A Painting by my Sister: Rekha, a Famous Indian Actress

A Painting by my Sister: Rekha, a Famous Indian Actress
A Painting by my Sister: Rekha, a Famous Indian Actress
Welcome!! Swagat, Dumela, Valkommen, Jee Aayan Noo, Tashreef, Bula, Swasdee, Bienvenido, Tashi Delek. Thanks for joining me.....

Saturday, October 29, 2016

May the Light of Knowledge Remove the Darkness of Ignorance: Shubh Deepawli

Image result for diwali images

source: http://webneel.com/webneel/blog/diwali-greetings-card-collection-2

Its been busy, too much going on, but I did not want to miss this day and wish all those who came to this site a beautiful --bright-happy Diwali!!

The above image is from a 'rangoli' floor decoration, I made last year. On purpose using the Swastika, which has been so maligned because some folks in Europe did not know what it meant.  Swastika, literally means, a symbol of health and prosperity.  Cross, which has been associated with Christianity, is a very recent form of it. There are over 300 forms of Swastikas that exist, including the cross used by the Orthodox church. IN many native american communities it was used to symbolise the sun. Often times these rangolis are made of purely spices and edible stuff, e.g. cake and wheat flour, so that they may become food for the ants.  Such is the beauty of hinduism, that it recognises all life forms and they are to be respected just as much as human beings, and loved as we love Gods. For there is only one!! Only one life.

At the risk of sounding strange, I am going to leave a link here for a celebration that I just learnt about.  It is a part of Diwali celebrations in parts of India and nepal.  Tihar: meaning festival, is known by the animals and birds it pays respects to.  Dogs and possibly cats, cows and crows (representing birds).  So, folks, here is a celebration that is not just for humans, but makes sure we honor all life, especially because without them, we won't exist either.  This is knowledge!!

May the Light of Knowledge Remove the Darkness of Ignorance: Shubh (auspicious) Deepawli!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 15: Independence day

I took this picture, probably two years ago.  And forgot to put it here.  Nothing special about this pic, except street children sell these around India's independence day.  This is something that we used to make as children.  But this tricolour here is representative of the Indian flag.  Usually useless, people buy them anyway to put them in their cars. How are they made?  Just take two sticks (we used to pull two thin strings from Indian brooms)--cross them midway, make a knot. And then start wrapping yarn of whichever color you like around the individual sticks, secure it by going all around one stick, push it back tighten in and move to the next step.  Keep going till you arrive at the edges.  Seal off with a neat knot..  These would make simple  handmade-wallhangings.  I have seen them as coasters,although when I made them by hand the coasters would not sit straight and so were not very useful. Regardless, they brought back many memories of when we were learning those 'extra curricular activities' and with every useless thing we created, we felt, Oh so useful!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dr. Aunty!

Dr. Aunty and Mama

Hello’ said a familiar voice on the phone.

‘Hello’ said I.

‘Who is this?’ she asked.

‘Dr. Aunty’ I said.

‘Is it you?’  She said my name with the same love and affection as she has for all my life.  Neither or us needed to introduce ourselves, we know each other by our voices. 

I do not remember when I saw her, or even noticed her first.  She has always been around.  I often forget her first name, but we always called her Dr. Aunty.  In fact the entire neighborhood called her Dr. Aunty.  

Dr Aunty and Dr. Uncle were our neighbors in Delhi.  But they moved to their own place sometime in early 80s.  Until then they rented the first floor (which in the US is second floor—its not the ground floor but the one above it) in the house adjacent to ours.  Those were the days of joint families, which to me till this day remain the best antidote to depression and isolation that is the product of our modern times.  And Bauji and Biji (grandfather and grandmother), Guli uncle’s wife and her two sons, Kaka Uncle his wife and their children, and Dr. Aunty and Uncle and their two sons lived there. Today one wonders how, but for me, these people remain role models.  They created a secure safe society for us by their simple life and high morality, which in India is always a group morality, and we were the beneficiaries.

So much so that I took that idea of security with me and have lived by those standards and ideas –for all the years that I have been away from home.  I remain grateful to all these people who gave ‘an idea of a very simple life’, an important factor of which was that ‘we just do not live for ourselves’.  But unlike the west or the modern ‘idea’ of goodness, this idea was closely connected to the family.  As a result, families took care of each other, in the long run with little dependence on the state.  After having lived and travelled in so many places, I think it is a very important factor in creating a self-sufficient society. 

We were still in school, when Dr. Aunty, Dr. Uncle and her two sons moved away.  Bauji and Biji by then had sadly passed on.  Then years after cohabitation, everyone created their own family.  But my memories of them as neighbors are some of the fun filled memories of my childhood.

Dr. Aunty’s older son, who is a year older, was in my class and her younger son a year older than my middle sister.   So, at least with her older son G, and another neighbor who lived on the second floor S, we would always discuss school and exams.  We sat for our standard exams for tenth grade the same year.  I remember at one time G, S and I had decided that we will all study in our respective houses but step out of our room, G and S in their balconies and me in my ground floor house, and chat for a few minutes to cheer up and encourage each other and then go back to studying.  We would do it about 2-3 times through the night, as we all studied well into the night.

But here is the truth that at least one of us, if not all of us, would sometimes nap between our meetings, because we were just tired and because we were kids.

I remember Dr. Aunty’s witty remark when she said, ‘This year, there will be a steep rise in our electricity bills and possibly a steep decline in the grades of our children.’

We laughed but we were truly concerned.  Tenth grade decided our fates.  Today I find it so hard to believe the pressures that were put on us at that age. Tenth grade for me meant barely 14.  Which means since 12-13, we were burdened with the fear of scoring high in 10th grade.  At my time, we prepared for two years.  Meaning in 10th grade, we were tested on our knowledge of 9th and 10th.  After the standardized tests of tenth grade, we had to decide whether we will to towards science (pure sciences and math, engineering, medicine), commerce (business etc.) or arts (arts, humanities, & languages). Imagine having that heavy responsibility at that young an age.  When I think of how children that age in the US were thinking of dating, I just have to smile at the difference.  Dating was nowhere near our hearts and minds.  Besides our parents took care of that for us…ha, ha…thanks to arranged marriage, which still works better. 

Once in 11th standard, which is not really the determining class for our academic destiny, G, who was quite resourceful called us and told us that he had in his possession as ‘leaked paper.’  In India in the standardized exams, one never knows what will be asked of us. Since we are taught in our schools, some one else sets the exams and someone else grades them.

Excited, we decided to meet at S’s place.  S was the youngest of siblings and quite pampered. Also, being the only son, had some sense of ‘being the young man’ in the house.  It must have been about 9 pm that time. I ran next door and took two flights up. I so well remember that stairway.  Not really a winding stairway, and not metallic either, it was built into the building, all stone and concrete, was not very wide and often dark.  But in hot summers it seemed the coolest of all places.  G, took just one flight up, and we all met.  We must have studied the exam for about 4 hours, before we returned to our respective homes. 

Imagine our surprise when the next morning, all of us, in our respective schools (all of us went to private schools, and they are all different, although S and I were in the same school until grade 8) did not know whether to laugh or cry or simply fall asleep on our tables, when we found out that we had not prepared the correct exam.  Usually, the board sets several exams, and only a few hours before the final exam, do they choose which exam will be used for the entire state, and sometimes, entire country.  Also, the classes that determined our future, at that time were 10th and 12th. I think it was only that year that they had decided that even 11th grade exam will be set in offices outside of our home schools.

We returned home, with long faces.  Dr. Aunty, had her usual giggle.  ‘Chal, koi nai’, doesn’t matter, no big deal, it was only 11th grade’ she said.  It was after 12th grade’s standardized exams we got our entrance to university and forever our fate was sealed. 

As crazy as it sounds, today, all of us, and I mean all of us are Doctors, Engineers, Professors, Historians, Mathematicians and Entrepreneurs!! None of us ever did drugs, no alcohol, we never swore, no dating scene.  Every except me is in a gristha ashram (householder’s life)—Two of us are outside of India.  Who are these people married to?—doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs.  They all have had only one partner in their life, all of them are together with their first partner.  How can I not acknowledge –the foundation of our childhood.  From people who were sorted and did their dharma, like they were breathing.  Cooking, running a household, and taking care of in-laws and grandparents and grand-in-laws was not labeled oppressive or restrictive.  It was merely doing something that upholds a healthy society. 

Today, I think, those who have not had this kind of background or do not engage in such activities to create such structures, have and will always have a sense of loneliness and emptiness. 

IN the west that is why people after a certain age either rush to volunteer or work harder at work.---to get a sense of meaning in life.  But, our Indian society has known it for a long time.  Happiness, as I read somewhere, comes from not having things but being a part of something.  And no matter how much you volunteer and no matter how hard you work, a large, well knit connected family cannot be replaced.  I know it from personal experience.   I have friends all over the world, but it is amazing what I have created with my family, and extended family members even those who were born after I left home.

In the middle of our growing up, was the laughter of our parents, the Doctors, Sahni Aunty, Chachaji and Chachiji (our next door neighbors), and many others who were a witness to our growing up.

I remember a line from Namesake, when the protagonist Ashima, says to her husband after the birth of her first child ‘I don’t want to live in America’.  The husband says, think of what we can offer him in the US.  ‘But Ashima did not want her child to be raised, unobserved’  writes the author.

We were certainly not unobserved. I remember, because I was short, all the aunties around me always said, ‘So when are you growing up?’ When I go home, they compliment me and say, ‘God, you still look the same’.  It was that knowing that kept us secure.  Today people put pictures of their children and their families on facebook, ‘to be noticed’.   

I find it sad, because that ‘noticing is devoid of knowing.’

Dr. Aunty, I would say, knows us.  She has a joyful voice and a hearty laugh. She had a way of making things seem easy.  My all time memories are of her laughing, as her shoulder come closer to her chin, and she still continues to keep a smile on her face.

As is obvious from my other posts, we celebrated birthdays with a big show usually.  So, we invited our relatives and the entire neighborhood.  The thing was that so many of us were the same age.  I remember attending a few birthday parties at Dr. Aunty’s. After the cake was gone and we have devoured the snacks, and left the gifts, we would play in the house.  Looking back I wonder how in the world did we even do that? The rooms were not that big, but oh, they were our world!! We played this game called ‘hot & cold’ where we would hide something, and the one person had to figure out where it was hidden.  When sh/e was closer we would say, ‘hot’ and if they were far, we would yell ‘cold’ to help them find the hidden object, which could be as small as a coin.

Then we played ‘The dark room’.  Where we turned the lights off and scared each other.   Dr. Aunty would always pop in the room and check what we were doing.

‘A little less noise please’ she would say as she knocked at the door, and go back to the kitchen.

Today, when I think back, I realize how much work she did.  She was a full time doctor and the elder daughter-in-law who took care of all.  Can we imagine a young woman today who does the same job, ‘actually do the same job?’.  Even in India, with live in servants and easy life, people do much less work and are more tired.  Technology and other empty things take up time.  Spirituality and prayer was not something that was outside of their daily lives.  Dr. Aunty, my Mom, and women of their generation did their work as a prayer. 

Mamma and Daddy and Dr. Aunty and Dr. Uncle would usually go for late night movies or plays.  We were under the careful watch of our grandfather and G and B under the careful watch of several adults at home.  Sometimes G and B would come and stand outside our window and scare us and some times we girls would scream in Bollywood style.

Papaji, our grandfather would gently say, ‘Enough kids, stop it.’

Once when our parents were away for an evening outing, we found mom’s vanity box, and treated ourselves to all kinds of makeup and three kinds of perfume.  But we made a mistake; we played too long, got too tired and then went to bed with boxes open and our faces painted like we were clowns.  Mom was really upset the next morning, Not because we used her things, but because she said make up and creams were not good for our tender skins.  ‘You can ask Dr Aunty’ she had said, always pointing at her as the authority.  I can smile today, but it was nice how mothers used each other as an authority in various things to make their children understand something.

Dr. Aunty and Dr. Uncle left for Ghana, sometime when we were in fourth grade.  I do not remember much, except that, we were told they were in ‘Africa’.  G stayed back, being taken care of by his grandparents and uncles and aunts, because it was not wise to disrupt his schooling. B, who was the younger one, accompanied his parents.  Those wonderful days of joint families!! Children did not belong to just one pair of parents.  They belonged to the family.  They were taken care of by the family.  I remember how often, I would hear ‘Biji’ (affectionate term for mother and grandmother) call ‘G’ out to get his head massage, a weekly ritual in India. 

During the four years the doctors of the neighborhood were gone, if I remember correctly, they made one or two trips back home.  Then we would see Dr. Aunty in those African shirts, with little pom-poms hanging at the hem.  They seemed so different.  Dr. Aunty would also bring us gifts.  I always remember her by her laughter.

G made a couple of trips alone to Ghana, and would tell us about ‘the wonders of being inside a plane’.  I remember I used much of that knowledge and one lesson from my eighth grade book titled ‘A plane ride’ (in Hindi) to navigate my own first flight.

The Doctors returned when we just finished our seventh grade.  Then, they started to visit more often and once again our parents started to hang out together.  

I remember the night before my history exam, when Dr. Uncle came to park his car in our verah (open space which is cemented rather than with grass), as he always did, past 10 pm, I was studying hard.  ‘Do you wait till the last moment to cram it all’  he said. 

I giggled embarrassingly.  But I did study a lot more around the exams.  But I guess so do most students J.  I think the only time I truly was interested in doing what I did was during my masters.  That was my high time!! I loved every class and scored pretty high GPA.  Why?  Because all of it was creative!! Some of our classes were, Black and White photography, with a focus on developing photographs creatively (in the dark room, sometimes using tinctures and colors), Advanced media Writing, Television Direction, Video Editing and Script Writing.

Dr. Aunty never made those jokes as Dr. Uncle, who was very straight-forward.  Dr. Aunty’s jokes were always about ‘life is ok, it is good, we get more than we deserve and it will all be fine.’

I remember she never forgot my birthday. And even as I got older and was shy to have a birthday party, she would have a gift for me.  One of the most attractive gift I remember is a white skin hugging top, which a ribbed pattern.  I must have been about 12, and I wore it with a deep blue mini-skirt that my mom’s friend from London had given me or with white trousers that mom got me stitched at family tailor’s shop.  In the recent years, I made sure to call her on her birthday as well. And sometimes her anniversary.

But over the years, travel and much work-load got me tired.  I started to feel that I was the only one keeping relationships and connections together.  If I thought of her so fondly, her children could keep a connection with mom and us as well.  But may be they don’t because they are boys.  Well, then their spouses should take up responsibility.  Family relations, as we knew, that went for generations have a strength, that cannot be replaced with new friendships.  But people need to understand, there is a security for people to know people from generations, it is that that has lent security to India.

I have stopped connecting much, and calling, I simply cannot keep up.  There is also Chawla Aunty, who lives only ten minutes drive away, and while I sent her letters and called her sometimes, I have not been able to keep up with that either.  Same thing, she has two sons, none of who keep in touch with mom or us.  Last time I was home, I told them off. ‘Who is going to keep these relationships. I call your mom, but you living in Delhi do not come and check on my mother’.  These things come as a ‘the right--haque’ after having put in energy and affection into people.  And so, they listened, they apologized and promised to keep in touch with mom and me.

I refuse to believe it is all because of time.  Such relations are not easy to find, cannot be developed in a few years.  These are generational.  I am in touch with R, Dhan Uncle’s daughter quite often.  Whenever I am home we visit each other.  Usually we are out of time, but we have met always whenever I am home.  And she calls home whenever she can.  I also call P and S who lived on the second floor, although not that often.  And Sh, who lived on the ground floor, next to our house.  It was truly a magical time.

Rishte—relationships ---are maintained by effort.  While movement and relocation can change/alter/modify them, it is important to work on them.  Life has a way of taking over, we need to know where we want to steer it.  Despite my movement, I have some people from all stages of my life, who I am in touch with.  From my friends who I have known since before I was five, and those I met during Phd and those I have met during my travels.  Sure, many have fallen off. But that neighborhood of mine, where I grew up in India, that place, where people lived in one place for generations provided a level of stability that is hard to come by today.  May be that is why people watch ‘Friends’ ‘Big Bang Theory’ because that familiarity that takes decades to come by is what people want, they also want to have friendships that will bear the test of time and difference, arguments and conflicts.  Those are the ones that are worth keeping.

If you have not had a serious conflict and overcome it, then you do not know what friendship is. 

But people want it easy today.  I have slowly let things go.  Just because I cannot keep up.  And for the last 8 months I have been on sick leave at varying levels.  Exhaustion took over.  ‘Oh you are so sweet’ people said when they realized how much I put in them.  But did not realize it is was not a charity, it was an invitation for a connection, which means you put in effort too.  Although I took that stance about twenty years ago, today, I am very clear about where my energies will go. Not in a mean way, but as a way of survival.  In 7 habits of successful people, Steve Covey says, that love and affection are like a bank account.  You cannot keep extracting without putting it back, or the account/giver dries out at some point. 

I read the book way back in 1993.  Understood and agreed with it. It is only now that I put it in practice.

But even today, whenever I go to India, my trip is incomplete without seeing Dr. Aunty, Chawla Aunty and several other people from my neighborhood. 

But Dr. Aunty remains special for more than one reason.  She is one person who always makes sure to connect. Yes, I am disappointed that her children have not continued that.  But she comes, always.

‘Hello’ said a familiar voice on the phone.

‘Hello’ said I.

‘Who is this?’ she asked.

‘Dr. Aunty’ I said.

‘Is it you?’  She said my name with the same love and affection as she has for all my life.  Neither or us needed to introduce ourselves, we know each other by our voices. 

‘How long are you here?’

‘Well, now only three days left’

‘Ok then, put the phone down, I am coming.’ 

She lives an hour or more drive away. Knowing Delhi traffic nothing is certain.  But she was at our house within 2 hours of speaking to me, with gifts and laughter and smiles.  She always brings me these philosophical books from India’s tradition.  I love reading them.  They add to my collection of other spiritual books that I read from India and other places. 

I am grateful that they all, gave me and many others in our neighborhood a life that became our support.  It was that strength –that foundation that allowed me to do what I have done.  It is only now that I have travelled the world that what I have done is almost impossible today. It is hard to find people who live with the integrity I live with, when I’ve coursed through life without any tangible, close support.  It is because I had my parents, and people like Dr. Aunty who give me a continuity! 

As Dr. Aunty entered, I rushed to hug her.  And then rushed towards the kitchen to make some tea. 

‘No, you sit down here.’

*aaati hoon, aati hoon aunty, I am coming, I am coming’  I said I set up the tea to boil on the stove, so we could in a few minutes, once again sip tea and chat about life, as if we have always been neighbors!!