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Can you hear me?


Can you hear me?
How come I miss you so?

At times I store stories to share
Keep doubts to clear.
Then I remember,
And I shudder.

All my life I believed
Death is normal
Something that’ll fade out soon
After which I could be myself.

But you had carved and occupied
This large a niche in my heart
Empty now.

Do you like the colour of your grave?
I chose the colours
We gave special instructions
To your friend, the painter.
I know how carefully you made
The grave with your own hands,
Years back…
The outside looks beautiful,
I wonder how it feels in there…

How silly I am -
You are not there…
The song reminded me

Still, do you hear me, Papa?

Loss


DSCF1954The moments of solitude gather the very same thoughts I dread. Memories keep pecking and picking at me. They rub salt on the bruises over and over. The adamant wounds refuse to heal. It hurts.

I am not the first human to lose a parent. However for me the experience of losing someone I had known all my life was not like what I had expected it to be.

We were prepared – that’s what we all supposed. Prepared for what? To see him die? However, there was a lot more we were not prepared for. The void left behind by the departed one is unfathomable and alarming. I feel it now. Though trite, such statements about death seem to be gaining more depth at this point.

When I saw him on his last night (Oct. 10, the day I reached there), the glow in his eyes was on the wane. His eyes were open and gazing but I doubt whether they perceived anything. He was greedily devouring every bit of air. The laboured breath was not at all giving him any ‘satisfaction’, I could read his thoughts. Seeing his struggle I realized there is nothing more (mundanely) divine than to be able to breathe normally!

I could not believe I was looking at the same person I bid goodbye five weeks before.

What was in his mind? Did he have something to tell us?

While others tried to inform him about my arrival he kept on murmuring, “Aara? Aara?” (Who’s that?) Did he recognize me? No cue. He had no last words for me, not even my name. When I asked him if he needed something he clearly stated he did not. All communication was gradually coming to an end, so were his requirements. After all what was left to say and ask? Or, were all the untold words, the unexpressed feelings and fears choking him?

By the next morning it was as if his body had already given itself the pack up call. After two feeds we felt we were just filling in a body that was no more in need of such nourishment. The huge oxygen cylinder bubbled listlessly. He was perspiring with each variation in his body. We could read the changes even without the pulse/saturation meter (a device that is going to haunt me forever). And my sister asked me later, “What were we waiting for, monitoring the readings each minute?” Maybe there was nothing left to do other than just watch.

By noon the readings started hitting new lows.

Were we disturbing and distracting him with all our expressions of concern?

Around 5.30 in the evening I saw something gurgling in his mouth. He opened his eyes wide for the first time that day and stared up the ceiling one last time with tremendous effort. The numbers kept on descending. And then the next moment…    the meter had nothing to say except some meaningful/less dots… We knew it was all over.

The days and nights he spent in constant fear of the looming death came to an end. An entity that moved, thought, loved, hated, desired, planned, rejoiced, won, defeated, failed, created, ate, drank, fought for about eight decades finally gave up.

Did he have the courage to go alone?

The body was still warm and quivering with the last vestige of life left. And for the first time I saw an unusual serenity and stillness spread and then linger on his face. He was relieved of all strain and anxieties. Peace!

*   *  *

Even these thousands of miles in between me and his abode is not thick enough to prevent the agonizing memories from seeping in.

*   *   *

Life thrilled him as much as it failed and hurt him. The thrill came from his talents and the disappointment, from his expectations about life and people. He was never short of solutions, ideas, plans, preparations, stories. Nothing irritated him more than lack of punctuality and perfection. Was he punctual? Yes, to the core. Was he perfect? According to his unique parameters, yes.

I don’t intend to go for sentimental eulogies right now. I owe my life to my parents and I am grateful to my father for what I have inherited and learned from him. [Link]

He had been much more than an average human being and the impressions he left will pose real hard work for time to erase. I am not underestimating the powers of time. It’s just a month – obviously too early to forget a dear and near one.

[Link] And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

 

Happy Birthday, Papa!


“Bindu!!!!” Papa’s calling! What went wrong this time? I shuddered each time the furious call rang through the length of our house (such an elongate house indeed). I was not a very naughty child but still there would always be something to rile the precisionist. I had never had the nerve to face up his wrath. (I’ll meet the raging of the skies, But not an angry father.”—Lord Ullin’s Daughter)

That was long, long ago. ‘Time eases all things’. Now he is no longer the Papa I was used to.

Papa and me

Papa and me

Tomorrow he turns 78. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the whole family came together to celebrate his 50th birthday?

Apart from the scary image of an austere father, he possesses a lot of rare qualities I admire – systematic, organised, punctual, and perfect!

At the remotest corners of my memory are two scenes – the way he sharpened our pencils with his special little chisel and covered our books during our school days. It was such a pleasure to watch him meticulously perform those tasks. Now when I sit with the books of my kids or when I seek a knife to sharpen their pencils I find myself mimicking my father.

I used to boast to my friends about my father’s artistic skills. Carpentry being his hobby much of the furniture in the house was his creation. The duties of an accountant never prevented him from pursuing his passion. His workshop housed a perfect collection of tools, machinery and knickknacks, enough to make any professional carpenter green with envy.

The workshop was (it is still there intact) such an amusing place walled with shelves of compact racks. The place contained a world. You name it, you find it. The restricted place which suggested TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED held enough magic for the curiosity cat in me. The minute the ‘Giant’ stepped out of the house the workshop would be all mine, to explore. In spite of the intricacy of the place it was never difficult to locate an item because they were all neatly labelled and arranged. I was pretty well acquainted with the place. But he was shrewd enough to smell the intrusion had a single item been misplaced. Needless to say I was very cautious and mindful whenever I encroached.

He has been a hoarder too. Coming from a house without a sq. cm. of free space I have made up my mind not to be a pack rat. I do collect, but I can get enough nerve up to throw them out too (instead of letting them gather dust), when they start cramming my tiny home. Space is freedom, comfort, relief – I now realize.

He taught himself a lot of skills. That inspired me to pick up a few skills myself. I always tried to learn something he was not so good at – say, drawing, stitching, versification etc. leaving no scope for the critic in him. Rarely did he commend our skills. That’s why when he chose me to press his clothes (after he stopped giving them at the dry cleaner’s) I considered it a token of appreciation from him. Each time it was a test and the smile on his face was my trophy. (On a lighter note: After I left for my higher studies I once asked him who did the job for him. He retorted, ‘As the pennu (maid) who used to do it has left, I have to do it myself these days.’)

Above all he is a wonderful narrator. Even a trivial incident would be woven into a fabulous story with a dramatic introduction, suspense and climax. He knows how to hold his listeners with the spell of story-telling.

Thank you Papa, for what you have taught me to be and not to be.I feel proud when Mummy says ‘she takes after Papa’. I am imperfect in my own ways. And as I grow older I realize we are more or less the replicas of our parents. Let it be so. It’s all in our genes.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Wish you peace, health and strength!

Simplify, Simplify


P1100719
Simplicity is not leading a very simple life with bountiful wealth and luxury that one can lay hands on, but building no desire to have surplus resources in spite of living in abject penury situations.

“Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.”
Lao Tzu

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”
― Henry David ThoreauWalden and Other Writings

First-borns – Guinea Pigs?


Yesterday my first-born turned ten. And we (claim to have) successfully completed ten years of parenthood.

Has she been lucky or unlucky? In my opinion, for her it has been a combination of both.

How is she lucky? Usually the elder ones are the centres of attraction; they get all (or too much?) the attention from the parents and from the relatives too, if they are the first ones in a generation. They enjoy a lot of privileges – too many toys, dresses and other accessories. In fact it was we who were celebrating our new designations as papa and mama! Every achievement or turning point in the eldest ones’ lives is exaggerated and celebrated with all the pomp and vigour.

When it comes to the second one, the excitement would be slightly less. The parents have already been there and for them it is merely a repetition of the first episode. But sadly they are too busy to remember it’s the very first time for each of the younger ones. Being the second-born I have been through it all. (Eldest ones out there, I can read your thoughts.)

And there are a lot of health benefits too. They will be made of healthier and better components of life. The later ones are born to older and more tired parents.

[The given link will enlighten you more on the topic of birth order.]

But here I am more bothered about the seamy side of the first-borns’ lives. For the naive parents it is a time to experiment upon a hundred new things, certainly out of their love and eagerness. I must admit that bringing up my big girl I have committed a lot of parenting errors, mainly in the two crucial areas – health and education.

As tyros in that new phase of life we were naturally over-concerned about each and every aspect, especially her health. We surmised that every sneeze, cough or runny nose would end up in pneumonia, and rushed to the doctor who was only too eager to administer heavy doses of antibiotics. The recurrence of the ailments taught us some valuable lessons equipping us better for the second one. It made me bold and taught me how to resist temptation to grab the medicines each time.

And the second most fatal mistake I committed was the over-enthusiasm about her studies. When she got confused with P, b, d and 9, or when she flipped over certain letters, (at the age of three!) we often freaked out as if she was going to be doomed. When she could not discern the basic differences between numbers and letters, faltering at the questions like “Which is bigger – 2 or 7?” we seemed to be anxious about the Board after ‘12’ years!!  While we were passionately carrying out our duties, for her it must have been hell!

After her last PT meet (grade 5) as I was proudly looking at the 100% score in her Maths paper, I once again realized the benefits of intruding less and leaving everything to her. It was the fruit of her own hard work.

At times my younger one has to be satisfied with the used toys and dresses. However she enjoys a happier and more carefree childhood – only because her parents’ attention is divided and she has an elder sister who was already ‘guinea pig’ged!

Happy birthday dear! Thank you for all the great lessons you taught me in a decade’s time…

On winning cash


Will a cash prize make one happy?

Many think it will. I too did, but I have now switched sides.

Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.
Benjamin Franklin

The philosophy that wealth does not necessarily mean or bring in happiness seemed inane, until this simple incident took place quite recently in our life.

We won a cash prize in a contest – though not a jackpot, an amount more than my monthly salary. It was surprise money that came along as a blessing during the back-to-school season, a time when our pockets are almost reduced to sieves. I was supposed to be happy. Instead, after the initial spark of excitement, it made me unsettled.

It’s good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.
George Lorimer

I am not at all greedy. For me there is nothing more detestable than owing money to someone, and never have I tried to amass money compromising on my valuable time and health, in spite of the myriad opportunities.

But this took us unawares. After we were informally informed about the contest results, we had to wait for about a month to finally receive the cheque. All the time I constantly suspected it to be a prank, because I had never believed in cash prizes! No wonder I never participated in the contests too. Here, the initiative was taken by my daughter who, unlike me, is optimistic and has faith. Let her never lose that trait!

Meanwhile, we couldn’t resist counting the chickens. It was vacation time and we did a bit of shopping – only some necessary and affordable household items. (I have made up my mind  to keep mum on the disputes that cropped up on what to buy.) However, to be frank, they were not our priorities and we would have got by without them for another few months, had it not been for this anticipated amount.

Instead of delighting me, the sight of the newly purchased items ruffled me!

I tried to soothe myself thinking: Why are you so tensed about the money? You were not expecting this amount. It is not the money you have lent someone. You can survive even without this. So take it when or if it comes. Or better forget all about it.

At last the dream materialised. I tried to decipher my feelings when I got hold of the cheque – utter indifference! The unpleasant scenes we have been through had put out all the fizz.

I could feel my thoughts undergoing yet another distasteful transformation: After all it is just a month’s salary. It may help us cover up the deficits in the family budget this month – just this month. There are no more contests coming up next month. Even if there is one, chances will be pretty slim.

Had the prize sown seeds of avarice in me? I should never let that happen.

Another worry:  The victory was a fluke, not the fruit of our toil. Is this a bad omen to some imminent crisis in our life?

The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.
George Will

I don’t mind getting an incentive bonus or a better placement. Just let me regularly get what I am normally entitled to. That’s my prayer.

The cheque is still lying there in the drawer. No one really seems to be eager to encash it. Well, we shall wait for another week. Anyway it is now all ours. As if it had been ours all the time.

Humans!!

Have you ever won a cash prize? If yes, do share with me how you felt.

A Perfect Vacation


Yet another summer vacation is just over. Though we couldn’t visit our relatives it was one of the most creative and well-spent vacations I’ve ever had. Take a look.

Picked up some new skills – making friendship bands and the basics of crochet.

  

  

Best out of waste – bags made from old clothes.

Bit of applique and embroidery to embellish plain T shirts.    

Some frocks and tops, for my girls and four sets of school uniform for my elder one.

The following task  consumed much of my time and energy – new slipovers and cushions for our sofas. All I had to spend was SR 100, for the furnishing material.

So much about the creative part. But the here are real the highlights of my vacation.

1. We painted the whole apartment – thank God it is just four little rooms. The walls had been covered up with the graffitti of my younger one. We waited all these four years for her to grow up. The walls now look great but I miss the mysterious , cute figures that her little fingers had doodled all over.

3. This is something I really enjoyed – I ripped open all the pillows, washed the fibre, combed it with an African comb, and made fresh, fluffy pillows and cushions.

2. I gave up my regular workout programme (after the realisation that it was gnawing my joints) to switch over to the most effective system of exercise – yoga. Wonder why I didn’t try it all these years. Now I wake up a bit earlier than usual so that the I can complete a perfect set of stretches. Spiritually and mentally I feel more rejuvenated.

Now tell me, wasn’t that a great vacation? Hope to be back to active blogging very soon.

Technology-stricken


(Warning: Concocted contents!)

Before you read on, watch this ad.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQZTiQLSuj4

This happened at the clinic. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the very same lady featured in the given ad.

She looked worn out. The already size-zero figure had been reduced to some subzero size. What might have happened to the euphoric girl there? Somebody cast an evil eye on the happy family? I admit I had felt a bit green, but evil eye… no, never!

I was curious. I created an opportunity to talk to her while we were waiting for our turn. And what she told me was discomfiting, sort of.

This is the dismal side of my life these days as opposed to what you see in that ad.

When I opted for an easy clean paint for our apartment I had only one squeaky-clean intention: to safeguard the walls from the onslaught of a hyperactive father and son. The walls constantly exposed to their activities had been slightly shabby with the graffiti, murals and pardonable splashy games.

But with me around, they tried to be nice. Sometimes I felt sorry to see them restrain from their favourite games in my austere presence. So I approached the retailer in the hope of a permanent solution. The attempt was fruitful, or that was the impression I had, soon after the painting. And in the ad, you see what happened on the very first day we moved in after the paint was dry.

That was perhaps the last of my happy days. Sad that our loved ones often take our connivances for granted. What followed were dreadful scenes reminiscent of pandemonium.

Being a person as good as my word, I could not break my offer to be indulgent. As a result the games became more and more impish and unpredictable– splashy, squeezy, sprayey, what not! Without a break I have to keep on my heels cleaning the coffee stains, sprayed colours, drawings and all the possible techniques they could think of to mar the poor walls. Things get out of hand when they miss the wall and end up soiling my expensive carpet or wall hangings, which do not come under the cover of easy-clean technique.

Splashing his daily glass of milk on the wall is my son’s favourite game. He too has grown thin (like me) and become calcium-deprived. See, he fractured his hand yesterday.

The paint is darned-good. Of course cleaning has become easy, but at the cost of my leisure, my peace and my life!

They don’t love me…


The misery of a century reflected
On her pale, scared face
When she said, “They don’t love me.”

And thus goes her story:
“I wash my clothes,
I make my food,
I help my mother
I am big enough
And know my duties.
I try to study well,
I am not naughty,
I never tell lies,
I obey my parents,
But they don’t love me,
I don’t know why!”

No dear, they love you.
(She had no evidence to believe so.)

I am not their child
Even yesterday my mother told me
“You were bought from the market
For five bucks.”
She repeatedly tells me,
“Go get yourself run over by some vehicle
You bitch, you wretched creature.
You were not born to me!”

She used to fry fish for me
Nowadays she does that only for my brother.
She flogs me with a hanger,
Burns my skin,
Curses me daylong,
Sometimes makes me sleep in the kitchen.”

But why? WHY?

I sometimes get poor marks.

So study well.

But last day I got 10 on 10
Then she said, ‘You cheated.’

What about your father, dear?

When he returns from work
Mother reports my performance
And he ‘whips’ his share
Using his belt!

I don’t want the school to be over
I can’t think of going home
I prefer week days to weekends!

She was just nine.
She was the only daughter.
They were her biological parents.

Then why……?
I have no answer,
Neither did they.

Interventions helped.
Realizations,
Remorse,
Penance,
Reconciliation.

Happy ending.
Hope it lasts.

Dear teachers,

If any one of your students is often found unusually gloomy or naughty, take him/her aside for a little heart-to-heart talk. She may be a victim of child abuse. And you can be of some help.

(100% true story from the city where I live. She is just as old as my girl, whom you see in the picture.)

I am not going to school.


(Adapted from a kid’s thought-diary, after her first day at school)

My sister is responsible. She, who lured me into the idea of going to school, seemed to enjoy a lot of privileges: a special dress called uniform, a large bag full of books, pencils and even coloured pencils, the freedom to use them anywhere according to her whims… School must be a wonderful place – that was the impression I was drawn into seeing her deeds and expressions. Oh, my God what a trap it was!

I had been eagerly waiting for the day on which I too would go to the magical place called school, like my sister.

The initial stages went on well. A new bag, a few colourful books and other stationery, lunch box – the day papa bought them just for me, I strutted around for my sister to see. (Pride goes before a fall!)

I had made two conditions to my parents about going to school. 1) I wanted to go to school in a bus. 2) My sister should be teaching me. In reality: I was made to walk to the school in the neighbourhood. And my sister was nowhere around!

Rest of my dreams got shattered, one after the other, the minute I stepped into the premises of the dull building. It didn’t take me much time to surmise that ‘school is an eccentric place not at all suitable for people like me!’ You too would agree if you consider the following facts about the place:

  • There are so many rooms but I am always asked to go to the same room. Wonder why I am denied the freedom to explore the other spaces! The rooms are all arranged in rows – looks really childish.
  • Throughout the day I have to be glued on to the same chair. You might know, at home I have never remained in the same spot continuously for more than two minutes.
  • The most awful part is the character called ‘teacher’. Her words are all Greek to me. Surely she can speak like my mother, but for  reasons unknown she abstains from that. If I stare into her eyes bewildered, she will repeat the same sounds, more loudly the second time. Stupid lady. Does she think I am deaf? The whole day she indulges in similar meaningless deeds.
  • I should write on the pages, and on the lines, and the way she prefers! At home I could even write on the walls (though my mother makes faces about it).
  • A lot of other children in the class scream their head off in the midst of their struggle to escape from that dreadful place. I don’t understand why they need to make so much fuss about it. Silly people! I have better plans. ;)
  • We usually eat when we feel hungry, right? However school has indigestible rules about that too. I should eat when I am not hungry, and when I really yearn for some food I have to remain hungry.
  • To ‘shooshoo’ I should make some funny signal to the teacher. (Don’t know why at school I felt the urge often. Yeah, honestly.) The teacher would then send me to a horrible aunty who does not seem happy to take the children to the toilet.

More such oddities are there.

Anyway, I have had enough. After a day at school I have picked up my first lessons in life:

  • Life, Reality – both are bitter!
  • There is no place like home!

So, I AM NOT GOING TO SCHOOL, come what may!

(Hope school won’t blow out the enthusiasm of our little ones.)