The Sunlit Stairway

 

Climbing up the long flight of stairs leading to the Matri Mandir, I now pause awhile to recall the days of yore. These were the same steps that I used to run up instead of simply walking, as a child. I could hear my father holler from behind, warning that if I tripped, I would break a bone or two. But I never heeded them. Now, I think twice before attempting the feat, after all, I am all grown up.

Meditation begins at 6:15 sharp in the evening, and the soft music issuing from the music player inside the Mandir, slowly percolates into the air outside through the half open door, mingling with the soft breeze. A loyal companion is the delicate scent of the burning incense sticks inside, that courses its way outside, through the door. Music and fragrance flow through the cool air surrounding the Mandir, and slowly engulf the latter in its entirety.

Stepping inside the Mandir, you get a whiff of the same aroma that almost instantaneously lulls your senses, inviting you to unite with the ambient mysticism and divinity. As you sit and meditate before the life-size portraits of the great saint Shri Aurobindo and the sweet Mother, you are gradually transported to someplace else. As you open up your heart to them in the pervading silence, all your anxiety has been taken care of, and your worries gently removed.

Situated comfortably in the lap of nature, surrounded by the lush greenery of Digboi, the Mandir enjoys the undivided attention of Almighty God.

The serenity of Matri Mandir has always spoken to me in unvoiced words. Even as a child, I have heard amidst the quiet, the soft voice of Nature. Somewhere crickets chirp merrily, while a frog croaks with joy. Moths are in love with the Mandir lights while fireflies light up the adjacent thick forest in the evening. If you are in luck, you might just behold a deer spring up playfully from behind the thick foliage and pass you by.

I have grown up with the firm conviction that Matri Mandir has been my personal source of happiness and inspiration. My childhood flourished underneath the feet of the loving Mother. I have sung countless devotional songs on numerous occasions and my 1st real performance was staged here inside the Mandir.

I might have been nervous and shaky while my fingers numbly traced the keys of the old harmonium, my voice might have quivered at the thought of the huge throng of devotees expecting a melodious Bhajan from a budding singer on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but now when I look back, I simply chuckle over my ludicrous apprehensions.

I distinctly remember, it was a cold winter evening and despite having rehearsed the Bhajan a million times and gurgled with warm saline water for what might have been a zillionth time, I seemed to be losing my voice as I sat down with the harmonium before me. The old musical instrument had served a good job by concealing my trembling fingers in the soft lights of the Mandir.

And there I had sung my 1st ever song before an audience and felt the thrill of being extolled and praised by one and all. I had just started my journey as a singer. And the sweet Mother smiled upon me, wordlessly urging me to make my songs a source of joy for all those who heard me sing.

 Today when in solitude, I look to those days for some solace and peace. Those were cellphone-free, Whatsapp-free, Facebook-free days, a time that gifted us the golden opportunities to assemble on a divine platform, the Matri Mandir, and share wonderful thoughts from ‘The Sunlit Path’.

Once back home, and back to our mundane life, our mind constantly remained illumined by the sweet messages registered in our sub-conscious selves. We had known the value of being united by the bond of togetherness and love. The beauty lay in the tranquillity of it all. We spoke in hushed tones, we listened more, we meditated while the Mother’s music flowed into our hearts and brought peace to our disturbed minds.

matri-mandir

The customs and traditions of meeting in this common platform have pretty much remained unchanged. And this is perhaps the only place that has remained impervious to the changes around the world. People, who come to visit the Matri Mandir, switch off their cell phones, they revere the sanctity of this divine place, and they respect the institution’s firm belief in the power of meditation.

Matri Mandir is God’s own temple, where calmness and spirituality prevail, a stark contrast to the frenzied world outside.

Now as I quietly sit in a corner of my room, penning down my thoughts, I am transported back to the Mandir stairway on which are scattered dried yellow leaves of an old tree standing proudly beside the steps. It’s autumn and the previous shower has left behind traces of water droplets on the leaves and the flowers. I hear frogs croak cheerfully that God has answered their prayers. I see myself hurrying up the Mandir steps as soft mystifying music slowly glides out through the half open door, a subtle reminder that I am late for the meditation session.

 

“Midnight…..
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan
Memory….

All alone in the moonlight

I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.”

Mother’s Clothes…

The other day while at my parents’ home, I was looking for a long skirt that I had probably misplaced somewhere, when on opening my mother’s closet, I found to my utter surprise, a complete change – my clothes that had once adorned some of the shelves, were replaced by mother’s clothes. She kept all my clothes neatly stacked away from the closet, in another almirah. This was pretty normal since I no longer live there and most of my clothes have accompanied me on my way to my in-laws’ place.

But what brought tears to my eyes was the sudden realization that mother had kept my clothes away because she probably didn’t wish to look at them everyday on opening the closet and remember that the wearer no longer lived there. She must have thought and re-thought about finding a new place for my clothes. She must have held on to them and cried silently…

The sweet motherly fragrance emanating from the closet made my memories come alive. Some of the sarees that I had always an eye for, hanging in all their beauty, came tumbling down like a cascade…red, purple, blue, golden, cyan…. I ran my fingers along the smooth fabric tracing the soft embroidery, the elegance…as I could see a younger me forcing one of them out from its hanger…and trying to wrap it around my slight figure. By then the saree would develop multiple creases on its body and mother would get terribly annoyed.

Today what would she not do to rewind the threads of time for a glimpse of the little me struggling in a massive saree!! I slowly closed the closet doors and sighed, only to turn back and see mother standing just behind me. She hugged me and said,”I know what you must be thinking. I miss you my little girl.”

Mom-and-child-holding-hands-on-beach

All that Glitters…

You are a shadow, an empty conceited being.

Your promises are lofty, your deeds worth a farthing!

Your pleasures dwell in avarice, your desires full of malice!

You enjoy your neighbour’s despair, you mean little disgusting player!

You want everything to consume, while for them, you have no room

in your palatial mansion of a hollow dream.

You vain little devil’s scream!

 

You fake your belief in God, and make them believe in you,

God watches from a distance as pride and vanity seep through

your skin that’s coarse to the core, your heart filled with cravings galore

Cravings for wealth and riches alike, cravings for more!

 

You smile at their misfortune, for you have been saved from the pain

You forget the impending gloom,

That it always pours, and never does it rain!

You turn away the poor

And wriggle at the sight of a stray

Though they approach with hopeful eyes,

You look the other way.

 

Little do you realize, O human! Nothing lasts forever

While you now rejoice at your pleasures

This will all end together!

Someday you will pine

For a helping hand or a smile,

But none will come forward

For everyone has their time!

 

Your pleasures will rot and decay

Your plastic face of clay

Today you might live another day,

for doom isn’t far away!

The cooking enthusiast – to be or not to be!

Cooking has never been an exciting activity to me. In fact when people express their love for cooking and how they blend their other hobbies with the hobby of cooking; I look at them wide-mouthed. From where does the love for cooking fit into a hobby list that includes playing chess, collecting stamps or even dancing? I have tried in vain to love the art of stirring and mashing and grating and mixing. Each time I have cut a sorry figure. My family has always been awfully worried about my catastrophic trysts with cooking. In a conventional Indian society, the art of cooking is considered to be a girl’s first love. She is supposed to churn out food from thin air and produce it before gaping food lovers and with every lip-smacking dish that she prepares so effortlessly, she wins a step further into everyone’s heart.
I once tried my hand at making aaloo ke parathe. With great effort I somehow managed to give some of the parathas a certain shape that somewhat resembled the map of Australia while the others assumed the shape of an Alphonso mango!
Everyone at home was informed that I was making this favourite dish along with the accompaniment of my cousin from Delhi. They gathered at the dining table and waited eagerly for ‘our parathes’.
My first paratha on the frying pan was a resounding success. It took on a nice brownish tinge as I virtually patted myself on the back. Suddenly, an idea struck me. Instead of simply turning over the paratha on its back with the aid of the flat cooking spoon, I decided to hold the handle of the frying pan and flip the paratha on its back. Without adult supervision, I resolved to try this on my own.
I firmly held the handle of the pan, and as I tossed the ill-fated paratha in the air, instead of landing on the frying pan, it lunged straight towards the sink adjacent to the gas stove and landed squarely on it. It soaked up the water droplets underneath and was thus rendered uneatable!
I wasn’t angry, I was annoyed and upset that my first assignment on cooking attained me a zero score.

Of course everyone shared a good laugh over this incident but they insisted that I shouldn’t give up hope. This was just the beginning. And this was 10 years back.
My sister and I continued with the rest of the parathas and this time albeit their creative shapes, they turned out to be considerably tasteful and eatable.
Unfortunately, I could never learn to love cooking. My parents were deeply concerned and apprehensive of any family that would accept a non-cooking bride! And being away from home for nearly ten years, I had minimal opportunities to learn the art of cooking.

So now, the question that stared them at the face was – whether or not to teach me the minimum cooking methods and techniques. While the very thought of cooking used to give me the jitters, I now knew that there was no easy escape from this persecution.

Hanged till Death…

The giant clock on the wall facing the prison cell struck 5:30 am as she awoke with a start from her sleep. The cold stone floor on which the moth-eaten blanket was laid was the most uncomfortable bed she could ever imagine. One and half hours to go and she would be escorted to the gallows. She shuddered to think of fast approaching death. She was instructed to take a shower and wear the new shirt and a pair of trousers provided to her by the prison authorities. As she stepped into the shower, the gush of water overpowered her thoughts and she let the jet stream drench her for one last time. She closed her eyes and facing upwards, let the deluge smother her for a few moments as she gasped for air. As an afterthought, it might have been an act of cleansing herself of the sins she had committed in an unregretful manner.

Post the shower-ritual, on stepping back into her prison cell, she said her prayers as giant tears trickled down her cheeks. She let herself fall flat, face down on the hard stone floor and sobbed into the thin blanket that barely provided the much-needed warmth.

Breakfast consisting of stale chapattis and some foul-smelling vegetable mix was served on the stained yellow dish that had given her silent company for the past 5 years. She looked miserably at the food and cried some more. Flashbacks of the birthdays she had celebrated with her husband tumbled down her memory lane. What would she not do for one last chance to rewind the threads and rectify her blunder?

She ate her last meal hungrily and prayed some more. Lost in her thoughts, she failed to notice the clock as it struck 7 am. A hard rap on the iron bars of the prison door startled her as she came back to reality.

The source of the noise, a woman in a khaki-coloured saree motioned her to come out of the cell as it was time. She stepped out as the door opened for her. Immediately, the woman bound her hands with a pair of handcuffs and held her by her arm. They walked through the long winding corridor passing by the prison cells from which other female convicts holding on to iron bars stared at her with curiosity.

While walking towards the finality of her fate, she recalled all those countless moments she had given away in the form of deceit and trickery. There was indeed no looking back. Soon the gallows appeared from nowhere and the woman leading her, tightened her grip around her arm, hurting her a little. With each step further, fear and anxiety gripped her. Nauseous and sick with an overwhelming sense of guilt, she walked unsteadily as they finally reached their destination.

A foul stench emanated from the dungeon-like room where there were five others waiting for her arrival. The woman led her to the gallows and handed her over to the hangman who put an opaque black cotton veil over her head, covering her face completely till her neck. A whispered prayer and a word of apology issued from the lips of the hangman as he suspended the noose around her neck and tightened it. The trap rumbled open and down she fell into nothingness…

 

To India – My motherland

69 years of Independence that now tastes bitter and sweet have made us what we are today, citizens of a nation whose long tryst with destiny has taken her on a roller coaster ride. Thousands, young and old have laid their lives willingly for the cause of our motherland, so that generations to come would live and breathe in a free India. The nation’s eventful yet troubled history is a combination of unfathomable struggles and sacrifices, gut wrenching stories of rebellions that were dealt with so ruthlessly by the British that a visit to one of those fabled places of struggle like the Cellular Jail or the Jalianwalla Bagh would make our skin crawl. Those were real accounts of the stiff resistance put up by the Indians, which now seem plucked out of a big fat fairytale book.

They fought, they died and the nation survived while their glory gradually faded away in the forgotten pages of old history books. Most of us don’t even know their names except for a handful of leaders who received adulation and a huge fan following. Their birth anniversaries have been converted into national holidays. But this is another story of the land of paradoxes – India.

Freedom was the common goal of the people of British India. But these 69 years of Independence now seem to prick like thorns at every step. What has freedom given us? The right to give ourselves the opportunity to rebuild a nation, or to divide it further in the lines of religious and caste differences? The duty to collect the broken pieces and stick them together with the virtues of love, brotherhood, kindness and sympathy, or the audacity to isolate ourselves further in the name of castes and communities and start a brawl at the drop of a hat? The responsibility of teaching our kids the values of discipline, cleanliness and orderliness or letting them follow our dirty habits of littering the streets with empty coke cans, chocolate wrappers and crisp packets, spitting uncontrollably and making it worse for those who are engaged in the cleaning process?

And then we call ourselves civilized with an empty knowledge of what civilization means. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated clarion calls to us to endeavour for a ‘Swachh Bharat’ seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

It must not be forgotten that patriotism isn’t only about laying down one’s life fighting at the border or singing melodious songs on the occasion of the Independence Day, patriotism is also about being a responsible citizen by shunning the acts of littering and spitting on the streets, avoiding unnecessary scuffles with our neighbours, helping our fellowmen in distress and making each day count by contributing something towards the betterment of the society.

Are we sufficiently morally equipped yet to take the responsibilities of building the lives of not just our children but building the nation as a whole? Perhaps it will take another 50 years or so.

What Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, our loving departed former President and Missile Man of India had dreamt about in his famous book ‘India 2020’ may not be possible if we continue to remain within the realms of our selfish little world.

Today the job of a Social Science teacher is not merely to explain and elaborate on the contents of a Social Science text book. They are expected to motivate children to grow to respect our Mother earth, to help preserve precious water, to keep our environment clean and dirt-free, to develop a sympathetic attitude towards the less fortunate and also to be kind to animals for they are at the mercy of humans, the greatest beings on earth.

Sadly, what is being taught in Social Science does not find its reflection in practical life. A string of home assignments and examinations follow, post which, the values are forgotten.

It is the duty of every parent to make their children realize the importance of being dutiful and dedicated towards their nation. What we parents fail to teach our children is, while we make a huge fuss about how many pairs of trousers or shoes we should buy on a shopping spree, there are others who have to make do with a single piece of tattered cloth to cover themselves through all seasons and a single pair of chappals , repairing and re-repairing them till they are torn to shreds.

While our children push away the assortment of foods offered to them at the dining table, there are kids who go to bed hungry almost every night. Whereas we let the tap water running at full force while carelessly brushing our teeth or washing our clothes, there are others who fight among themselves for a glass of water, to drink or to wash.

While we let our children pester us for more toys and chocolates and subsequently, making them demanding by nature, there are children who gently tug at our sleeves on the streets, begging us to drop a one rupee coin on their extended palms. This is the paradoxical nature of India – our India which has many rooms for one and not a single room for many.

While there are millionaires whose electricity bill for a month exceeds the total amount of savings accumulated by a salaried person during his whole lifetime, there are others whose children study by the light of a dimly lit kerosene lamp inside a thatched house that sways with every gust of wind blowing past.

The question that remains now – what can we do as citizens? We can be more conscious of our rights and duties enshrined in our Constitution, we can make a little progress each day by rejecting old practices and developing clean habits for a clean society, we can teach our children to incorporate in their lives the values they get to read in Social Science textbooks, we can learn to be more considerate and sympathetic towards one and all and educate our children to grow up to be respectable citizens of this country.

I am not here to censure or reprimand our people, and even if I have hurt sentiments, I shall not apologize, for, as a citizen, I am here just as a reminder to all, that life is short, but if we can make ourselves more responsible, in the due course of time we shall certainly see a reformed and happier society, and call ourselves true ‘patriots’ of a civilized nation – India.

A Suicide Note

Dear parents,

No one knows the abominable pain of a girl who sits alone, crying to herself after having strangled a dream with her hands. When a dream shatters, the world outside becomes too much of a burden to bear. It is very difficult to build a dream brick by brick. It’s equally easy to bulldoze the dream and squash it and pretend that it didn’t exist at all.

Ah! Yes! You have guessed it right! I am what you would call “a suicide note”, ain’t I? A note like me would leave you in a state of shock, a note that would send a chill down your spine, a note that my writer left behind as a mark of her grief and excruciating pain.

I silently watched my writer take her last painful breaths. It was quite a heart-rending sight. For once, instead of calling for the doctors, read me again and you will realize the pain behind every word she wrote. I am not just any other “suicide note”. I come from the hands of a writer, a poetess, an artist, a singer, an orator, a dreamer – all rolled into one!! A brave girl who fought a lost battle! My body is a tear-soaked-and-dried piece of paper, the ink of whose letters would have smudged into black patches, had my writer cried a wee bit more. Thank heavens! She didn’t live long enough to drench me with her precious pearly teardrops!

As I watched her cry into me, her fingers trembling at every second word she wrote, I was filled with regret, I wish I could speak!

But I was mute and silently watched her struggle for the last few breaths of air and finally give in.

It’s impossible that a girl like her couldn’t have been determined enough to fulfil her dreams. But hang on, whose dreams are we talking about, hers or yours? For once, stop, rewind and recall that it was your dream she had set herself out to conquer, not hers. I beg to state that her dreams were different from yours. She just simply couldn’t take it any more, that is, struggle to fulfil your dreams that, for you, were seemingly hers too.

Aren’t you convinced yet? Hold it right there! If you couldn’t shed a drop of tear to see her dreams die, how come you now make a sea of tears, weeping your heart out for a corpse devoid of any feelings, let alone a dream?

I am probably yet another ‘suicide note’ trying my best to explain to all unyielding parents, where they usually go wrong! Don’t you now regret that had she been alive, you would let her pursue her dreams? Is a career choice a subject to fight over? Who knows where this poor girl would have landed, had you let her dreams take wings?

I wouldn’t say that my writer was brave enough to cut short her life! But she had been a fighter once. The question of losing or winning the battle would come much later. I feel sorry for her for committing the mistake of choosing the wrong option – death over her dreams…

So, here I am a reminder on her behalf, to all those parents to loosen the noose around your child’s dreams and let them breathe.

Ah! The pain of being branded ‘a suicide note’! I am much more than just a ‘suicide note’. I am a silent representative of a rebel, of a squashed dream, of a frustrated soul without which the mortal body is nothing but a stone-cold model of clay subject to cremation or burial…

The soul in its quest for freedom and fulfillment of a cherished dream wanders from one corner of the universe to another till it finds what it has been looking for. I am an unfulfilled wish, a message the soul leaves behind each time the body it resides in, fails to accomplish its wishes.

I am the last vestige of a soul trembling inside a mortal body. I am, and will continue to be a painful reminder of how once upon a time a dream shattered into pieces, the remains of which will always bring back the memories of all those happy times you were beside her and all those sad moments she had been left alone to cry herself to sleep every night…

I am a part of her… treasure me if you will, or crumple me, that again is your wish………..

Regards,

‘A suicide note’

Memorabilia

A tribute to an Iron Lady

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Her death came as a shock enough to numb the senses… holding the phone in my trembling hands, I felt a chill down my spine. Almost cinematically, the phone dropped from my clasp. Gripping the lightweight cell phone suddenly seemed too much for my numbed wrist… I wanted to fly away from this world, I wanted to run away from everyone and everything, I wanted to be alone and let the obnoxious feeling sink in that my darling grandma, my most precious possession had suddenly traveled to some place that was beyond my reach… Grandma was the only friend I had when I had been a kid! I was her first grandchild and the first girl in the family because grandma never had a daughter. She would swoop me up in her arms and I would settle comfortably in her lap, safe and happy. We roamed the entire neighbourhood till noon while my mother would wrap up her work at home and join us sometimes.

Grandma’s mouth was always full of tobacco-rich betel leaf and nut…I would watch her intently as she divided the betel leaf into two equal halves, take one half, sprinkle tobacco powder and a few small bits of betel nuts and fold the leaf in a way I could never learn to this day! She would then place the neatly folded leaf inside her mouth in a royal fashion…something that might have been done by the royal begums of the Mughal kingdom! Her paan-eating ritual always fascinated me and as I stared at her in wonder, she would laugh at my innocence and plant a paan-stained kiss on my tender cheeks…

Clad in a white saree, the pallu of which was always knotted at the end with keys jingling and swaying from side to side, soft music emanated from her as she walked through the rooms. I don’t know if these keys ever unlocked anything. One of those keys however, belonged to a lock that grandma used, in order to guard her antique steel trunk. Nobody really knew what unknown treasures lay hidden there and grandma never let anyone touch it. Sometimes driven by curiosity, I would sneak into grandma’s room to try, and find out what she hid so zealously in the trunk. But every time I got caught! I finally gave up!

As I grew up, grandma taught me how to play chess. Initially, I was very poor at the game, but with time and practice, I was gradually getting better. One day when I defeated grandma at chess for the first time, she was very disappointed and she would not accept that I had so easily played her into a checkmate!

My voice was always a wonder to grandma. In her opinion, very few singers had touched her heart the way I did. I knew that it was her love for me that spoke in favour of all my songs, yet I let her feel that way. She was my greatest fan. I had learnt some very melodious Meera Bhajans just to please her and watch her drift into a trance as I sang them…

Grandma’s uniqueness set her apart from many women of her age. She was an outstanding swimmer. Swimming, not in a swimsuit but wearing a saree might have been unthinkable for many, but not for grandma. She was a mermaid in the waters and she glided in the waters of the Andaman and Nicobar islands with ease. The beautiful beach of Jolly Buoy Island with its crystal clear waters appealed to grandma and she went swimming in the waters dragging me along with her. What’s more, she snorkeled in the waters of the island and marveled at the sea creatures below.

An avid traveler, grandma took frequent trips across the length and breadth of India, sometimes taking long strolls on the Port Blair sea beaches to walking on the sands of beautiful Jaipur city, to tasting her favourite Bengali cuisine of mouth-watering maach paturi and shorshe baata ilish in Kolkata, grandma lived life to the fullest!
After her demise, people, young and old thronged to our place. They did not come to console us; they came to grieve with us…
How many people grandma had helped when in times of need and how many owed her a debt of thankfulness…we do not know. But the number of people, who came to mourn her death, amazed us…

The Digboi Town Committee Women’s wing of which grandma had been a founder-member and president, as well as some local women’s organizations, came to pay their homage to her. They narrated their sweet experiences with grandma and how much they enjoyed in her company. With her sympathetic nature and enchanting words, grandma had touched the lives of whoever came close to her. She was a wonder woman!

Decades back, ours was a poverty-stricken family. My fathers are six brothers. Grandpa was in the Indian Army (under the British Raj) and hence he was always away from home. Grandma, who never went to school, was determined to bring up her sons well and provide them with the best possible environment for their education. There were times when the money sent by grandpa wasn’t enough to run the family. There were times when grandma slept hungry and yet she struggled to pay the school fees as well as buy books for her sons. Grandma finally found success when her six sons established themselves in various fields. Grandpa passed away shortly after retirement, but by then, our family had already turned self-sufficient.

Grandma was adored by one and all. She remained the sole decision-maker in the family and we all turned to her for advice. She was a powerhouse for the family and we called her ‘the iron lady’.

Grandma played a major role in transforming our lives and making them beautiful. Every tiny aspect of the house is filled with her memories, her soothing touch. Whether it is the flowers in the garden that she nurtured with so much care or the perfume collection inside her wardrobe, everything including the upholstery in the living room bears the sweet fragrance of grandma’s touch. It needs mention that grandma was passionate about gardening.

A pious lady, grandma taught us the most precious virtues of love, sympathy, kindness, tolerance, patience and forgiveness. She taught us the values of faith and responsibility, hard work and perseverance.

With her death, life came to a standstill. Initially caught in a time warp, I kept going back to the moment when I was informed that grandma was no more…
It is amazing how time gradually defeats everything. In fact, time is the most powerful element on earth. I passed the first few days post grandma’s death, in utter shock. The next few days were spent in disbelief. But with the quick passage of time, I learnt to live with this truth that I would never hear grandma’s voice again. Life must go on and so must I. But grandma will forever remain in my heart like a never-ending song….

“….And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson