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About my life by moonlight (and a little about the day job as well).

Dear Friends,

Without being drawn into a tedious introduction, let me welcome all of you to this blog. I have been writing for years. The inspiration to do so came like a bolt from the blue at the age of ten, when I was holding Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island in my hands and marvelling at the magic her books were spinning in my life. The thought came to mind–“So why don’t I write one?”

As a mite of ten, I turned out pale imitations of Blyton’s style. Later I started developing my own style and focus. But my choice of writing themes is still eclectic. I have written novels (some published and some not…yet), poems (usually in secret), short stories, newspaper articles, street plays and fanfiction (yes, yes!).

To find out more about my writings, check out this post.

During the day I work as a psychological counsellor for young people. It is a stressful job, but oh, so fulfilling! It has taken me a while, but I have finally found my calling. This profession has become more than my bread-and-butter. And yet, beyond the security and satisfaction, subtler lands of fancy beckon. My writing dream refuses to leave me even during waking hours.

Stealing time to write is a task. For some years I was freelancing–teaching in a local university four days in a week, and consulting with an Human Resource organization on a per-project basis. Then I took up working full-time again, moved to the big city, and had to fend for myself in a new apartment. I have been managing to keep it together, just like millions of Indian women who do this on a much larger scale for entire families.

By the time I get to write, it’s nearing midnight. So this blog can just as easily be called Writer by Midnight.

My favourite authors are….err…mostly dead: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Enid Blyton, and Rabindranath Tagore; and yes I do have a few living authors as favourites, too. It is a pleasant change to be able to await their next work instead of going over their biographical notes to check how many works they finishes writing before premature death snatched them away. So the living ones are Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Vikram Seth and Dr. Brian Weiss, of whom the last is a psychiatrist who writes about past-life regression and whose books you must check out at least once. They will unsettle your beliefs about reality.

I am deeply inspired by the work of psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Gustav Jung. I wish I had been able to be a Jungian in university, but Jungian psychology in India is still not a force to be reckoned with. Sadly.

Here is what you can expect to find on this blog:

  • Information about my writings and a few samples of them
  • Reflections on my Human Adventure–great and trivial
  • Reviews of my favourite books, movies, TV and web series
  • Opinions on social and political issues
  • More……

Please enjoy yourself, freely share feedback, and share the link to this blog if you like what you read.

Thanks for coming here!

Ancient History? Not old enough for me!

(Image by Norman Bosworth from Pixabay)

When I was a child, I was more of a Dadi Amma (Grandma) deep inside, which might have explained my ‘studious’ demeanour. My teachers and friends often attributed this to scholastic commitment, which was only partly true. I loved books and school, but not for the chase of achievement. Inside book-learning I attempted to find those answers which my meagre life experience could not provide. This was why I was so keen on History. In modern times, most people look to history for an assertion of national, racial or religious identity, but for me it was a means of smudging the borders of identity through time travel.

My favourite period in history was always the Ancient period, although in college, I was more taken with the Indian Freedom Struggle and its implications for modern polity. The phrases Indus Valley Civilization, Harappa, Mohenjodaro, ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia have never failed to set a string trilling in my head. Apart from a mention of the Nile valley and Tigris-Euphrates settlements, the only ancient history we studied was Indian. Most of what I gathered of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations was from an encyclopedia lying around the house. The Pre-Google historical period did have its limitations!

Do I wonder why, then, I majored in Psychology and not History or Literature? Countless times, yes! And I did find the answer, which I have elaborated in this post.

Movies and novels about those times catch my attention easily. Luckily the first decade of the 2000s saw a flood of semi-fictional adaptations of historical epochs. I devoured these, till that dark decade of the 2010s began, and the history began to get more jingoistic, and mythology turned into pseudoscience. The last straw was Ashutosh Gowariker’s Mohenjodaro which turned the most fascinating time in history for me, into a comical adventure. I much, much prefer Tintin. Or even Asterix. I still can’t comprehend how such a skillful filmmaker with a track record of well-researched period dramas could have created such an epic fail.

Anyway, this movie experience rather ruined the Indus Valley for me. It’s an ill wind……for it awakened my interest in what lay beyond the ancient, turning my gaze to the horizon of antiquity. I was already exploring personal memory and its imagination-exploding possibilities, having completed Twice Upon A Time and Consumed. Perhaps myth and fantasy could furtively point to those answers which historians needed recorded evidence to assert. This idea, a spark to the tinder of my concurrent life-events, set ablaze many of my established beliefs.

The smoke from this conflagration threw me into a stupor….or a reverie? I had to write Imrama to make sense of it and move forward. In the novel, Kamal is a history student who wants to become a marine archaeologist to discover sunken civilizations, but gives up the idea due to certain reasons. Raina is a bookstore assistant who acquaints herself through travelogues with all the places she is never likely to visit for real. There are shards of me in both Kamal and Raina. Both of them are really looking for a world behind the curtain of time.

I have now started to believe that what we know of human history is only the depth of the first shaft down into the centre of the Earth. Atlantis and Lemuria seemed like myths, despite the occasional fragments of evidence. A few days ago, I came across a website whose assertion of these timelines for ancient empires boggled my mind. I don’t know how true or authentic it is. But many of the details given on this site have corresponded to things I have found reason to believe in. Besides, to dismiss Atlantis or Lemuria as myths because there is no archaeological evidence for sunken civilizations, is not exactly a scientific approach! True scientists accept the present limitations of science and are open to future developments revealing facts which are presently considered fanciful. So I don’t expect any authority in the world to accept and claim outright about these civilizations having existed, but neither do I expect them to laugh them off.

Coming back to the above link, it gives the timeline for the Lemurian Civilization at a mind-boggling 76000 – 24000 B.C.! Atlantis came next, from 22500 – 8500 B.C.After the sinking of Atlantis arrived the Osirian and Rama Nations in 5500 B.C.

(Doesn’t the above timespan make these few weeks of lockdown appear insignificant in comparison? Nothing like studying long-lost lands for a sense of perspective!)

Now this part is very interesting to me. ‘The fourth greatest civilization was the Rama Empire in the Indian sub-continent….The people in the Rama Empire of India were much more idealistic than they were either practical or mentally oriented.’ Ram Rajya is what I have grown up hearing about (and a section of Indian society believes that if the current government manages to build a temple at the site of Lord Ram’s birth, without either society or government bothering to absorb his ideals of truth, steadfastness, calmness and infinite patience, Ram Rajya will return. As if it can be as easy as that. But then, they are also the same people who believe God can be bribed with money and flattery.)

The two great epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat, had been considered to be fictional or at the most, allegorical tales by the West. However, there is finally archaeological evidence to corroborate the existence of the Ram Setu (Bridge) built from India to Sri Lanka, and for the lost city of Dwarka, kingdom of Lord Krishna from Mahabharat.

So let’s assume for a moment that these civilizations existed in the timelines given on this website. The next question is obvious: with such high advances in human settlement and social organization, why the heck did we not manage to keep it up? Part of the answer is given on the website. The remaining explanation comes from the theory of Yugas, or Ages.

According to Hindu philosophy, time does not progress in a linear but rather in a cyclical fashion. Human collective consciousness has Ascending and Descending cycles (although individuals can have steady evolutionary progress if they steadily adhere to the path of Dharma, or adherence to the universal laws of creation). Therefore, it is possible for civilizations to rise to the heights of grandeur as well as sink into barbarism. These ascending and descending cycles are divided into Yugas. There are 4 Yugas, from the enlightened Sat-Yuga, to the darkest Kali Yuga.

From childhood I have been hearing, “Oh, we are living in the Kali Yuga, this explains all that is happening in this evil world!” Indeed, listening to the news, I have often wondered if humanity could sink any lower. And I wondered despite having known for some years that this is not the Kali Yuga as most Hindus commonly believe, but rather the next higher one, Dwapar Yuga!

Further explanation of this theory, and of how and when this blunder in calculation happened, is explained in The Holy Science by Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, a Self-realized Master. Unlike some self-proclaimed ‘true gurus’, he has not arrived at this calculation by half-baked intellectual interpretations of the ancient scriptures, but by direct intuitive knowledge. These two secondary sources provide an elaboration of what he wrote.

So we can rejoice: the last Kali Yuga ended in 1700 AD/ CE, and the next one ain’t coming for another 21,300 years! Nor let us be too smug, either, for we are a long way away even from Treta Yuga, the next higher age, which will begin in 4100 AD/CE.

If we took an honest look at the world we live in, it would become evident that we have indeed progressed from the Dark Ages/ Kali Yuga. Slavery is not only illegal but regarded as the inhuman practice it really is. Five centuries ago, kings and feudal lords would have laughed at this idea. The rights of women and other genders have been acknowledged, theoretically in some countries and practically in many. Well, it’s a start. At least we are no longer regarded as some man’s property.

Feudal systems of governance in which the landed aristocracy had the driving power, have been replaced by democracy. The rich class still controls most of the world’s economy and politics, and militaristic imperialism has been replaced by globalized capitalism. Not much difference there, maybe. Oh well, like I said, it’s a start….and it is looking like the current pandemic might just tip these economic systems upside-down.

Medical advancements and the increase in life expectancy are definitely the herald of a better age. People are turning vegetarian and even vegan. Less than a century ago, if you told someone you do not eat meat, you would be dubbed a grass-eater (“yeh toh ghaas-phoos pe jeeta hai!”)

Technology is advancing so rapidly that the stuff we dreamed off in our childhood–like mobile phones and tiny music players–turned into reality before we could grow old enough to not need to learn how to use it! Distance has become an illusion. Just like the sages predicted for the Dwapar Yuga, which is the age of space-annihilation.

If we humans are neither irrevocably entrained on a path of continuous development, nor hurtling towards an apocalyptic end, it only serves to remind us of each one’s tremendous personal responsibility to keep moving. When the times are better, they help us move towards the best versions of ourselves. When they are worse, we have to swim against the current. Neither material advancement nor total destruction will set us free. We have to break the wheel and escape.

 

 

 

 

Not With Words

(Photo by Elle Hughes from Pexels )

I knew something was wrong the moment I stepped out of the train.

The station was almost like I remembered it—fairly well-maintained compared to the stations the train had passed on its journey—with its sloping red roof and whitewashed pillars, its dogs sleeping contentedly on the benches and the straggly potted plants next to the exit. The only change was that the crumbling wooden fence around the station premises had been replaced with a high brick wall, which meant that the people living in the surrounding lanes could no longer amble into the railway station, step onto the tracks, and cross over to the market of wholesale goods on the other side.

This wasn’t a big difference, but I still couldn’t shake off the feeling.

The hostel was no longer the same, either—they had built an entirely new wing, leaving the old building for the mess workers to use as their quarters—but this didn’t unnerve me. I was thankful for the running hot water, tiled flooring, and sliding glass windows which we had so passionately demanded during our student days. Better late than never.

Unfortunately, though the dining hall still ran, the cafeteria was closed for the vacations, which meant I would have to find another place for breakfast. It was 11:33 a.m., too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. I had already taken a bath and lain with my eyes closed for half an hour, hoping for sleep, but to no avail. My ability to take naps had long been chewed up by the city. The snatches of conversation drifting up from the floor below mine—apparently the girl hadn’t got the refund for a pair of shoes that were supposed to be mauve but turned out to be turquoise, and was now berating the supplier over the phone—hadn’t helped, either.

I could definitely use a snack and something hot to drink. Perhaps the bakery down the street, past the mango orchard (but I was no longer sure the orchard existed; it might have been replaced by a block of apartments or a shopping mall) still functioned, and I remembered they served tea and coffee as well.

Indeed, the bakery was there, the board ‘Best & Fresh’ bigger and brighter, the wooden benches replaced by lightweight steel chairs, paper napkins on every table, and a new counter selling packaged savoury snacks. I ordered tea and samosas, before remembering that the tea would be boiled for at least five minutes, with generous additions of milk and sugar before reaching my cup. Nevertheless, I badly needed something to relieve the headache I had developed while walking down the windy street without a scarf on my head. I had forgotten the severity of winters in this place.

My order arrived in five minutes. It was then that I noticed that my table wobbled. Looking around, there weren’t any more empty tables. If I left this one, I would have to share a table with someone else. The place was full of people—college students huddled in groups, some chatting animatedly while others hunched over their phones; stoic workmen giving their opinion on politics with all-knowing tones; a teenager speaking too loudly and smiling too widely at the girl sitting opposite him; a woman wearily telling her friend how neither her boss nor her family understood her; and….a young man sitting with his head buried in a book? He didn’t seem to fit in with the rest; or rather, the surroundings didn’t fit him.  He was all by himself, not seeming to be waiting for anyone or anything. He did not look like he needed to be noticed. Nor was he interested in noticing anyone else.

He was the only one at his table, and it was nearest mine, but I wasn’t sure how to interrupt his silence.

My table wobbled again. Some tea spilled over into its saucer. The ketchup accompanying the samosas streaked towards the edge of the plate. Seeing that there was no choice, I picked up my purse, gesticulating to the waiter to move my order to the young man’s table.

“Excuse me. May I sit here?”

He looked up from his book. I couldn’t make out its title since it was covered with plain brown paper, like the ones we used to cover our school notebooks with, or sometimes the romantic novels that we sneaked into class. His hair was unkempt and he clearly hadn’t shaved that morning, but his eyes were alert. With a slight smile which could mean anything from “Of course, why do you need to ask?” to “I don’t own this table. Sit wherever you want” he nodded before plunging back into his reading.

My tea was still hot and the samosas were delicious. If only my headache would go away. I lifted my hand to massage my temples. Opposite me, he did the same, making me wonder for a moment if I was looking in a mirror. If he hadn’t still been engrossed in reading, I would have been offended thinking he was mimicking me. He saw my creased forehead and seemed to guess the reason. From the pocket of his thick woollen coat he pulled out a small tube of ointment, putting it down next to the napkin holder. I took it gratefully, wondering if he also faced the same problem in cold weather.

There were two more days to go for the interview. I had arrived early, partly because of there were no trains available later, and partly because I had wanted to spend more time reliving my years in this town. But much had changed since my college days—not just in the chopping down of fruit orchards and construction of shops—though I met so many familiar faces. What exactly was this change, though? Like an invisible mosquito, this question kept hovering around me.

I went to the bakery again, the next morning and evening. Once again, the only place to sit was opposite the young man, who now smiled as if he had expected me to come. He drank coffee and ate a sandwich while I sipped my tea. Today, instead of reading, he was writing something in a notebook. I wanted to ask him if he was a writer, and if so, how could he manage to write in the midst of such commotion?

I finished my tea and left. We did the same thing the next day.

**

The interview went well, except that the panel members were surprised that I was willing to give up life in the city if I were to get this job (which they hinted I would). I had been sure of my answer at the time of applying. Of course I would say yes! I was fed up of the city’s pace and wanted to return to my nostalgic sanctuary. But now, I was not so sure.

On my way back to the hostel, I got off the bus one stop earlier. I wanted to walk up this lane, which I remembered as a strip of light and shade against the backdrop of mountains in the distance, scented with eucalyptus trees on one side and brightened by the yellow of mustard fields on the other. The fields were still fields, not buildings, and the trees were there as well, but discarded plastic wrappers had collected on the sides of the road. I ignored them while walking with my eyes half-closed, trying to travel back in time. A motorbike screeched past, with two boys loudly debating the pros and cons of the latest iPhone. They hadn’t said a word to me, yet…suddenly I knew what was wrong with this town.

Talk.

Talk, talk, talk was everywhere. Even a decade ago, people here had been talkers. But they spoke and listened not just with words but with the crinkles at the corners of their eyes and mouths. They talked randomly and they talked for the sheer relief of being around other people. Now, however, all the people I heard talked anxiously, with a point to make. They talked because they were afraid of their silence being misunderstood.

It was no longer different from the city which I had been eager to leave. My roommate, who tried to convey worldly maturity through her choice of subjects to speak about—career, family, plumbing.  My colleagues, who prided themselves on coming up with witty remarks. My boyfriend, who insisted that communication was the key to a successful relationship. I tried to tell him that simply being around each other could sometimes be enough, but he wasn’t listening.

My train would leave the next morning. In the evening, I walked to the bakery again. To my dismay, the young man wasn’t at his usual place. Had he left? I didn’t even know whether he lived here or was a visitor, like me. I didn’t even know his name. A cold breeze whipped around my neck–devoid of a scarf, again.

As I was standing, a waiter caught my eye and pointed towards a table at the back. My friend (was he that?) had seen me, and was waving. I walked through the maze of tables. The place was noisier than ever. Someone had requested the owner to turn the radio up loud.

Setting down my purse on the side of the chair, I smiled. He smiled back.  I wasn’t hoping he would ask what I had done all day. My surmise proved correct. Here was comfort without the bridge of sounds connecting us. He studied the menu and so did I, not exchanging a word, having just established an island of silence in an ocean of talk.

 

 

 

 

TWICE UPON A TIME: Original Ending

Taken from the original text of my first published novel, Twice Upon A Time, which had originally been named The Knowing Waters. Editorial decisions sometimes mandate that certain portions of a book be curtailed or presented differently. I flowed along with them, but eventually got feedback from readers that they would have preferred a more detailed conclusion. So here it is:

(You can purchase the novel here).

Mannat arrived with the next day’s dawn. She had not informed anyone about her arrival. Binita and her NB team, who were poised to expect her, were fast asleep at that hour. Nishi was awake, but seemed to have dived into some underground stream of her own. Arpit did not spend time looking for her. He knew she would be fine. Ever since he had told her about his final Redream, she had transformed into a Nishimaya different from the one he had known these past few months. Oddly, though, this change had not rendered her a stranger in his eyes; rather she seemed vaguely familiar, as if some long-lost loved one of his was walking evanescently through her.

Arpit could not ponder about this, though. His entire being was consumed with his Waiting. He oscillated between dread and delight. Nishi and her father were made of other-worldly stuff. They could disbelieve in the reality of loss, but he needed tangible Mannat for that. If only she would arrive…and if only she would arrive with selective memory, remembering only what could not make her rebuff him.

Sleep having eluded him completely, he got up before even the sun had opened one eye, and slipped away to the lake. By its shore he tried to assume the contemplative posture he had seen Nishi’s father in by the side of the brook. If he stayed long enough like this, perhaps he would get endowed with wisdom and philosophy enough to face what was to come.

But he was no Pandit Devishankar Gaur—he could not concentrate. A gentle breeze blew from the lake, bringing with it an unmistakable scent. The scent percolated his bones, entranced his brain, and made his skin shiver with anticipation.

She was here. He could not doubt it a moment longer. Jumping to his feet, he sped off towards Veerji’s house.

When he arrived there, all the lights were on. He stood in the shadows and waited.

 

***

The ramshackle wooden door seemed ready to fall off its hinges with persistent banging. “Who is it, now?” groaned a sleepy Binita. The NB volunteers she was sharing the room with stirred and mumbled in half-wakefulness.

“FoDi, open the door ASAP!” Vishwas called urgently.

A moment later he burst into the room, his usually immaculately-untidy hair naturally dishevelled for once. “Do you want the firecracker first or the bomb?” he demanded.

“People who save the environment don’t use such terminology”, chided Binita. “All right, the firecracker first; I need something to wake me up before I can digest another shock.”

“The granddaughter is here—she landed at Veerji’s place early this morning”, announced Vishwas.

“Wonderful. Not that we need her that badly now; but does me good to know that she was authentic. What is the other news, now?”

“Mehar Baba has reappeared—that too on the very spot where he used to camp sixty-five years ago!”

“What! If that Arpit Singh has dared to plagiarize my idea, I will sue him! But how did he manage to rope in Veerji for this hare-brained scheme, when we don’t need any gimmick like this anymore, and will probably….”

“For heaven’s sake, FoDi”, cut in Vishwas impatiently, “let me speak. This man is not Veerji. In fact, the family was the first to discover his presence. The doctor phoned me with all the details—and he wouldn’t exaggerate. When Manjot arrived, they took her to the gurdwara first thing to pay her respects—Veerji insisted on coming along, though it seems they had to nearly carry him there—and what do they see when they reach, but the fakir sitting on the gurdwara steps, deep in prayer!”

“Impossible! Some practical joker is posing as the fakir for cheap publicity.”

“Well, I have news for you. Veerji, who was a kid of about four or five when the saint came to the village, claims that he is the real article. He distinctly remembers his face—which, apparently, has aged remarkably little.”

“Poor Veerji. That’s age and failing memory talking.”

“Try telling the villagers that. They are all flocking to the spot. In fact, the entire district seems to be making a beeline for him. We need to rush if we want a closer look.”

 

***

Vishwas had surmised correctly. It became near-impossible for him and Binita to cut through the dense sea of humanity lapping hungrily towards the fakir. Strangely, though, there was very little noise. A fog of stunned expectation seemed to have descended on all of them. It took them nearly twenty minutes to cross the few metres that lay between them and the proclaimed Bhagat Mehar Baba.

When the sight met their eyes, even the skeptical Binita Baruah was overwhelmed by a searing moment of faith.

On the front steps of the village gurdwara—which had been erected on the very spot where the Sufi mystic used to camp—sat a man clad in faded saffron, with very black eyes peeking out from crinkly half-open eyelids. There was an indecipherable expression in those eyes—was it the glaze of divine ecstasy, or a twinkle of amusement?—which made it impossible to guess his real age despite the long grey hair cascading down his shoulders. His upright figure, sitting in a cross-legged posture, certainly gave nothing away.

Veerji sat to his right (a couple of steps lower), leaning for support on a young woman who must be Manjot. The rest of the family was clustered at the base of the steps, all eyes turned towards the silent holy man.

And to his left sat Nishimaya, not a step lower but on level with him, her head leaning against his shoulder, oblivious to the world. The fakir did not seem to mind this familiarity in the least. Arpit sat a step below her, his hand resting comfortingly on hers; his gaze sweeping from Mehar Baba to Manjot. Tears were flowing down Nishi’s face like a river which had finally managed to escape its dam.

 

***

“How is it possible, Arpit?” demanded Mannat, while he gazed at her in wonder that she could have changed so little. He had imagined—and feared—the icy phantom he had once encountered on a demented beach. But this was not Manjot Shergill sitting with him. This was the Mannat who had rushed to her beloved Veerji and Meharsar on hearing about their trouble. This was the Mannat whom he could hope to….to…?

The Illusion of Night. Nishi had been right, as always.

Mannat continued to mull, “I am not sure whether it is the original Mehar Baba or not; but Veerji believes so. Some say he is growing dull with age, but I can’t see any trace of it. I am not biased because he is my grandfather. He could not have waged such a huge battle—and won—without his wits about him.”

“When did I ever disagree, Mannat?” He smiled into her eyes to seek reassurance more than to give it. She did not turn away, but did not smile back either. Instead, she continued earnestly, “I was at Delhi airport when I saw the news about Veerji breaking his fast. I am glad I did not come to know it sooner—it might have forestalled my decision to come. And I can’t regret my coming for a moment. Arpit”, she paused, and then seemed to have forgotten she was to go on.

He breathed in the scent of his name being uttered by her lips. It had been an eternity.

Groping for the thread of her thoughts, Mannat went on, “When I saw you feeding Veerji that first glass of juice, I felt so awkward. Arpit…I don’t know how to say this…did I misunderstand you…or did you change? Have you really gone against your father this time?”

“Did you want me to?” he asked quickly, throwing her into confusion.

Lowering her eyes, she admitted, “Yes, I did. As disrespectful as it sounds, I cannot regard him the way I used to in childhood. I’m sorry if this hurts you; but you know he is responsible for all this mess in our village….”

“…and in our lives. Right, Mannat? Had it not been for him, we might have been married.”

“How do you know?” she gasped. “Baoji had explicitly forbidden any of us to talk about it after your father turned down our proposal.”

He counter-questioned, “Mannat, do you know that woman who is weeping on the fakir’s shoulder? She is Nishimaya, my friend. Actually, she is the greatest friend of my life. And this saint whom you all call Mehar Baba is not the original mystic, but Nishi’s father Pandit Devishankar Gaur.”

She stared at him in stupefaction. And then he told her everything.

“I owe Nishi everything that is in front of me right now”, he ended, touching her cheek to make his meaning clear. She did not shrug off his hand. But her sigh told him what she was thinking. He had been afraid of that.

“Was….was Sunny okay with your coming here?”

“No. He was absolutely against it—especially when he came to know about you…and about us. It was a slip of my tongue. But then I realized it was my duty to be honest with him. I told him everything.”

“You did?” It was impossible for him to ask further. His head was floating away on the clean chill air of the Meharsar night. Now Mannat stepped back slightly, so that he had to let his hand drop down.

Limply and listlessly, she replied, “I can totally understand his indignation. That is putting it mildly. He was extremely upset. I don’t know how much he comprehends of these ties which bind me to Meharsar—though he has been trying all this while, to do him justice. But I could not wait for him to understand. My village was at stake—Veerji’s life was at stake.”

“So was your marriage.”

“I hope it is not gone so far, Arpit. Sunny is indeed a good husband; it was I who failed as a wife.”

“And if Sunny has also started thinking so….what will happen when you go back?”

She saw the question behind his question, and the guilty hope behind the layers of questioning. The eyes she raised to his were of the youthful Mannat, the Mannat unsmudged by trial and mishap. “I have left that to the One Above.”

“You will come back to me, Mannat. I have faith in Nishimaya; I have faith in the history we have Redreamed.”

“Redreamed—or Redeemed?”

“Huh?”

“You have rescued yourself, Arpit….redeemed your actions…but you are not responsible for the stream of my life. It will take the course it was intended to.”

“It was intended to flow towards me.” He pulled her close and kissed her. She let her arms linger on his neck even when their lips moved apart. “You will see, Mannat. You can’t possibly flow back upstream to where I had lost you. If all the world is illusory, how is the reality of separation greater than the reality of union?”

“Nishimaya’s wisdom again?”

“Certainly.”

“How are you so sure Mehar Baba is really her father?”

“It is the very same face I saw during Redreaming. It’s not a face I can ever mistake.”

“What if Panditji is the reincarnation of the original Mehar Baba?”

This time he was the one taken unawares. Mannat brushed her fingers lightly over his forehead before mulling, “Mehar Baba disappeared in 1947. Nishi’s father must have been born around 1950. It is possible.”

“If that is so, I have been constantly blessed by an underground river”, he sighed contentedly before dropping his head on her shoulder.

***

 

Neither Mehar Baba nor Nishi were to be found in the morning. The villagers were unperturbed. They were convinced this was not the last they had seen of miracles.

When the doubtful NB volunteers asked them how they could be so sure, they pointed towards the lake. Some could see several rainbows dancing off its surface—one, two, three….seven? Were there seven rainbows?

Some saw no rainbows at all.

Arpit looked and saw a star with seven rays, rays the shape of lotus petals.

A chill gust of wind swooped down from the mountains.

 

BLEEDING IN LUXURY

(Lately I have been targeted by online ads for high-end sanitary pads, which range from skin-friendly and eco-friendly alternatives–which are still acceptable–to impractical ‘reusable’ napkins which the woman will have to wash after every use and which was why we started using disposable sanitary pads in the first place, in fancy colour combinations; to monthly subscription plans where the pack of pads is ‘tailored’ to the woman’s monthly flow. All this, in a country where the majority of women don’t even have access to basic menstrual hygiene. None of these companies thought of making low-cost pads instead?)

They found us a new class system.

All women are equal, but some

Are more equal than others,

Based on how they bleed—

Into rags and sawdust

Or bamboo and corn, skin-friendly and biodegradable.

Scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram,

I found that menstruation can be

Customisable, subscribe able and home-deliverable

Or makeshift, scrabbling for cotton and washable cloth,

Soaking in shame and secrecy, depending upon

Which side of the Income Wall you inhabit.

I start to believe

I am more empowered, less vulnerable

If my body’s blood and mucus

Flow into Samudraa, Starburst or Celestial

Cotton velour (to be soaked, agitated and sun-dried)

Or given the Affection or Indulgence gift pack;

Notwithstanding that my sisters

In slums and shacks can barely afford

One pack of ten (basic, no wings)

Once a month, I can luxuriate

In the smugness of having come

So far, I can finally play that game

Of selling and buying with my body and my money.

Like underarm whiteners and chocolate waxing,

I have found yet another way

To put my body’s blood and sweat back

Into my body’s blood and sweat.

What the woman earns, the woman spends

On the cost of being a woman.

For her body is still her home—

Her only home, and which self-respecting

Lady wouldn’t buy the best for her home?

And perchance, if she doesn’t

Earn or spend, well, that one

Anyway had no home to begin with.,

And society goes on undisturbed.

Believing in a Thousand Years and More

Image by Karin Henseler from Pixabay

“I have died every day waiting for you,

Darling don’t be afraid I have loved you

For a Thousand years….

I’ll love you for a Thousand more!”

I stumbled upon this song about two to three years ago on the internet and immediately fell in love with it. A few months later, a friend sent me the link to the same song, saying, “Perhaps you may like it.” It could have been a coincidence, or it could have been one of my favourite things that often happens to me: serendipity. Not just the right people, but the right books, songs, movies and TV shows make their way to me at the right time.

A Thousand Years has fitted into my idea of Love. But last year, when I started humming this song in front of another friend, she laughed, “Oh, that is such a silly song.” Many people would agree with her, I suppose. After all, how can you love someone for a thousand years when most people won’t live to even a hundred?

Unless, of course, you believe in reincarnation. And its corollary of the existence of an immortal soul.

Due to my spiritual path and also due to the other stuff I have read, I have believed in reincarnation for most of my life. But it was an intellectual belief, not having percolated down to my bone marrow. When faced with sorrows and setbacks, I often failed to apply this belief as a source of solace. It’s been only over the last three years that the concept has become as strong a part of my life as anything I see in physical reality.

Without believing in reincarnation, believing in karma doesn’t make any sense, because you would end up looking for retribution and redemption without one lifetime, and become disillusioned when it doesn’t work out that way. Frankly, without it there is no sense in believing in God either–if one is willing to believe in a whimsical God who hands a gold plate of privilege to one person and a clay mound of hardships to another. Who allows babies to be killed. Who allows innocent people to suffer for their entire lives. No, if one wants to believe in a just God, one cannot hitch their belief system to the fading star of one lifetime.

Almost all the major religions of the world mention it in their scriptures. It is there is in the Old Testament and the Quran, cloaked in allegory. Of course, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism have extensively dwelt upon the cycle of birth and rebirth and karma. Even for those who don’t follow any religion, the Universe gives sharp enough nudges to remind them. Has a person seemed familiar the first time you met, as if you were simply picking up where you left off? And yet it was not “possible”? Or felt a strong pull of attraction towards certain places? Have you heard someone’s voice or looked into their eyes, and wondered how on earth you it seemed familiar as the ages? That is the Universe asking, with a twinkle, “Do you doubt now??”

Imagine a world where everyone was absolutely sure about reincarnation. There would be a sharp reduction in the victim mentality of “why was I born with so little when so-and-so was born with so much” and practically an end to jealousy and greed: knowing, not just believing, that what goes around will definitely come around. If no misdeed will be left unpunished (though the Universe works this through in subtle ways) then by the same logic, no effort will go waste. Every gentle thought will eventually bring harmony into the life of the thinker. Yes, infinite patience will still be required, but isn’t it much easier to wait for a goal which we are certain is on its way??

Above all, it would remove the fear of death. Maybe not completely, because sometimes a belief in NO kind of afterlife whatsoever makes it easier to dream about death. There have been times in my life when I wished to die, but two things prevented me: one, attachment to loved ones (yes, despite knowing I would be meeting them again one day whether I lived or died) and two, the groan-inducing recollection that I would have to be reborn anyway to work off remaining karma. Might as well get through whatever has been bothering me in this life. But people who do NOT have this belief might actually cross the line between inclination and action. They might commit suicide.

On the other hand, I have sometimes made jokes about dying that did not amuse my friends. Nor am I now so often afflicted with the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out on the supposed “good things” in life). Either I will get them in this life (if they are reasonable desires), in one of my next incarnations, in the afterlife, or the desire itself will gradually be erased from my consciousness. No hurry, no sweat.

It will still not remove the temptation to occasionally binge on a pizza or spend the entire morning watching sit-coms, because…well, who knows whether there will be pizza and Two Broke Girls by the time I am reborn?? It might just be a Thousand Years till I return….

 

 

What Happened in 2016 (also, The Best Worst Things That Happened To Me- Part 4)

Continued from Part 3; however, I have made this a stand-alone post because not everyone would be interested in reading about my psychological journey till 2016.

In the fag-end of September 2016, just as the auspicious Navratri period was starting, I entered the most striking and most terrifying phase of my life. It lasted 3 months, ending with the year’s exit (I remember saying, “Goodbye, 2016, and good riddance!”) as I went home for a visit on 31st December.

What exactly triggered it? I am still not sure. Perhaps it was a build-up of all the stress I had been undergoing since 2010. Perhaps it was a hormonal imbalance or some other medical condition (I did have undetected medical conditions at that point). Perhaps it was the outcome of loneliness and alienation in a strange city. Perhaps it was the side-effect of the job I do. But also, perhaps, it was the start of my journey up the actual mountain. No more dawdling at base camp taking in the view. I had to mean business with my spiritual growth.

What exactly was it? I am not sure even of that. From one angle, I had all the signs of a mental disorder, but which one? Depression? I had lost my appetite (very rare for me), had disturbed sleep with nightmares even worse than usual (after having been a heavy sleeper for most of my life–my family and roommate in university can attest to it!), lost interest in most of my usual pleasures like books, TV, outings and friends; there was this heavy sense of the futility of most things, and I was not doing anything to further my creative or professional growth. I felt that I was not entitled to hope for anything.

Worst of all, my imagination wasn’t working. All my life I have dealt with reality by either fighting it head-on or, when it was not possible to, by shutting it out and living in my own mind. I made up fantasies in defiance. Now all the lights had gone out in my mind. And I wasn’t sure when, if ever, they would come back. How long I would have to stay inside this dark house of my mind. The sculptures of my fancy turned into monsters in the darkness.

There were other symptoms that did not fit in with depression– unexplained fears and foreboding; superstitious beliefs; feelings of near-panic and derealization; numbness replacing the almost agonizing empathy that I used to feel for other people’s distress; a general “blunting” of emotion….all symptoms of different categories of disorders. At one point I even wondered if I was having a psychotic break.

Yet I chafed at labelling it as mental illness. The psychologist in me couldn’t take this blow to the ego. Nor did I dare to go and get it diagnosed by any other therapist, for fear as to how this would impact my professional standing. Also, I really wasn’t sure whether I was “ill” or “disordered”, because this was also me working at the peak of my abilities, smilingly, not resenting the workload or the suppression of my individualism, not letting anyone know about the dread that lay in the center of my chest, waiting to get activated as soon as I unlocked my empty apartment…

It wasn’t till 2018 that I got the answer. While attending a program in Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy, our teacher explained “high-functioning depression”–in which people may be carrying on their daily activities with full vigour, but with self-blame, self-pity and despondency raging inside. This is a layperson’s definition I am giving here, and would not like people to self-diagnose reading any part of this post. 

Something went “click”. My tears welled up, right there in class, and all I could think was of not letting them be seen. 2016 had indeed seen the climax of all my deep-rooted tendencies towards guilt, self-blame, self-abhorrence (this continued right mid-2019), rigid self-regulation and a spiritual or religious melancholia.

And yet, and yet…even if it was indeed depression that I underwent, I know there was more to it. Alongside the terror, my intuition and telepathic abilities reached a high pitch. A sense of childlike wonder at most things, returned. This time without sentiments of inevitable loss and longing. There were “signs” from the universe to assure me of the rightness of my actions. I knew, for the first time–not just believed or imagined–that magic and miracles are more real than the mundane perceptions we call “reality”. THIS was not religious melancholia turning into credulity. My scientifically-trained mind would not allow it. I was still questioning the validity of the signs I was getting, but they came repetitively, almost like I was being asked, “Are you convinced NOW??”

What helped me come out of this phase? Honestly, I didn’t emerge from it till very recently, due to events I have described in my earlier posts. Back at the end of 2016, a visit home for New Year’s, and long conversations with my mother and a close friend, helped me look for practical means of dispelling the gloom. I realised that simple pleasures do help to dispel moods. It’s also ok, sometimes, to take mild medication to be able to sleep soundly. Creative hobbies are a must. Physical activity helps. A social life isn’t entirely a sign of debauchery! I remember how elated I was to feel “normal” when going to a concert in December-end. I had thought I would never be able to feel excited about anything “worldly” ever again.

Even that lovely movie, “Dear Zindagi” which is about psychotherapy, came like therapy for me, with its simple lessons and that song which constantly reminds me to let go and trust in life. I was shedding quiet tears of relief in the darkness of the theatre (how different it was from my mind’s darkness!)

Like I have mentioned in earlier posts, certain movies, songs, TV shows and books have come to me through serendipity with propitious timing. In those days, when I had lost interest in almost everything, I managed to stay hooked to one TV show: the Turkish series Fatmagul. The story of a girl’s survival through a horrific experience, it made me remember to be thankful for the state of my own life. Moreover, by the end of the series Fatmagul learns, not to ever give up regretting what happened (because it was truly something which no girl should ever go through–not giving out spoilers here) but definitely to appreciate how such trauma channeled her life into a direction far more meaningful than she could have imagined, living simply in her village before the incident happened to change her life.

So why am I writing about all this now, after 3 years? Because I finally have the courage to expose a part of my psyche. Because I have met people who have experienced fragments of the same experience, and I can now listen to them with empathy and without judging them as “weird” as I was inclined to do before 2016. Because I learned to set boundaries on how far others can intervene in my inner life, including my spiritual beliefs and practices. Because I have hope that a lot of my karma got sloughed off during that phase (!) preparing me for the rewards ahead (that’s all-too-human greed kicking in again). Because it helped me see human experience as a “play” (leela) rather than serious business.

Also because recently I saw an actor (Parineeti Chopra) talk about her experience with depression, it made me realise that more people should be sharing this. It’s something so intensely personal, I am sure no two people can be “depressed” in the same way. Her triggers (heartbreak, professional and financial lows) were completely different from mine, nor did I react in the same manner as she did. But what definitely touched a chord in me was her gratitude for that phase of her life, which she summed up as “it was necessary for once in my life to go down that absolute black hole”. Bingo! What happens when, like Alice, we go down a rabbit-hole? We find darkness. Absolute, pitch-darkness. Then we see flashes of light in the far distance, just enough to give us hope that light still can exist for us, even though we don’t know when again we will encounter it. But at least we will.

And then we walk further. Then we find Wonderland.

Perhaps certain “bad things” happen to us, definitely to destroy us. Scary? Yes, when it is happening! But when it is over….we find a crack in our consciousness from which most of our self-limiting, preconceived notions about life have evaporated. Light streams into our roofless mental house. Profound suffering can be transforming.

Indeed, what happened in 2016 was one of the greatest blessings of my life.

P.S. I am glad I took down notes during that phase, or else my present-day self would have dismissed most of it as retrospective exaggeration. In truth, I have been able to outline only a part of what really happened.

The Best Worst Things That Happened To Me – Part 3

(Continued from Part 2)

In 2014 and early 2015, I used to get a recurrent dream: I had travelled and found myself in a beautiful place full of interesting people, yet I sensed some intrigue, something underfoot that made me uneasy. My mother was with me. However, during the course of the dream I would find us separated, usually with her being on a plane or train that I just missed catching. The dreams stopped around the time I applied for my present job.

Well, I came to Bombay in 2016. It felt nothing like the glamorous, racy city I had met on my previous visits. There was no gloom or foreboding, but neither did I feel welcome. The energies hung heavy in the air. At first I thought I was too exhausted with the packing, travelling, unpacking, separation from home, new job and new environment, the climate change etc.

I thought it would be ok in a few weeks.

It was not ok. My mother left after helping me settle down. I squeezed into a routine. The work was more difficult than I thought, but I was getting the hang of it. The office environment was still guarded and even cold, but because I couldn’t fathom why anyone would behave that way towards me, I tended to dismiss my instincts as fantasy (even though one person had warned me).

Just when I was finally starting to like the place, certain things happened to shake my belief that things would be all right with time–hadn’t they always become all right in the places I had earlier worked at? This place, though, was different. In less than 4 months I was regretting my decision to come. I had somehow come out of a situation where I was doubted, not just my abilities but my intentions were placed under the scanner, and the person who should have stood up for me instead threw me under the bus, all because I was new (??). I was weeping on the floor of my bedroom, striking my head against the mattress of my bed (and sometimes against the wall). Home and mother seemed to the only cure, yet the previous month when I had made my first trip home from Bombay, the plane had an emergency landing and I was forced to stay another day in the city I was so eager to take a break from.

It had all been so like my recurrent dream: the beautiful but dangerous place, the charming but secretive people, separation from my mother, and the obstacles preventing me from going home.

There were  two reasons I continued to stay on in Bombay. One, I had moved bag and baggage, with a bundle full of ambitions. I had finally come to the city I had dreamed about. If I left so soon, it would be too awkward explaining to people back home why I couldn’t keep the job.

The second reason why I stayed on was this quote of St. Francis that I have often heard repeated on my spiritual path, “Learn to face blame, criticism and accusation silently and without retaliation, even though untrue and unjustified.” These words came to my mind in those very moments when I was seething with a sense of injustice and victimhood. They became a challenge: could I, really, live as they prescribed? And if I managed to accept this and move forward, what beneficial change might they bring in my personality??

This was a first for me–accepting injustice as injustice that happened to me. Not thinking of ways to explain why this might have happened to me. Not watering it down with, “It’s not as bad as I am thinking”. Not seething with anger. Not looking for opportunities to prove that I was right. Just accepting it, living with it and trying to forget it. (Of course, one never really forgets, but it heals. It does.)

Three qualities that I have struggled to learn are patience, humility and forgiveness. The years 2010-2015 had taught me much of the first, some of the second, but the third was still my Achilles heel. Honestly, not too long ago I had given up on ever completely forgiving certain people in my life. Therefore, going past this incident was a milestone. And you know what happens when you cross a few milestones? Life then decides you are ready to climb a mountain.

Despite work pressure I had a fairly peaceful period from July to September 2016. I was at base camp, enjoying the scenery. My spirituality was in the “butterflies and pebbles” stage. I thought it would always be this pleasant.

Then…..whoa!

(Continued here…)