can sit and watch each other without wanting to kill each other. It has relaxed and settled into my space and I can breathe. A green shoot has peeped from underneath it. Another slender sapling has appeared out of the crevice near the window. The old sharp corners don’t catch anymore. They have rounded off. Life is happening around it.
If I had remained firmly rooted in the pure physicality of the world, I couldn’t have co-existed with this deeply unpleasant and unwanted occurrence. Spiritual teachings and practices have been a respite from my mind, the generator of pain. I am nowhere near ‘wise’ but I remain open to universal knowledge. I allow it to bring me peace, however momentary.
Amaravati Buddist monestary is one of my refuges. A few months ago I spent 5 days there in Silent retreat. A beautiful plant with asymmetric leaves overflowed from an indoor pot. With permission I brought 3 leaves home, allowed them to root in water and then planted them in soil. They look happy.
In December 2017 we planted an Acer in Saagar’s memory at Amaravati. It’s called ‘Winter flame’ or Acer Palmatum. A friend of a friend is a ceramist. She is making a set of drums and drumming sticks with Saagar’s initials, to be placed at the tree. I have never met her. She has never met me or Saagar. But we are connected. We all are connected.
An excerpt from a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Anando:
“We suffer because we constantly chase pleasure. We run away from pain.
Loose the greed for sensuous things.
See that the letting go of the world is peaceful.
Time is nothing. There is only ‘now’ and ‘change’.
Past and future are ‘thoughts’ in the Now.
Is there any way you can get into the past? Or the future?
Is there any way you can get out of ‘Now’?”
During his holidays, Saagar and his friends would be subjected to Woman’s hour on BBC Radio 4 second hand, as their mothers listened. They would later have amusing/interesting discussions about breast feeding, female education and employment challenges. This station was pre-set on the car-radio and at home. It was designated as the ‘old people’s’ radio-station by him. Invariably, ‘Gardener’s question time’ would come on while we were in the car together, travelling over the weekend. It was quaint by its sheer irrelevance to us as we could barely keep our 4 nameless indoor plants alive. Our urban pre-occupations meant we didn’t have a gardening vocabulary.
‘Just a minute’ was our all-time favourite – a panel of funny people asked to speak for one whole minute on a given topic without repetition, hesitation or deviation. The seemingly innocent topics often held great potential for hilarity, for example, billiards, the best thing about cats, how I spread a little happiness, keeping a straight face, my love of the absurd, garages and such. The correct and incorrect challenges posed by the panellists generated tremendous amount of laughter. Our attempts at giving each other topics resulted in great amusement.
On Thursday evening I was asked if I’d like to be a guest on Woman’s hour to talk about Saagar. It was unbelievable. It made me smile and cry at the same time. What a paradox! Of course I’d love to be on Woman’s hour. Under these circumstances? Meeting Jenni Murray was an honour. She was down to earth and professional, looking just as I imagined, in her trademark glasses sitting just above the tip of her nose.I told her she had my dream job. She said Joan Baez had been in the studio the day before, sitting at the same chair as me. How cool! Oops! Saagar prohibited me from saying ‘cool’ as he thought it sounded all wrong coming from me. I wonder how he would feel about this interview if he knew. Maybe he does.
Despite making notes and preparing as well as I could, I was a bit flummoxed by some of the questions. I didn’t say everything I wanted to. I hope there will be other opportunities. This conversation must grow until everyone is a part of it in a meaningful and constructive way. In a way that saves lives.
A recording of the interview with brilliant and committed Mr Ged Flynn, the CEO of PAPYRUS and I:
All those decades ago when I was at school, bullies were visible. Their names were known. They were often big built and their demeanour, unpleasant. Girls could be bitchy, forming little clubs ousting this one or that one depending on how jealous they were of them. The playground was the scene for most unplayful activities. Lunch time was about much more than just lunch.
The only respite was that I knew when I left school I could leave it all behind and come home feeling safe. I wouldn’t have to deal with all that unpleasantness that went on at school.
Now, bullying happens over the electromagnetic waves all times of day and night, incessantly with no breaks. It can reach toilets and bedrooms. The instigators don’t have to have names or forms. They can be cowardly as hell and yet have the mean pleasure of bullying vulnerable people. The abusive messages are often un-erasable, making it possible for the victim to visit them repeatedly and being humiliated and traumatised over and over again. It is inescapable.
In Arabic, ‘Sarahah’ means ‘honesty’. It is also a highly trending app for anonymous messaging, invented by Mr Towfiq (above) from Egypt. He says it was designed so people could have honest feedback on their strengths and weaknesses from their colleagues at work. But in the west it is the perfect platform for anonymous nastiness.