Creations of Life

Her  glass bangles clinked as she furiously pulled the needle through the intricate maze of thread-work spread out in her lap. Each tug on the thread wove out the pattern that she knew in her head without even looking at the cloth . It was supposed to be done by tomorrow when the lady from the NGO would come and inspect her work- all to be packed and taken away and finally become a kurta to be worn by someone far away. Outside the wind had given way to rain ,the dark clouds rolled and as the sounds of thunder in the distance made their way into the room her hands moved faster, the clinking of her bangles getting louder and angrier as if they could sense her own impatience at the clouds. The impending storm meant it would be darker soon- taking away nearly an hour from her work. A final knot and she held out the thread between her fingers her biting into it to snap it away from the cloth. Holding up the needle to the fading evening light from the window she squinted trying to push the red thread through the eye. Just a final row more and the design would be done. This time maybe a new pair  of shoes for her little boy. She called out to him as the needle pierced the cloth once more, creating another pattern.

He peered up into the sky under the neem trees swathed in the evening breeze. Grey clouds rolled across the skies glaring and thundering at the world below. In the distance the boys from the other school raced across the ground chasing the yellow and grey football ,kicking in fury their tee-shirts soaked with sweat and clinging to their chests ,screaming and calling out names as the ball streaked across the ground. He watched quietly occasionally glancing at the window of the room they lived in for he knew his mother would call soon. In a few minutes little droplets of rain slowly made their way into the dry earth disappearing near his bare feet. He looked up into the skies hopefully as the drops grew larger a couple falling sharply onto his cheeks. An enormous roll of thunder heralded the downpour he had been waiting for and the screams of the boys got drowned out as the rain beat down onto everything in sight. A tiny rivulet of water poured from a branch of the neem collecting into a puddle beneath the tree. He inhaled deeply the smell of the wet leaves and the wet earth and pulled out an old sheet of newspaper from his frayed shirt pocket. In the distance he could hear his mother calling her voice nearly drowned over the rain and thunder. Slowly he squatted spreading out the sheet and folding it into half and then again- his fingers quick and sure. Raindrops soaked his head and feet as he bent over the piece of paper he was folding taking care that it remained dry. His tiny eight year old fingers had been waiting all year for this. As the puddle near his feet grew larger he held his tiny paper boat between his fingers holding it from the tip as if it were made of glass. Once more he looked up and as if they knew what he wanted the clouds magically halted, the drops were now not so sharp and the rain had now reduced back to a drizzle . He placed his newly created boat into the puddle and watched as it bobbed slowly. His mother called again and this time he answered his eyes fixed on his boat as it rocked in the tiny puddle. In the distance the street-lights came on casting a golden glow on the slowly pattering rain drops. He looked up -the old man across the street was at his window looking at him. He waved and smiled as the boat he had created quivered in the breeze

The old man could barely hear. Often the postman would bang at his door and leave because he would not hear. He liked watching the boys as they played in the distance. They reminded him of his grandson. Today he stood by the window as the raindrops streaked down the panes. He watched the little boy under the tree folding his little piece of paper and setting it to sail in the puddle. The rains reminded him of his wife-she loved the rain. She would rush towards the stove and make them both a cup of tea. Warm, milky, sweet with the sharp taste of ginger in it. They would both sit and drink it while watching the raindrops. His wrinkled hands quivered as he silently wiped a tear at the edge of his eye . He missed her even more today,his throat ached and he yearned for her special tea. He closed his eyes as he leaned back into the chair trying to recall how she made it.Then slowly he got up holding onto the stick by his chair his feet unsteady- with pain and age. He shuffled up to the kitchen and poured out a cup of water into the pan. With slow and measured steps he reached out for the dry and old little bit of ginger that was lying in the  kitchen basket. As the water bubbled on the stove he stirred in the ginger bits trying to recall the way his wife would. “You don’t be around here- go sit outside”, she would say if he ever tried to help in the kitchen. The water in the pan bubbled and sizzled and he slowly measured out the tea leaves into it. Drops of milk spilt on to the kitchen counter as his hands shook while pouring it into the pan. He caught the pan with an old and dirty rag pouring the brown warm liquid into the chipped cup spilling a little outside. Slowly he made his way back to his chair, cup in one hand and his stick in the other. Then he sank back into his chair inhaling the tea and rain .  Slowly he sipped .Her tea-and he had tried to recreate that feeling today.

The rain had stopped now. The wet paper boat floated in the puddle being tossed every now and then by the breeze.

For WordPress Daily Prompt: The Prompt for today is Create

Happiness

Growing up with Mother Goose and Old MacDonald ( I went to nursery school in an era when the Happy Meal serving MacD was yet to appear on the urban landscape) poetry recitation class was a series of rhymes being churned out one after another beginning with a tea pot that poured tea out and reaching a crescendo with the entire kindergarten group clapping their hands in unison to the beat of When you are Happy and You Know It.

This summer I walked into a book store  in Mussoorie to find a hardbound green pocket book by Ruskin Bond entitled Little Book of  Happiness. Placed on my bedside now the book runs like a thread of tiny quotes on happiness in Bond’s inimitable style.

“Happiness is as elusive as a butterfly, and you must never pursue it. If you stay very still, it may come and settle on your hand. But only briefly. Savour those moments, for they will not come in your way very often.”
Ruskin Bond

When I think of it, happiness is not that elusive once you start to savour the brief moments.

The bliss and warmth of sleeping in the mellow winter sun

the hint of cardamom and ginger as you wrap your fingers over your morning cup of tea

freshly washed sheets when you slip in between the covers

a walk in the mountains through the mist with the mountain breeze on your face and the whisper of pines in your ears

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a good book to curl up with on a rainy afternoon  

the Dachshunds flopping by my side after an exhausting evening of chasing each other and then nuzzling for comfort

a plate of exquisitely spiced fragrant home made biryani laced with saffron and the love that maa put into it

memories 

the first litchis of the season

long conversations with old friends the kind that stretch late into the night and you end up wondering where the time went

finding that perfect moment and capturing it in a photograph

an old song with a haunting melody

fresh blooms in the garden 

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Life for me has been about seizing happiness from between the moments of trial and tears by snatching these little joys – savouring them ,holding on to the after taste even when the moments have gone by.  As Pema Chodron said,” Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world “

Of course there are the other moments as well…when I overcome the nagging fears of the unknown , the worries ,the gnawing knots in the stomach and go beyond them – the tiny successes that come when you jump off that cliff of constant fear and slowly inch towards the dream that you carved out for yourself. For it is only when you quit folding yourself into a pre-conceived shape – when you get out of the amniotic sac of comfort while knowing that perhaps sometimes things take a little while to fall into their own- it is when you celebrate the tiny highs that you can get past the inevitable lows.  Of course one can never have eternal happy- the proverbial roller coaster of life shows you the  dizzy euphoric highs and the crummy miserable lows. But eventually when the calendar flips, if you keep the zest for life,if you can grab joy in the small moments, maybe occasionally even clap your hands and stamp your feet as the rhyme went-  that is when you can find happiness.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’

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Serenity and Happiness – The View from Dalai Hills

News reports and weather apps reported a monstrous summer below in the plains. Daunting prospects as we prepared to rejoin duties in sweltering climes after a brief memorable hiatus in the form of the Mid Career Training at the Academy in Mussoorie. April had been a pleasurable month both in terms of the inputs for Mid- Career correction offered by the course as well as the attempts at mid-riff correction attempted by the over-zealous ( and over flabby) amongst us who conscientiously puffed and panted down to the Happy Valley grounds at dawn earnestly beseeching the layers of adipose secretly hoping for a meltdown. After 10 years on the job the four week stint at the academy had been a refreshing change.

One morning as I wheezed my way for the customary run( walk?trot? crawl?) to the PT grounds ( innocuously called Happy Valley Grounds and as every probationer who has developed sprains and strains on each shrill call of the drill instructors whistle will tell you Happy is not an emotion associated with the said grounds) R and S were beaming with an idea. ” Let’s walk down to the Dalai Hills.”

Interestingly having spent around a year plus at the academy during the initial training days and having explored around it, I had never ventured towards the Dalai Hills. During the day one could see prayer flags fluttering in the distance and signboards pointed towards the Tibetan school but we had never really been there. In 1959 when the Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa he found asylum in Mussoorie right here in the Happy Valley and a Tibetan school, temple and settlement came up here. Later His Holiness moved to Dharamshala but the monastery and some Tibetans made this their permanent home. The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration overlooks the Happy Valley.

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The Academy in the distance

We walked past the new gymnasium, few shops and houses our pace quick enjoying the sharp chill of the  omnipresent mountain breeze as it fanned our faces.  Enroute a sleepy brown haired mountain dog raised an eyelid as it looked at us -undisturbed. We walked past prayer flags and down a winding concrete path under a gate that read Shedup Choepelling Temple. The temple offered a breathtaking view of the valley below- lush and vibrant after the rains the previous day. An old monk walked slowly in the courtyard in front of the temple , his wrinkled fingers wrapped around brown beads that hung from his hand, his lips murmuring gentle prayers as he shuffled. Tall deodar trees flanked the monastery standing guard to the ornate prayer wheels that creaked slowly. We entered the temple charmed by the vivid murals and colourful paintings on the wall. An instant calm and sense of tranquillity hits you inside the temple. Red cushions lay spread out in front of red wooden benches that were lined with books of prayer and incantation- signs of an early morning prayer that had probably just finished. In front of us a was huge statue of the Buddha surrounded by flickering lamps. The statue exuded peace and all four of us stood spell-bound.

As we stepped out we were greeted by the chatter of cherubic little kids in navy sweaters walking hand in hand around the temple being ably guided by a young boy and girl possibly their teachers. A few minutes of coaxing and the lure of S’s selfie stick and they were soon posing for pictures -coy smiles from the girls and mischievous victory signs from the boys as they huddled to get into the frame.

Merry giggles rose into the raw morning as S showed them the results of the photographs clicked. The simplicity and contentment of their lives was visible in their eyes and the sheer thrill they found in peering into the phone screen of a stranger’s phone. We waved our good-byes and headed westward beginning our ascent to the Dalai Hill top. The meandering path took us past the settlement ,a tiny tea shop, a few more sleepy mountain pariah dogs and a young girl wearing a bright sweatshirt deep in prayer that she was reading out from her mobile phone.

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The path up to the statue

As I panted up the steep climb I found myself being engulfed by the slow rhythm of the place. Prayer flags lined the path and the valley below. Each little curve offered new vistas- an unhindered view of the Hathipaon mountains on one side and the Kempty valley on the other. Prayer flags fluttered and whispered strains into the wind as the sun grew warmer forming a bright orange ball breaking out of the clouds as we climbed.

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The sun breaking out of the clouds

Daisies and wildflowers grew alongside the path sheltered from the winds by rocks and bushes. A shiny ,bronze Buddha stared down at us peeping through the maze of prayer flags as we faltered and panted up the hill.

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We entered through a revolving gate one at a time finally up the craggy spine of the Dalai hill. An air of calm exuded from the Buddha statue as it sat there on the platform overlooking the valley below. A few sparrows pecked on the ground unperturbed by our presence even as a Mynah and whistling thrush laughed and rent the air with their sonorous songs. It was almost like time had stopped still here- creating a Zen like atmosphere- unfettered, undisturbed.

A monkey made its way up the railing along the path paying scant attention to the four girls who stood there. As if by magic an emaciated cat appeared from behind the platform, making its way towards the new entrant. They cast steely glances at each other neither too keen to make the first move. Then slowly an uncanny friendship developed- maybe the serenity imbued in this place had its effect on all creatures- great and small.

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An odd friendship

Some how up there in the quiet, tranquillity the multiple divergent threads of my life gave way to the tempered calm of a Zen monk. Grudgingly we began our walk back – classes, routine and the rest of the day beckoned. She was still there, reciting her prayers , the young girl we saw as we made our way up. This time she looked up and smiled at us and even helped us past one of the mountain dogs which had now woken up and looked rather intrigued by our presence! A few boys from the Tibetan settlement met us on our way down smiling and waving at us as we laboured down the narrow path. It seemed that the Happy Valley is aptly named- most people here radiate happiness- despite their circumstances.

As I walked into class for the penultimate day of the course I wondered what it was about prayer flags and Buddha statues that constantly drew me to them. The chant Om Ma Ni Pe Me Hung reverberated in my head through the day. I had read the lines by the Carribean poet Amie d Cesaore sometime back.

Hurray for those who never invented anything
Hurray for those who never explored anything
Hurray for those who never conquered anything
But who, in awe , give themselves up to the essence of things
Ignorant of the shell , but seized by the rhythm of things
Not intent on conquest ,but playing the play of the world

It seemed to me that day it would be wonderful if we could just give ourselves up to the essence of things- seized by the rhythm of things, not intent on conquest.

A day later the course was wrapped up and I rejoined work in the sweltering plains, but that moment of serenity , the cool breeze and the smiles of the Tibetan children stayed with me long after.

Grey, Sepia and Solitude

I have an inexplicable fascination for sepia- for the old  and worn out , faded photographs, for stories that permeate into the grain of discoloured paper. As the SUV halted outside the gate of the antiquated stone fort on a bright summer afternoon  I glanced up and knew- this was my sepia moment in the mountains.  A kaleidoscope of colour all around – crisp ,bright blue skies with fluffy white clouds the reminder of rain the previous afternoon, a landscape dotted with  enchanting shades of hazy purple –blue jacaranda flowers on the banks of the Banganga , crystal clear waters gurgling across smooth grey and white rock, vibrant green pine and deodar on the  hill side , the mighty snow clad Dhauladhar peaks in the distance and   the  steely grey solidity of a  stone fort that overlooked the colour and the buzz all around with a stately demeanour –after all it  had withstood generations of conquerors and the ravage of time.

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The sun was harsh and afternoons in hill stations are not meant for trudging up slopes of cobbled stone and breathing in stories of antiquity. But the minute I stepped out of the SUV and stood outside the Kangra fort gate, I knew this was my moment of complete bliss. Above me the fort stood damaged by the earthquake in 1905, invaders and time yet holding its own blissfully aware of the epithet attached to it-“whoever conquers the fort will rule the hills”.

Pariah kites flew in lazy abandon encircling the fort, surveying the ruins that lay below. Splotches of colour here and there dotting the quiet imposing sedate grey – an information board here, a newly planted bougenvellia bush in rampant bloom there.

I stood there atop the fort, trying to catch my breath post the climb and trying to take in the mystique of the structure timeless and eternal. Grey-brown stone columns standing tall , the remains of a temple,  carvings on the wall, ghostly silhouette of a peepal tree that knew more stories than the historical narrative could retell. It stood there wise and majestic its leaves gently whispering in the breeze casting patterns on the stones.

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Forts and ruins have their own stories ones that I prefer to breathe in on my own, with no guide or informer.  The Kangra Fort is not just one of the oldest forts packed with history , mythology and stories. Standing there looking through the ramparts nearly swallowing a heartbeat and soaking in the history  I was mesmerised nearly willing time to stand still ,not wanting to go back to buzz and rush of the city and work back home. The fort overlooks the confluence of the Banganga and the Majhi rivers and the windows present a visual delight of the rivers and the valley carved through. I have a penchant for clinging to old stories and each of the walls , corners and doors seemed to have a repertoire of endless stories of mystic and lore imprinted on them.

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Silence permeated the broken bits of architecture yet the stone walls wove their magic over me. Perhaps it was the solitude, the exhilaration of having explored something so mesmerising all by myself. Perhaps it was the dull thought in my head that maybe some of my ancestors walked these cobbled stones before me. The fort held a quiet, un-settling ,elusive  quality that I could not put my finger on.

 

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Maybe some magic still lives in these walls.

Faith

Faith – that limitless expanse of hope that stretches out when the grey clouds of life encircle and engulf…That tiny flicker within that keeps you moving along the weary road.

Faith that finds itself in a tiny Buddhist temple where the lamps flicker and an elderly monk wraps his wrinkled fingers over his prayer beads.

 

 

Faith in the eyes of  rosy cheeked children as they push one prayer wheel after another.

Faith in the timeless prayer flags.

That belief that it will get better. Because it does.It really does.

Far from Home

He sat slouched in his chair ,his legs stretched out before him ,one foot on top of the other wrapped warmly in wooly socks. His wizened hands  lay on his stomach  his fingers interlocked ,wrinkles glowing in the mellow Dehradun winter sun. Near him stood a rickety old table with a bright blue tablecloth  with red roses in a neat delicate cross-stich pattern  the handiwork of my grandmother that bore the weight of the activity for the morning. On it were the day’s newspaper folded  which lay beneath the dark black spectacles, a bright blue box of cigarettes,  a matchbox and his patent grey woolen cap. His grey hair was messy indicating he had just taken his cap off. He hadn’t noticed me walk in ,nor heard the clanging of the iron gate as I unhooked it from its creaky hinge. The black cigarette case was missing today I thought to myself reminded of its magical ability to pop out a cigarette with a  gentle press from my grandfather. His head  was slightly bent,the eyes seemed fixated on the bushes in the rambling garden or beyond at the maze of dark litchi trees in the distance.

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“Hullo Nanu”, I called out to him and he slowly turned breaking into a warm toothless smile that I was all too familiar with. His arms stretched out for the grandfatherly hug and I reached out to hug him inhaling the potpourri of cigarette , Palmolive shaving cream and the CSD bought hair oil that he had used.

“How are you beta ji?” he asked as I sank into the light brown cushion on the chair next to him. An all too familiar sight of pickle jars had been lined up in the sun indicating that my grandmother had been at work. Some things were a constant at my grandparents place.

“How have you been?” I asked my faced scrunching up at the sun’s rays falling into my eyes. As I shifted the chair into the shadow of the chakotra tree that we had spent many summer holidays climbing and falling out of, he sank back into the chair and the reverie I had found him in.

“I was reminded of my days in Wazirabad this morning” he said looking back into the bushes. I hugged my jacket closer as a cold breeze from the snow clad Mussoorie hills blew towards us ,he seemed oblivious, his eyes having developed a shine as he transported me into the tale that all his children and grandchildren had grown up hearing. Words I was familiar with and some that I had forgotten tumbled around me like gentle waves in a sea – the story of the man who clung on to the memories of Pre-partition India. I squinted at him, the glow from the sun getting into my eyes as he looked beyond me into the bright blue Dehradun winter sky with its fluffy clouds that had snowed down in the mountains a day earlier. “Was Wazirabad this cold too?” I ventured to ask, knowing I was in for  lesson in Geography.

He paused shaken out of his musing and reached out for his cigarette pack slowly.  His movements were languid and un-hurried those of a man whom age and time had slowed down. As he struck the match and held the cigarette between his lips I noticed how he sank back into the chair almost willing himself to travel back in time. The thin transparent plastic film he had ripped off the cigarette packet fluttered in the breeze. He took a long drag ,blew out a cloud of smoke and spoke ,each word emphasizing the thought and memory that he had willed it out of. It was cold, but perhaps not so much in Gujranwalla and Wazirabad, it used to be colder in  Abbotabad and Srinagar, he said. His words formed an imagery before my teenage eyes and each one of the places he had lived in sprang to life right there under that tree and in the golden winter sun. He spoke of the timber trade ,his travels to the mountains, his English professors in Gordon college  ,the Chenab and Jhelum , rivers that had meandered through the cities he grew up in. His eyes lit up with pride each time he spoke of his grandfather, the Rai Bahadur or magistrate. Once more he had transported himself into the time and place that he called home.

The words raced out of his mind and memory hurtling over the 50 years that had gone by in between. It seemed like time had stood still , the intermittent years a dull haze in his mind. Home was always on the banks of the Jhelum and Chenab; rivers he left behind to settle in this town that lay between the Ganga and Yamuna. How strange it was; for me his grand-daughter for whom the chakotra tree under which we sat was home. Yet at that moment as the words tumbled out of his memory I realized that his home was far away-in the mists of Kashmir and beneath the trees that lined the Chenab.

Written for Word Press Daily Prompts. The prompt for today is Far from Home

Gratitude

A good cup of coffee. Discovering history at an antiquated monument.Dogs flopping by me after a run. A good book.The glow from a  candle. A fragrant well spiced biryani. A good conversation. The first flower on a new plant. A quiet sunset. A pretty scarf. The first rains. Freshly baked cake. Kindness. Forgivness. Gratititude