The experts on the gardening programme on the radio said that repotting is traumatic for plants. I had never thought about that before. Should it be any different for children and families moving house?
By virtue of my dad’s job, we moved more or less every 2 years. Some of the places we lived in are not easy to find on the map of India. I completed 12 years of schooling in 8 different schools in India. It was normal to be the new girl in class. We went to schools that catered to families that moved frequently. So, often there would be other new kids in class too. It was heart-breaking to leave friends just when our friendships were deepening. As time went on, it became a part of life and although it was sad, I could handle it much better. That was partially because I altered the quality of my relationships. I didn’t allow them to get too deep. I protected myself by holding back a bit of me for myself. That bit would always be safe. I didn’t know I was doing it then but I see it now.
The cycle repeated itself with Saagar. The difference was that he travelled outside India to places where he would be the only coloured kid in class, where they spoke a different language in a peculiar accent, where he had no close friends or extended family, where it was normal for people to live all their lives in one place and be buried in the cemetery two streets away from their primary school.
Grief can come in intangible forms – loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of childhood, loss of control and loss of faith. A 2010 study of 7,000 American adults found that the more times a person had moved house in childhood, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and well-being, irrespective of their age, gender and education.
Today my friend and her fiancé tied the knot. 2 individuals and families came together and entwined their love and destinies forever. The sun and the flowers smiled as they poured out blessings. The fragrance of jasmine flooded the air as the pretty little white flowers adorned the hair of most women present. Chanting of Sanskrit verses in a rhythmic baritone meter sanctified the atmosphere. The fire at the centre of the auspicious ceremony bore witness.
The sights, sounds and smells conjured up images from the past. The food and music. The silk and gold. The gifts and festivities. The smiles and promises. The coconuts and beetle-nuts. The salutations and offerings to deities. The hopes and dreams of lifelong friendship, companionship, health, happiness and prosperity. Mischievous traditions of the bride’s friends hiding the bride-groom’s shoes and little competitions between the bride and groom. A reminder of times and people gone by.
In the last 2 years and 9 months I have turned down three wedding invitations. Couldn’t face the thought. Today was the first. It was good.
The last wedding Saagar and I attended was in September 2012. We drove to a small village near Brighton on a very wet day. Our Tom-tom took us to the middle of a field and declared, ‘You have reached your destination’ . We had to laugh. We drove up to the nearest set of houses, knocking on doors of complete strangers to find out more. We finally got there. It was great!
“If you had a carpet bag and an umbrella you could be mistaken for Mary Poppins” one of my colleagues commented as he stopped his car right next to me at a red signal while I waited there on my bike. I often wear a tunic dress with leather shoes to work. I enjoy watching other cyclists in their multi-coloured and multi-logoed breathable jerseys, elasticated and padded cycling shorts, grippy mitts, electric yellow socks, clickity-clop shoes, snazzy sporty eye-wear and fancy headgear. Most of them are very serious.
My cycle belongs to the category of ‘hybrid’. It’s black and silver. It’s heavy compared to some of the feather-weights on the road. The special thing about it is that it is wholly unremarkable. Saagar used to call it ‘old lady bike’. Its first name is Strawberry and second name, Hill.
Space on roads is negotiated between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Cyclists move in packs and sometimes have disagreements amongst themselves. It’s clear from the behaviour of a cyclist if he/she has ever been behind a wheel. Likewise, it is easy to say if a driver is cyclist-aware. Pedestrians are a law unto themselves.
Within 3 turns of my wheels as I start off from a red signal, at least 10 bikes go past me. It’s another matter that a hundred yards hence we find ourselves waiting at the next set of lights. Some attempt to squeeze through the narrowest crevice in the traffic. Being stuck behind a bus is a special treat in terms of the quality of air. Smoking is mandatory.
The morning ride to work is a dream – fresh air, fresh me, very few people out and about, the wind behind me and the way mostly flat or downhill. In the evening – smoky air, tired me, lots and lots of people, riding into the breeze on a steady uphill road. Both, leisure times. Excuses to be a child again. As my quads toil hard to get me home inch by inch, I visualise the tub of Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate ice-cream waiting for me in the freezer. It helps with the speed and puts a song in my heart.
An excerpt from the Eulogy by Saagar’s uncle (my brother), Chetan:
“Two things about him come up over and over again.
The first is how much fun he was to be around. His ability to laugh. To make people laugh. And his astonishing ability to laugh at himself.
The other was how helpful he was. How he would do things he did not have to, to help other people out.
But clearly Saagar was so much more. He was so many things to so many people. And it is very difficult to capture in words the essence of what a person is. In the angst of his loss, his aunt wrote a short poem, which captures him more beautifully than I ever could, so I would like to read out now.
You were more…
More than the dreams you dreamed
More than the laughs you shared
The beats you kept of the music you played
The words you learned of the tongues you spoke
The love you sought and the hearts you won
More than the questions we ask, and the tears we shed
And more, much more than the demons you faced
And the battle you lost.
Hope you found your peace, and some day we find meaning…
When I think of his having moved on, I am in despair. But when I think about Saagar himself, what comes to mind is a series of memories. Knowing Saagar, they are all a lot of fun.
I fIrst met Saagar Naresh on a warm day in the summer of 1994 in Delhi. A baby was brought before me, probably 30 minutes after birth. I had no idea a human could be like that tiny, that fragile. The honour bestowed upon me was to be the very first person on this planet – after his mother, of course – to provide him nourishment. I touched a spoon with honey briefly to his lips. That was my first meeting with Saagar Naresh.
Saagar has been a constant source of joy and pleasure ever since. The odd way in which he slept in bed as an infant. The 2nd birthday where the birthday boy vanished, only to be found in the balcony with the new puppy, sharing a bowl of yoghurt, one spoon at a time.
I remember the 8 year old who never tired of practicing his bowling. The child who found the courage to get into a fixed wing glider for a joyride. He came out badly shaken, but proud that that he had done it.
And the 14 year old who – once when he was visiting us – decided it would be fun to have my pet Doberman, Cleo, lick his head. So he poured coconut oil all over his head. And Cleo was more than happy to oblige by licking it all off.
I remember the naughty 18 year old bodybuilder who put a post on his sister’s facebook page when she wasn’t looking, which said “My brothers triceps could dam a river”. And, of course, Saagar and Hugo’s mimicry of the English spoken by Indian tour guides would always have us in splits.
Saagar was great fun. I can bet that wherever he is right now, those around him are happy that he is there. Just like we have been for the past 20 years. Of course, there is regret that I will not see him soon. But there is gratitude for the time that I did have with him.
Saagar was gifted with a natural skill for languages, and along with that comes the desire to travel, which he did extensively. And because of him being far away and traveling often, there were always extended periods when we would not see each other.
Saagar has set off on another such trip now. And I think it is just a matter of time before we run into each other again. Honestly, I can’t wait for that day.
We miss you Saagar. Have a great trip.”
The custom of placing flowers on an alter is an ancient one. In the sixth century, Ikebana was founded in Kyoto as an offering to the Goddess of Mercy. Flower arranging contests were held at the imperial court where aristocrats and monks competed with each other at festivals.
In the early 16th century people tried to give a deeper meaning to the thoughts accompanying flower arranging. They wished to arrange rather than casually placing them in a vase. An earlier attitude of passive appreciation developed into a more deeply considered approach.
Rikka is the oldest style of Ikebana. Trees symbolise mountains while grasses and flowers suggest water. A natural landscape is expressed in a single vase. Indeed, all things in nature are reflected. In Rikka it is important to know the laws of nature through harmony of trees and plants.
It is my good fortune that I have the opportunity to be very intimate with Mother Nature in this concrete jungle of London. I have a teacher who is dedicated to passing this ancient tradition on to future generations. Her school has generated a number of teachers who inspire many people like me. Arranging flowers is like meditation in motion. The right brain can express itself to the fullest. The intuitive decision making, the textures, smells and colours of materials, the elegant shapes, the spatial organisation and the movement within bring peace and satisfaction. It is creative within a set of rules. It is aesthetically appealing to the subtle sensibilities. It is a gentle experience of being one with nature.
(Central Himalayan Rural Action Group; Also means ‘lamp’)
Every time I return to India I witness immense beauty in simplicity. I feel that beauty changing me. I grew up in a simple, sweet world. Moving away from it was difficult but time moulded me. Somewhere deep within that appreciation of simplicity remains. I see it without romanticising it. It is a part of me. I feel closer to myself each time I am faced with it.
Last week I volunteered to tell a story at a primary school in a small village in the Himalayas. I sat in a circle on the floor of a well lit large classroom with a group of sixteen 7 year olds and we chatted for about half an hour in a mixture of Hindi and English. One of them asked me if we would be singing but I wasn’t able to confirm that. It bothered me.
The Principal, an enthusiastic young man of 29, said they didn’t have a music teacher in the school as the charity had just about enough money to pay for teachers to cover the academic curriculum. A local musician has offered to teach music but they are waiting for funding to come along to be able to employ her.
It is Saagar’s 23rd Birthday today.
I think he would have liked for that school to have a music teacher.
Happy Birthday Darling!
“O Bud! Your life is so moving that only for a while
You blossom, for just a smile.
“In this garden, O dear,” said the bud
“Just a few are lucky to smile, even for a while.”
(Translation of an Urdu couplet by Josh Malihabadi)
Naani’s food is the best in the world. Yes. Much better than Mamma’s. That is a fact and Mamma agrees without the slightest reservation. She is happy to continue being Naani’s student forever. Naani’s chicken curry is the bestest ever and she even manages to make vegetables taste yummy! – These lines would accurately reflect Saagar’s feelings.
Naani is my mother. I am spending some time with my folks back home and life is largely about food. Mangoes, ice-coffee, fried fish, momos and idlis form a fraction of a vast list that is adding further vastness to my waistline and other lines. Summer offers up only a few vegetables of which ‘bhindi’ or ‘okra’ is a big favourite in our family. The particularly yum preparation is the spicy, stuffed one. Uncooked it looks like the image above.
Here’s how , for 3-4 people:
300 grams of tender okra – cleaned, dried, topped, tailed and slit along the length.
For the stuffing:
Salt to taste
Turmeric powder – half tsp
Red chilly powder – half tsp
Coriander powder – 5 heaped tsp
Dried mango powder – 1 tsp
Garam masala – 1 tsp
Stuff the okra with the mixture of dried spices above.
Heat 1 tablespoon of mustard oil till lightly smoking. Splutter 1 tsp of cumin seeds in it, add the stuffed okra and cook until soft. Serve hot. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds before serving.
Saagar loved this dish. We often cooked it together. I prepared the okra and the spice mix and he put them together. We had it with yellow masoor daal and plain basmati rice.
Today, we made bhindi, sending him our love and blessings.
We missed him at the dinner table. A lot.