Back To School

Let me get this straight

“You mean you are actually – willingly – doing this?”

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Back to Studies

My daughter’s incredulity would’ve been funny had the scene been playing out on the TV screen, like in a Man with a Plan type of family comedy series where teens perpetually talk to parents with an arched eyebrow.

“Why should it be so strange that I might want to do a course?” I tried to keep my equanimity even as I felt fine tendrils of self-doubt uncurling in my heart.

“Who would want to voluntarily study, take an exam, go through this —?!” the last word was quite expressive of the hatred that kids have for exams.

As you may have guessed by now – this mini inter-generational drama was all about my signing up for a college course.  I had a sneaking suspicion my teen daughter’s reaction was actually resentment at the possibility of not having me at her beck and call for a few months the following year when I would be in the thick of my studies. But over the next few weeks my suspicions evaporated. I found her actually happy that she had a co-sufferer now and eventually my darling even began taking on the much-despised pet-related chores off my shoulders.

The rest of the family was just relieved I had found something to plug my intermittent whining about the absence of a ‘proper’ career.

Outside, my revelation was generally met with varying degrees of interest – from an off-hand “oh really” in the middle of a rambling description of shopping in Dubai’s Gold Souk to real concern that I might be subjecting my brain cells to more than it could bear at this age. Two reactions stand out in my memory – one:

“Really – But why? What possible good can any course do now – will you even make enough to cover course fees?”

And the second was, of course, what started it all:

“I see…if you are so interested in the subject, maybe you should go ahead with it – just find a way.”

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Minerva and the Nine Muses by Hendrick Van Balen – Minerva is the Greek Goddess of Wisdom

Some words, uttered by someone, in a moment of pure congruence – you never know where it can lead you.

 

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Lessons In Letting Go

Can it happen already?

I remember the first post written after I settled down in my cosy nook here, in the Nilgiris. There I had reflected on difficulty of uprooting oneself and changing homes ever so often.

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And almost exactly a year later, I am back facing the same questions. Freshly moved to another house though still in these sylvan surroundings, here I go planning wall decor even as my half-awake mind seeks the familiar door handle at 3 in the morning when I have to let out my dog.

But most of all, my heart searches for the colours and blooms of the garden I have left behind. The burst of colours on the flower-beds, grass so green it would hurt the eyes and the perpetual humming of bees as they hovered over the hedges.

And yet I find myself embracing my new surroundings with some equanimity now. I roam its expansive grounds, feel the silken warmth of gladioli petals that bloom here in abundance and admire the gorgeous bougainvillea that embraces the porch.

But curiously I feel no desire to do more. No compulsion to impose my ideas of Beauty on these grounds, no need to recreate what I have left behind. I sit in the filigreed shade of the pine trees and watch my dog chase squirrels and rats. I know the boundary is secure but thankfully I have no more exotic flowerbeds to obsess over.

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Am I moving towards the Nirvanic ideal of detachment? I’d like to think so…and turn towards an ancient Australian Aboriginal proverb for understanding,

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. We are here to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home.”

A Trusted Travel Companion

I decided to play a little game –

With eyes closed, move my head around; stop randomly, open my eyes and then the first thing I notice – write about it.

Yes, writer’s block can make you do strange things.

Back to my fun experiment – my gaze had come to rest on a suitcase. Old but not too battered, roomy but without the works. The piece of luggage had been with me for almost eighteen years now but none too worse for the weather. It had accompanied me to different parts of the country, the most recent being my trip to Kohima but this was already after having breathed the cool climes of Landsdowne, basked in the southern sun of Kovalam, romanced the stone forts of Mandu in central India. This sturdy dame had done it all.

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But, then I remembered with a shard of regret how it had also missed out on the Rhine cruise from six years back as well as the Seoul city tour from two. It was not deemed fast enough for the airport of Hong Kong nor fashionable enough for the luxury of Venetian Macao.

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And yet, I have it still. When I have to zip across nearly two thousand kilometres to my hometown at two-days’ notice or worry that my snazzy luggage will my ruined in the grimy train interiors, or need to pack in so much of my Kolkata shopping that I have to sit on it for the lock to click shut – I fall back upon what else – my old trusted suitcase.

Not too pretty, a little frayed around the edges, understanding of my needs and the proud bearer of so many marks and stains that on the conveyor belt, it just cannot be confused with someone else’s luggage – that’s my trusted travel companion.

So here’s looking forward to many more journeys together !

Worry Woes – 3 Wily Ways To Fix Them

Dog’s appetite

no career

maid’s holiday

exam questions

garden weeds

daughter’s college fees

varicose veins

blueberry cheesecake

saree blouse designs

scratch on the car

party over the weekend

friend’s promotion

 

Can you guess what these are?

That’s right ! items buzzing in my overcrowded brain accompanied by much hand-wringing every day – leading to ridiculous waste of my time, mental energy and head space. So what do I do – here are 3 quick worry shooters that i have personally found helpful. And believe me, coming from a chronic worrier like yours truly, that’s saying something.

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The Worry Bogey

Focus on the friendly 5

Simply focus on your 5 senses – what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel around you. And before long you will actually begin to enjoy the exercise. Like the warm envelope of a soft dressing gown straight out of a cold shower. Or the day-long bird chirrups around my Nilgiris home which I hardly paid attention to – or was thankful for – till i arrived in Kolkata in the peak of summer. In fact for me the faint earthy smell of a dog is truly comforting and i want to get as much of it now before her 11-12 years are up. Keeping your mind on the feast of senses works wonders to keep worries at bay. The catch is of course, that it takes practice before you get to see results. It is only too easy for chronic worriers to lapse back into picking mind warts. Indeed even unpleasant sensations can help you to keep off niggling worries – right now just as i started worrying about the dismal readership of my blog, I immediately shifted my mind to my uncomfortable writing posture. and well, it helped me to go on.

Ditch Products – For experiences

OK there goes my chance of finding sponsors for my blog – but really, retail therapy is one of the unhealthiest ways to deal with chronic worry. Buying something gives you a just a momentary mood spike but you can be sure the euphoria will wear away sooner than later. Even worse, if like me, you cannot afford unnecessary purchases, rest assured you have added another item – credit card bills – to your already long list of worries. Instead try and acquire experiences – like baking a batch of cookies, playing with your pet, calling your Mom, listening to rock music at an un-neighbourly volume!

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Fix a time

Chronic worriers may find it helpful to actually schedule worry. Sounds counterproductive, right – if not outright bizarre. But keeping aside a fixed time for worry will help you tell yourself, “ Hey, its OK – if worrying means so much to you, let’s find a time when you can worry without interruption. But then don’t do it at other times – deal?” And trust me, most of the time you’ll find yourself agreeing.

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Look for help

Finally, take care of yourself. If you find your worries getting out of hand – like interfering with your appetite, sleep or straying to thoughts of self-harm – get out and look for professional help. Life is the best gift of all – and nothing, absolutely nothing is worth damaging it.

But ending with a widely-loved quote on worry by, who else, Mark Twain:

“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened”

Agree??

Lasagna Lessons

A One-act play on human nature!

Yes, that is what unfolded last evening at the dinner table. At the heart of it all was the bubbling casserole of lasagna that I placed with quiet triumph. And my lesson at the end of the day was that there are roughly 4 types of human reactions to your success.

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Be damned with faint praise

“Oh my! So you made lasagna today. Hmmm…very nice. Reminds me of Aunt Mildred and her amazing Sunday brunches. The table would positively groan under the weight of all those courses. And her lasagnas of course were the creamiest, tastiest ever!”. For such people, no matter how great your achievement, how much effort and time you have put into it – you are never good enough…

Focus on faults

If you were wondering how to respond to such high praise for Aunt Mildred at your dinner table, save the bother. This reaction would not even take the trouble of coming up with an unflattering comparison but cut straight to the faults. “Hmmm tastes good but maybe you can go a little easy on the salt next time? Don’t worry dear, you’ll get there. Eventually.”

The Royal Ignore

Did you really mess it up? You look for confirmation from another guest. Nothing. Not a word about your efforts. Instead conversation flows, “I told Susan to take that sorry excuse of a presentation and shove it up her…” You look at the big spoonfuls of lasagna she is shovelling in her mouth and wait for a response, “…Would you believe her nerve? And all this right in front of me, in my office!”. Yes. You do believe. That some people can have minds that are so small, so petty that a word of praise for another’s success can actually threaten their entire existence.

Pure Joy

Finally, you get the reaction that celebrates all those hours of effort. A broad grin that makes the eyes dance. Ecstatic groans that rise all the way from a satiated alimentary tract. “Mmmm…best lasagna ever…” By then you don’t need to hear any more. You are half-way through your own dinner.

And you know exactly how Success tastes !

 

 

October on my mind…

A week after its release, I finally managed to watch October – a finely-nuanced Hindi movie about love, loss and waiting for both. Director Shoojit Sircar sets it in Delhi – that rare Indian metro city where autumn is properly felt as a season and not just a transit between the humid summers and cool December. The title appropriately evokes the themes of near-death, near-love in the backdrop of near-winter.

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October mornings in Delhi. Photo courtesy: DNA India

But this is not a movie review.

This is more about thoughts on what, ultimately, makes Life worth living? Having someone to love? Like a 21-year old daughter in coma who cannot even say ‘Ma’ but for whom the mother spends nights in the hospital and days earning the money needed to keep the life-support machines running.

Or maybe being loved by someone makes the real difference – like by the young man who daily checks her urine output and is the one to jumpstart the healing process by bringing her favourite flowers to smell.

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October flowers – Shiuli

Perhaps it is those young interns who are actually right – having found the balance between practicality, carrying on with the business of living and still concerned enough about their hospitalized friend to shell out precious cash for her medicines and cover for the guy who wants to be there.

One might even wonder if the cantankerous uncle – who never stops whining about ballooning hospital bills and the prospect of lifelong paralysis – is nearer to the brutal truth of what physical and mental faculties actually define a quality life. Much as we would want him to shut up.

Who knows who is right, what is right ? Scriptwriter Juhi Chaturvedi does not leave us with easy answers. The movie and its questions linger long after the closing credits – much like the faint fragrance of Shiuli – the delicate, short-lived flower of October mornings.

An Idle Question

Now what??!!

The question accompanied the sinking feeling of having made a bad choice. The strawberries of course, sat in the bowl innocuously – shimmering in ruby red colours perfectly accessorized by their green tops.

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“Too sour” – my daughter echoed what I already knew. And with her reaction, drained away the lukewarm hope that her teen palate wouldn’t mind the tart fruits. I had asked someone else to do the veggie shopping and now I heartily wished I had gone to the store myself.

With a heavy heart, I reached for my phone and Googled ‘sour strawberry recipes’. Apart from some pretty useful search results, what really surprised me were search prompts like, “what to do with sour strawberries”, “how to sweeten sour strawberries” and so on. Cheered up by the realization that I was not the only one struggling with the sour-strawberry-dilemma in this world, I sauntered to my garden – the culprit bowl in one hand, my phone in the other. The green lawn were lit up by a golden sun, the bees were humming around the honeysuckle hedge and I chose my favourite spot near the jewelled petunias to sit and go through the search results.

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The tips were the usual mix: macerate the sour berries in a mix of honey, lemon/ fruit juice, bake them in muffins and cakes, blend them into a smoothie, cook them into a spicy chutney or just douse them with sugar and keep overnight. However my mind was already totalling the cons – honey would rack up calories and cooking would ruin the nutrients.  May be, I should take the easiest way out but as I glanced at the bowl to gauge the quantity of the berries, I was taken aback.

Only three remained – had I absent-mindedly been popping them into my mouth all this while? May be they weren’t so unpleasant, after all. I wish I had enjoyed them as well – the taste, texture, their luscious tartness with just the right degree of crunch…

So much like Life – we fret about what is not right, why we should have decided otherwise and how we can make it better – whereas all the while we are living it, spending it and forgetting to enjoy its sweet-sour moments !