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.
Ding-dong – the laundryman with the ironing.
Ding-dong – the ever-smiling, podgy little cleaning lady.
Ding-dong – the air-con repair man with a helmet.
Ding-dong – the Fed-ex man with a delivery for the neighbours.
Ding-dong – one of the workmen upstairs requesting a bottle of cold drinking water and so on …
The lull of rotating fan blades. The hazy, lazy sun. The hopeful hint of an on-coming shower. The microscopic layer of fine urban dust on glass table tops. The colourful screw-tops of refrigerated water bottles. Old familiar Hindi film songs playing in the background like long lost friends. Dodgy links with the world-wide-web. The cool marble floors easing bare soles. Honey like water melons. Heavenly early mangos, semi-yellow, a wee bit raw around the stones. Heads taking respite under thin cotton scarves in multitudes of colours. Loose, airy, light, flowing, feminine garments. Childhood aromas emanating from Mum’s kitchen. Her annoyance with disobedient modern gadgetry. Dad’s concern. Their everyday household problems of retirement. Saagar’s pictures lining the walls adorned with flowers and silk. Being called by childhood names.
Specks of earth lifted off by droplets hitting parched ground. The magical heady confluence of moisture and earth teleporting my brain to a nearly buried, exotic moment from a long time ago. The awesome dance of the wind with the chime. The pure joy of the breath. The ecstacy of being.
At present, everyone seems to be planning holidays – Easter or summer or random.
Arabic was the language he was learning at University. He would be spending half of his 3rd year in an Arabic speaking country. So, we made an exploratory trip to Jordan. We visited friends and travelled around. It was one of our last few holidays together.
I ordered a Watermelon juice at one of the resorts. The barman mixed water and sugar into it. We noticed but didn’t say anything. Saagar took the drink from me, made his way back to the bar and politely requested the man to make it only with watermelon and nothing else. A few minutes later, celebrating his little victory with a smile, he brought the new drink back to me.
The sandstone cliff faces of Petra, the barren moody desert of Wadi Rum, the red and white sand, the pitta bread with zahter, tomatoes and olive oil, the exquisitely intricate Persian carpets appear in my dreams often. These are dreams about the places we have travelled. I understand now that these places reside deep inside me. I carry these places within me now. It will no longer be necessary to travel there.
The blue door from ‘Notting Hill’ stuck
on the wall paper of my memory
The glue must be super-strong.
A rectangular passage into a special space.
Simple and warm, fun and messy,
Open and cozy with many possible cups of tea.
A refuge for troubled souls, a place for stories to unfold.
A semicircle of glass perched perfectly on top.
Long panes elegantly framing from top to toe.
The door sat in the centre like a king.
The slit of a smile in the middle welcomed guests
Like messages, notes, post and parcels in.
They said it was draught-proof.
Not too heavy, not too light.
The coir mat outside often had a black cat sprawled on it, claiming ownness.
A few yards away a waist high metal gate
sang a little note every time it opened
and another, every time it closed.
A flower basket dancing on one side
with pink and white petunias, ivy and pine,
grabbed a chunk of the sunshine.
Whatever the world threw at us,
The blue door made okay.
It took us in its fold of laughter, healing and trust.
One day one of us left and never came back.
The blue door waits and waits. So does the cat.
Surprisingly her train was on time. Today she was careful. She went to the correct platform. It was 12 noon. There were only a few people around, looking lonely. She boarded a quiet coach and was happy to find her favourite, forward-facing-window seat with a table, waiting for her. The only other person there was a young man sitting by the window opposite, immersed in his phone and lost in a world of his own, between the big black and red headphones planted over his ears. Both his feet, with shoes on, were resting on the seat opposite. Her head rankled aloud and she was filled with such severe disapproval that she nearly turned around and left.
But then she stopped. He was only a kid. In a strange way he reminded her of her son, even though he looked nothing like him. She could speak with him. What was the worst that could happen? She approached him gently and got his attention.
“Please would you mind putting your feet down?”
“What’s your problem?”
“Feel free to disregard what I say. I just wanted to share my perspective with you. The grime under your soles gets transferred on to other people’s clean clothes and children’s hands. It can make people sick. That’s all. Thank you.”
She smiled and backed off. She sat at the seat she had ear-marked for herself, just on the other side, across the width of the coach. From the corner of her eye, she saw both his feet descend to the floor. With a nearly imperceptible smile she continued to pretend to be looking out of the window and he continued to do the same and the world went by…