Monday, September 19, 2016

Look Ma no hands..

I am on a high. Not the usual kind that one derives from smoking weeds or glugging a peg down and neither I have plonked myself on the tenth floor of the umpteenth luxury BHK of Bangalore; it is the high that came from letting a pair of hands go. Yeah, you read it right, but don’t jump to conclusions.

Actually, it all started some 24 years ago. For most kids, their parents enroll them into swimming classes in the summer vacation, and they are eager to go. For many not-so-willing kids, their parents insist. I belonged to the first category. Ever willing to jump into water and want to splash to my heart’s glory. Well, my parents had a different take. My Dad had this clear policy - where household matters were concerned, he wouldn’t interfere unless there was a dire need like life and death kind of situation. So I badgered my Mum. Initially the response was next year, and the next year it was the year after. Then the real excuses started – We live in a city, what’s the need to learn swimming in a city? Hardly any water body around! When I said that all my friends are off to learn swimming and they live in a city too, she said the Salt Lake swimming pool was too far away. Your Dad is out most of the week, I can’t manage so much. The final straw – Ma, you know the World is only one-fourth land and three-fourth water. The rebuttal was the most predictable one – Go and study, that will do you a ‘world’ of good. The truth is, of all the five siblings, she is the only who doesn’t know how to swim. She has an incredible fear towards water, and gradually, over the years she successfully passed the fear to me. I inherited her fear, but my mind still wanted to learn.

And more than a decade passed.

Year 2006: On one my regular walks, I see a huge poster hanging in front of the Koramangala Club: ‘Swimming Batch to start from….’. I promptly go inside, enquire the details. Classes are supposed to start in seven days. I figure out how to manage the time for those two weeks (Swimming class may not be a great excuse to leave early from office, but physiotherapy for an old pain in the ankle is!). I deposit the money, buy all swim-gear…and there I was all set! Well, fate once again had a different plan. Even before I started class, I had a sore throat & feverish sensation, and true to the symptoms, came down with a bad viral infection. I suspect that I tempted fate by lying about that sprained-ankle! All the dreams of being a water-baby gone down the…pool-drain!

Year 2013: I am in Adishakti, Pondicherry set to attend the ‘Source of Performance energy’ workshop. Voice exercises in water is a part of the curriculum. One doesn’t need to know swimming, but the pool is beautiful and the facilitators incredibly patient. I am told, that no one goes back without learning to swim. Well, there are exceptions – I did!

Year 2015: Flameback Lodges, Chikmaglore – After a long time I am back in the pool and of course, apart from throwing my legs in the water, not doing much. But, the old desire starts calling, and the moment I am back I figure out a coach, and there is the apartment pool. My friend Sushma says that he is an old experienced hand in teaching the likes of me. I call him – Our schedules don’t seem to match, but we manage to find a mutually agreeable slot. On the D-day, I find myself in the presence of a lanky boy, needless to say, much younger to me. Sir could not come, so he has sent his most trusted student who is coaching for the past 4 years. I am holding my breath, kicking, floating...all good, but not able to let go of his hand…yeah even on fifth day. Come to think of it, I have never clutched a man’s hand as tightly as I have Sajith’s! The fear ingrained in every cell, doesn’t want to let go of me…it has found a comfortable place to rest. I am about to give up…certain things are just not meant to be. On the sixth day, I am right there, planning a conversation in my head … ‘you know Sajith, this is not working out between the three of us…the water, you and me.’ But I find this beaming man in the pool waiting for me instead, and Sajith standing by, says… “Ma’am, here is Mani Sir”. I have a feeling Sajith gave up on me before I did. After the usual struggle Mani Sir worked magic in that very day… I started floating on my own, as if I was born to float! In his words, he unlocked the door of fear…and I gave up my inheritance.
Some inheritances are meant to be given away. 

When My Mum called to wish me on my birthday a few weeks ago, I broke her the news gently…I was looking for an occasion actually. Her reaction… “Oh my god! Why are you learning to swim?? Pooja, be careful…water is very dangerous” Some things are never meant to change I guess!

These are my Memories of two-decade long struggle to learn to swim. And finally at the end it was much more than picking up a skill. It was about freedom.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


I am close to my Father, Baba as I call him. He is not keeping well for the past few years, and he remains at the top of my mind during the day. I have started noticing that Baba sneaks into most of the conversations I have with my friends and colleagues. Old age is difficult and old age in India is all the more difficult with hardly any social support from the Government. Anyway, I will save my rant about the Government and it’s inadequacies for another day. As I am growing older (I don’t know about being wiser) I am beginning to experience that love is synonymous with worrying. I found it frustrating and never understood it while I was growing up because I never understood the worrying bit; I am beginning to behave like a worrying parent these days; in a way, though not exactly, My Baba and I are going through a role reversal. And I hate it. I want him to be the stronger one. I want that space and zone unchanged. But I know that the roles are changing. It is so difficult to come to terms with it.

Ours is not just an indulgent father-daughter relationship. We bonded over many things, and then we differed too. Politics, football, cinema, books, his love for Liz Taylor (he was aghast when he figured that our neighbour has named his pomeranian ‘Liz’), Marxian theory of class conflict, geography, history, mental mathematics, our diehard belief that Geeta Dutt was far more talented than Lata name a few. We visited Darjeeling with another family, who were our close friends; that was long ago, I was in my teens. We were playing '20 Questions' on famous personalities. Baba & I were in opposite teams. Every time I thought about someone, even before the third question was popped to me, Baba would make a correct guess about who I was thinking. I had to think really hard to out-do him. The other thing which is a glue to our bond is our love for shopping vegetables, fish and mutton. Even now, we go shopping together whenever we get a chance. He taught me how to figure if the brinjal has seeds and the fish is fresh and ask for those particular pieces while buying mutton. The love for such things has gone so much within me, that even today when I visit another city, another country I’d make it a point to visit the local market along with my love for places with historical significance. Yes, over pubs or nightlife.

Everyplace I go, I carry that childhood with me. Baba is not my hero, neither he is my best friend etcetera ...nothing so theatrical. But I know that there is no other soul in the world who wants my happiness and peace as he does. That is the envelope he & I live in. We have all come in this world with a confirmed return ticket. Yet we all live with a purpose, trying to make the most of this life. I ask myself what will be mine when he is no more. There won’t be any. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

There are only onward journeys...never return

This was preordained, just like ‘The Prodigal Daughter’ was the first Jeffery Archer I read; from the first library I held a membership of. That was years ago. Today it doesn’t feel real. Because it was not planned, it was preordained. Just the way I still feel connected to Florentyna Rosnovski. Just like another stranger of Polish descent I met amidst the books in British Library who went on to become a friend, and we spoke for hours without really knowing each other. It is the ‘connect’ that is around me without even me being aware of it…well not always. And today I sit at an airport café in Frankfurt, in anticipation of what awaits me.


I slept through most of the flight. 3 A.M. flights are not a delight actually. In fact let me admit, that I actually questioned myself once, why the hell did I need to make this trip at all?! The feeling never lasts for more than a minute though! And then I woke up. Cranial Pain. Caffeine and Omelette. A Wes Anderson Movie - you’d never guess. The Darjeeling limited :) I laughed and laughed. no escape from India I guess.


Frankfurt. Humming, and not buzzing. Just how the journey has been so far. When one cabbie stood me up, and the other turned up. When the rain came pitter-patter at midnight. The faces around me. Everyone of us in an onward journey.

Monday, March 30, 2015

the trail

a year’s sabbatical it was; but then I have returned. like the way one returns to a road oft traveled in the past. the time away stretched way too much, but I am glad that I am back. I have no clue for how long though. but then, I often surprise myself. but then, it must have been love.

more often than not the things we end up not doing tend to be fulfilling if we figure out the courage to do it. we find freedom in what we do; like earning your own living; like creating a piece; like driving your own vehicle; like walking alone for miles in an unknown city; like discovering freedom from expectations.

like those numerous things that I didn't do. but I hope I’ll find the courage; tonight, tomorrow.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My conversation with Silence!

This was in my mind for the past three years but as they say that the “time” had not come. Well, deciding wasn’t easy for there were enough barriers to consider before taking the plunge; 11days away from my World without an iota of communication wasn’t really an easy option for I-live-a-very-conventional-life type of person like me. Worse, it was very unnerving for the family and folks at work. Getting up at 4 in the morning was not encouraging either; and to add to it all 10 days without the mobile and without uttering a word did sound devastating for the mind. Yes…you read it right! 10 days of silence. To an outsider that more or less sums up Vipassana.

There are times in life when resolve gets the better of us, and better of the games our mind plays to sway us from thoughts of comfort. One such day arrived in my life.
Located in one of the rustic corners in the outskirts of Bangalore, my first impression was not really that great. The environment was not serene; the grass was brown, and there weren’t too many trees; but it is this same environment that I perceived very differently in a matter of few days…more on that later. What helped me to a great extent was that, there was close to a hundred people like me who have given up on fun & frolic (yes, we spent Christmas there!!) to work on their mind.

It was a conscious moment of surrender when I had to hand over my wallet and phone; my heart sank and I felt like a part of me being taken away…so tragic! We humans make material benefits an integral part of our “persona”, benefits that we did not bring into the World, nor we shall be able to take it along with us. As the evening slipped by and the rigor around the rules were pronounced, I could sense my mind’s desperation about the reality of the silent vortex. I told myself again and again…yes, I will make through it, I shan’t give up so easily!

The 4 A.M. wake up bell would be gentle and firm, it wouldn’t give up on you as much as you’d like it to. The cold winter mornings did not help the resolve, but there wasn’t much of an option but to stick to the routine. The breakfast and the steaming chai that followed a two hour meditation were much welcomed especially because it came after thirteen hour break from food. Over days I discovered that I never really enjoyed a shower in a long time as I did enjoy in those 10 days; now that I think, I feel it may be due to the fact that there was really no agenda for the day, the only agenda was ‘self’. Hours of meditation interspersed by small breaks. Lunch was wholesome and far from anything fancy. The last meal of the day was at dusk, and that was chai and some light snack. When the program is about to commence, the general view among all the participants was of great inadequacy of food but it just takes a day for our physiology to make peace with the frequency and timing of the food, and also realize how little we require for sustenance. It is a proven fact that after 10 days of Vipassana, the meditators come out healthy and happy. …and yes, among the hundred who attended the program with me, there wasn’t a single person who was taken ill.

What’s taught as a technique is so simple that it is terribly hard to practice; all one needs to do is watch one’s breath, feel one’s breath, feel the various sensations that we experience and not think about anything. It just takes a few minutes to figure out how weak our mind is. The mind truly has a mind of its own; it flits to the alleys of the past and meanders through the imagined corridors of the future. And one brings it back to the breath again, and again it flies away. I am sure every individual experiences differently, but one thing that is a sure outcome is the increase in awareness and the fact that the mind is a lot sharper by the end of the third day. Through experiential teaching, one is taught everything in this World is impermanent; how awareness and the ability to control reaction will make our life simpler and in turn make us happy beings.

The serenity brought on by the lack of outer communication is as unreal as it can be; for the outer calm ignites a volcano inside. I have never experienced such varied range of emotions in a span of moments. On the one hand there was shame, guilt, regret, fear and also joy and ripple of happiness; the past surfaced like never before. Tears welled up in my eyes for the people and the moments I have lost; my mind was truly mourning and then it was celebrating the small joys that lay buried deep down somewhere which I had completely forgotten. My conversation with myself began. It sank upon me gradually that in my thirty-two years of life, apart from the incidents that brought in sadness, it is my craving for something good that I felt, brought in misery. The urge to hold on to moments, people, material-benefits, causes grief…the simple wisdom if gained has the power to make us a much better person for our own sake.

The nature around us is changing every moment. The colour of the sky is changing, clouds travel from one part to the other, trees shed leaves and new leaves grow, tectonic movements are taking place under the Earth causing changes in the outer landscape. In our body, the cells are dying and taking birth every moment and a new ‘us’ is evolving with every passing moment, much against our knowledge. Why do we let our misery grow, why do we never realize that it is all impermanent?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

10 tips for a Gorgeous Travel Experience!

1.      Politeness & Gratitude – Never forget to thank people, right from the crew at the airport, fellow-traveler to the coffee-shop guy. Great suggestions & unknown trivia come from least expected quarters if we have a smiling, grateful countenance.

2.      Say “No” to distractions – Stay away as much as possible from all Social Media, & IMs. They are a completely in contradiction to “Being in the Moment”.  Trust me, apart from the family & absolute few close & concerned, no one is really interested in knowing what you are up to!

3.      Be Super-adaptive & learn to let go – Flights may not take off, the hotel room may be a lot more shabby than the pic they had in website and umpteen things may go wrong or digress from the plan. Take it in your stride. Accept it, & then it’s all fine. I have experienced some mind-blowing things when my plans have gone awry.

4.      Stick to the local cuisine – The local food is best suited to the weather of the place and it is one way to experience a place. Never try to find comfort food when you travel unless taken ill in an unfortunate circumstance.

5.      Eat less :) & drink plenty of water. Yeah, water… NOT aerated drinks. Staying hydrated is extremely important to adapt to a new place.

6.      Walk, walk & walk. That’s the best way to figure out any place. At the end of the day, you would come across places that no guide book has ever documented, even the Lonely Planet guide.

7.      Strictly follow the rules of that place (especially while travelling abroad). We Indians often make a mess of this one.

8.      Avoid watching news. Nothing much would change if we are not updated with the World’s whereabouts for a few days.

9.      Create beautiful moments as you travel. Surprise yourself. Do some crazy mad stuff. looking back it’s not the photos, but suddenly reminiscing the moments that would bring a smile to your lips.

10.  Travel light. It’s so much fun to have both hands, if not, one hand free…I learnt it the hard way after paying excess baggage of 150 Euros…sigh!!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pine Forests and Wild-flowers

What happens when you just realize that this is the only weekend till next 10 weeks, which is somewhat un-engaged for the most of it? You choose a place near your city, figure out the logistics (especially a quiet place to stay), pack your bags & head straight for it! And that’s what I did…so what if it was a tiring Friday or a Monday that loomed large with an early morning meeting at 7:30 that I’ve to attend in person at office?! 

For me, a weekend break is
1.      I don’t have to put on my contact lens & brush my hair
2.      I can take mindless walks without looking at the watch
3.      I can curl up on a couch without worrying about the next meal or a to-do list
4.      I’d be secretly happy that the data-connectivity is bad which means I’m not tempted to check FB & chat on whatsapp
5.      Most importantly I don’t HAVE to do anything.

With a little less effort most of it gets fulfilled actually.

And hence I head out to the hills crossing the plains & the forests. The meandering Nilgiris Mountain train brought much joy. The 19th century colonial bungalow was as cosy as I could have imagined…and a real fireplace with smell of the burning wood, in front of which I curled up most of the evening got me grinning like a Cheshire cat! I let my thoughts wander away to faraway places, people I love thinking about….the conversations that I have had with them and imagined I would have. When I saw a white-washed, red-roof house on a slope of a hill…I wondered what the owner must-be like, does he feel lucky that he smells the pine-forests every morning…what is his World like?

In my mindless walks, I stop by to pick up ferns and wild-flowers that’d be dried and kept inside the pages of my books…time will fly, there’d be work to do, milestones to achieve, more trips to make…but the brown colour of the ferns & flowers would remind me of those moments that photographs and written words fail to capture. So what if I am bleary-eyed on a Monday morning…it’s all worth it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tring Tring …it is the wake-up call!

The alarm rang, as always by habit. I fumbled for it…something felt different. Yes, it is not my pillow & not my bed certainly. This bed is too soft. Oh yes…this is England…right! Arrived last night…& then hit the realization…I am on holiday, I don’t have to go to work…I mean I don’t have to go to work today, I don’t have to go to work tomorrow or day after or even the day after…oh damn! It doesn’t really feel as happy as it should! What does one do when there’s no work and no study either? I don’t know that life….maybe I should wear a nice dress, wear a smile & go out for a walk….Explore the World Pooja…I whispered to myself!

Summers in England are not really as warm as they should be and the mood swings of the weather is worse than a woman PMSing…any moment without a warning it’d start pouring! Did I really need this holiday, I wonder?!

I made way for a café. Okay…so the cheapest coffee is £1.30 ….rapid calculation inside the head, that would be Rs. 104…what if I have a sandwich too…so that’d be £4.80 in total…once again rapid calculation…Rs. 384…oh damn! Am not I spending too much?! Never mind, it is the first day & the Husband is earning in Pound Sterling! Scraping off the last morsel off my plate and draining the last drop of liquid I walk here and there soaking in all around me. Just in one corner, I see a theatre…if I stay back here, oh well, if I am ever allowed to stay back here, maybe I would perform in one of these theatres…I smile to myself…who needs logic while day-dreaming anyway! Then I spot a dome-shaped building. I walk in greeted by smiles. There is the young and the old; smart women and roly-poly Mums…whoa! A library!

“you mean I can take 6 books at a time?”
“There is no membership fee also?” I felt like they have pushed me in a heaven! Books neatly kept even better than the swanky stores in India…oh man! There’s Hillary Mantel’s latest!...oh god…isn’t that what Jeffrey Archer released last month?! Sigh…happiness…there’s a lot to do when one is not working and not studying after all!

Swindon…small town England. The trees. The cobblestone roads. The Parks. The Pubs. And the Library.