The Butterfly Effect

13497856_10209915592183401_9119251199433427537_oI am sitting in a cab that rushes at 80 kms an hour. My gaze is fixed on the clear azure sky, but my mind is muddy; the noise in my head is deafening. The driver sings along to a retro song that is on the radio. On any other day, I would have smiled the moment the driver started crooning. I would have discussed his favourite songs and flaunted my love for Tamil songs. Today is not such a day. I feel numb. Exhausted. Soulless. Dark. I am too tired to search for my smile.

Through the window behind me, an orange butterfly glides in, flutters by my side as though politely demanding my attention. I drop my phone to say hello to the tiny, beautiful attention-seeker. The fellow-traveller lands on my shoe, continues to flap s. l. o. w. l. y.

I am desperate to take a picture of the guest who is lounging on my shoe. The car shakes violently; I swallow the urge to ask the driver to take it easy. The idea to click a picture of the cheerful visitor is dismissed.

There are other people in the cab. But the orange butterfly and I share a private moment. The little one is not perturbed. I begin to feel content for I am trusted.

My new friend keeps waving and in that rhythm, I feel my heartbeat, I find my smile again. In those orange wings, I find my… peace.

As I take a deep breath, the butterfly takes off from my shoe, exits the car through the other window. For the first time, I suspend my disbelief. I don’t cram my head with questions about the moment that brought me back to now, and the butterfly’s disappearance doesn’t make me sad.

After ages, I appreciate the beauty of transient moments. Pure presence.

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”

— Charles de Lint

From that day, I spot an orange butterfly every day. Sometimes, more than one. Sometimes, even virtually.

While having lunch at work, I look down at the garden only to find an orange butterfly or a group of white ones whizzing around a young tree. If I am lucky, I would spot a black beauty too.

For a long time, I wanted to keep my mysterious rendezvous with butterflies a secret; a possession that belonged only to me. Maybe, I didn’t want its essence to be diluted with cynicism. But I realised that the world has to be filled with thoughts which have the potential to make one smile. I told my friend, and on the same day, she spotted an orange butterfly. Why was I surprised at all!

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

— Mary Oliver

These days, I look forward to running into one butterfly every morning. While it’s unfair to become crestfallen when I can’t spot one, I can’t help myself much. On days when I can’t find real butterflies, they come to me in unexpected forms:

A colleague shows her new ring which is an enormous golden butterfly.
A friend shares pictures clicked by her mother in their garden. A massive moth. (Forgive the antennae please.)
A special person stops me on a busy day because she can’t hold a thought — “Deepika! Do you believe in signs? I have been spotting white butterflies every day,” she says nonchalantly. But I lose my faculties when she relates her experience for she doesn’t know about my encounter with the butterflies.

I wore the Freudian hat to figure out why I see butterflies. The Internet threw my favourite phrases — transformation, a sign of things going right, and… peace.

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Of course, I had to doodle one to honour the moments.🙂

It dawned on me that it’s just not enough to spot them but seize the moment to heal myself. (Many thanks to the Zen master Thích Nhat Hạnh!). When I see a butterfly these days, I take a deep breath and release a thought — a thought for all the times I hurt my family, a thought for a friend whom I abandoned, a thought that says I forgive myself, a thought that says I am thankful for the moment, a thought that is a vow to continue basking in the little things in life, and a thought that floats out as a wish for the world to be filled with love and peace.

I stumbled upon a post on Facebook that read, “Synchronicity is universe’s way of winking at you.” My little darlings, the universe’s messengers, wink at me, unload my baggage, and make me feel as light as themselves.

In those fleeting moments, I am free. I take flight using their wings.

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

A Woof is My Word For Love

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Image Courtesy: Soul Muser

Calvin breathes gently. Despite the pain and exhaustion, despite the air of resignation that hangs around him, he seems peaceful. The morning sun is brutal, but Calvin continues to lie in the blinding brightness that escapes the curtains. Calvin. Our sunshine.

Father, Mother, and I have locked our gazes on the boy. If our thoughts could be heard, Calvin would hear us saying, “Our last day with you. Last day.” The words marshal years and years of memories. Memories that make us smile. Memories that make us feel thankful. Memories that make us cry.

And we face the inevitable question — Will the memories perish along with Calvin?

I lie beside him, with my arms around his weak body. He still tries to wag his tail. Dogs. I think of Father, who reluctantly left to work, for he’s weighed down with the knowledge that he will not see Calvin alive again. I think of Mother, who bottles up her emotions and poses questions like, “Will it be painful for him? Is that the only way?” I think of Sister, who is thousands of miles away from the boy, and who would trade all her wishes to spend one last minute with him.

For all of them, I whisper into his ears — We love you, Calvin — as my torrential tears wash his face.

Moments later, I measure his body to let a friend dig Calvin’s grave. As I measure, Calvin takes a deep breath. I run the tape on him when he is alive. Life shows how ruthless it can become. While the family suffers from the inability to face the separation, while Calvin still lies in my mother’s lap, I call the vet and inform that we are ready. A lie.

Calvin rests his head on my thigh during our last ride to the vet and his cataract-filled eyes become bigger, as the car moves faster. He grows curious, tries to look out the window and inhales deeply, as though he is taking along all the goodness in the world.

One year later…

11406958_10206960955479330_5710593604708901420_nToday, Mother peels a banana for Boo. “Calvin loved bananas, Boo. You knew that, didn’t you?” I hear Mother talk to Boo and remember all that Mother says about the boy who left us a year ago.

Calvin liked apples. Calvin loved strangers. Calvin ate birds’ droppings. Calvin was scared of firecrackers. Calvin was this. Calvin was that. Calvin was everything.

Boo runs her tongue around her lips and sprawls in the sunniest spot at home. As I wonder how the teeny-weeny, diffident dog whom we rescued a few years ago has become a spoilt girl, the answer to the ‘inevitable question’ appears.

Will the memories perish along with Calvin?

In that unassuming moment, it dawns on me that Calvin is ensconced in the memories. When he left this transient realm, Calvin became stronger and healthier in that safest of territories. Every tiny, beautiful memory of ours is a fort that protects him. Every time we talk about him, we give that fort a fresh coat of paint. Every time we utter his name, the fort’s doors open and the black boy comes running out, with his long tongue out. He wears an effervescent smile as he jumps on us, and he covers our faces with his sticky saliva.

Nothing can snatch Calvin from us. He is just here. He will always be here.

Memories don’t hurt anymore, for their purpose is different now. They keep him alive and fan the undying love we have for our first pet.

And now, we love him with no fear; he cannot be lost again.

How Wild It Is, To Let It Be

13567407_10210016971677825_3911925621270343022_nBoo is resting after her morning walk; her head is on her favourite panda and she seems to be half-asleep, as though she is reluctant to slip into slumber because she wants to include herself in my parents’ conversation. My parents are having their breakfast, listening to some devotional songs, and discussing the beautiful, mundane things in life. I observe all of them and my heart fills with gratitude, love, hope, and… peace.

Nothing seems extraordinary about this morning. But I feel like a different person, one whom I haven’t met before, one who is inspired to fan the little spark in her, one who has begun everything all over again, and one who has just started to live. And I am home after five weeks of travel; I am home, in the true sense of the word.

I didn’t wake up to the cacophony of alarm clocks this morning. At 6, my body and mind were ready to embark on a new day. Before I left my bed, I meditated about how things have transpired in the last few months and I was surprised.

When I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, I realised that demons which taunted me for a year have been exorcised, answers which were elusive have been captured, mistakes have been forgiven, and insults have been forgotten.

Where there was an abyss, a sapling has been planted now.

Will the sapling grow strong? Will it stand strong against the gusty winds? Will it offer flowers? Will its branches grow wide? Above all, will the roots be firm? For a mind, that’s so used to cynicism and anxiety, the smallest drop of peace is intimidating too. The most amusing irony of all.

I pull back the train of thoughts and dismiss the questions. For the first time, I make this choice — there is peace and let it just be. Maybe, this blinding brightness might fade. The spell might wear off. Another chasm might appear. But for now, there is peace and I must let it be. How strange it is to see the scars and not recognise that the wounds have healed! But now that the awareness has surfaced, life seems kind and beautiful.

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”

“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life — like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”

— Cheryl Strayed

The Bluest City

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Navy Pier

I am sitting by Lake Shore Drive on my last day in Chicago. A woman is sitting by the shore, sketching the long skyline of Chicago. A gay couple kiss each other. A group of girls celebrate their friend’s birthday party. And a naughty Baltimore Oriole chases me. I sit there for hours with my gaze fixed on the lake, bobbing boats, and the majestic buildings. This is Chicago. This is me, traveling alone for the first time.

For those few hours, I didn’t have a past, a future. In Chicago, my body seemed to shed some weight; my mind seemed to erase memories — pleasant and painful. For those hours, I was there, by the lake, thousands of miles away from everything that defines me. I was just there.

It rained quite frequently during my stay in Chicago. I was cold for much of that time, even though Chicagoans might probably find the weather balmy. Chicago was not just the Windy City, but also the Walking City. I walked through the city, cursing myself for not being geared well. My ankles would feel too heavy, as though I was dragging an iron ball all day. And my feet were sore after walking for nearly 12 hours every day. On the first day, I reach my room well past 10 PM. The deserted roads, the distant sound of men’s laughter, and the lazy fall of raindrops fill me with anxiety and this question — Why am I travelling alone? I had no answer.

I thought then, perhaps, I am not seeking an answer. Perhaps, I just have to release the question and see it pass by me, like the clouds over my head, which had just started to clear up. The sky was black, and a tiny star winked at me. I smiled in return.

I spent four days in The Windy City. The first two days, I did all things touristy — sauntered around Michigan Avenue, clicked pictures of the city’s massive skyscrapers, met a Chicago Greeter (a wonderful walking historian of Chicago, Peter Orlinsky), and visited The Skydeck, Navy Pier, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Ernest Hemingway Museum.

I was annoyingly overwhelmed for the first two days. The city was vibrant and friendly. The weather was only marginally inclement. My roommates were enthusiastic travelers. Yet, something was thwarting me from becoming excited. I was a stranger to myself on those days. I was in a new city, traveling alone for the first time, making friends from different countries, and maybe, it would take a while to become accustomed to the new me — a child who is captivated by the carnival.

And I begin to unravel more of the new me. On Day 3, I visit Adler Planetarium (where I touch a meteorite ;)), and then, I am back at Lake Shore Drive, watching the shoreline of Lake Michigan. That’s when I see it. Sitting by the great lake, I see the most beautiful blues — the greenish blue of the water, azure blue of the clear sky, and the grayish blue of the city’s tall buildings. No photograph can do justice to that surreal view. How can man-made cameras be so naive, arrogant, and presumptuous as to think of capturing the life-nourishing soul of nature?

13516592_10209901997043531_7288712721261879285_nI had other things to do that day. But my newly developed all-consuming love for the blues of Lake Shore Drive makes me understand that I had come all the way from Chennai to lose myself in them. I did the wisest thing then. I surrendered.

I sit by the lake and read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. There are distractions — the crashing sound of the waves, the chirping of birds, the guffaw of children, the sound of bicycle tires. But I can only welcome them all the same.

This was to be a pattern that would repeat itself for me the next day too. I attend an author’s book-reading session, attend a fun party, and share a few drinks with some new friends I meet at the book launch. But it is Michigan Lake that calls me again. On Day 4, I wake up with the pressing thought of visiting Lake Shore Drive again. I still had other things to do in Chicago. I am so lost in Lake Shore Drive that my friend SM says I should cancel all the other plans and just go to Lake Shore Drive. “That is where your heart is,” she says. I go back to find it.

The blues are still magnificently blue by the lake. And I am there, again. A man, who must have sat next to me for a while, stands up and dusts his trousers, pulling me out of my trance. We exchange smiles. Without looking away from the skyline, he says, “It’s pretty. Why is it so pretty?” I always trust strangers to say the most profound thing, ask the most enlightening question. He doesn’t wait for an answer but walks away. However his question creates a few ripples in my mind. I begin rolling the ‘why’ in my head. But then again, it occurs to me that the whys do not matter here, and if I try to figure it out, I would only be as naive as the camera.

After I leave Lake Shore Drive, I ask my friend, if I left a piece of myself there or brought a bit of it with me. She says I could do neither. “It is impossible to become again who we were when we were in some places.”

I might go to more places, experience all sorts of marvels. But I will remember Chicago for its blues and for freeing me from my prison of thoughts. It doesn’t matter if I was only on a parole. But that whiff of freedom can help me travel light.

But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Life Rearranges Itself

After the RK Narayan Readalong, I didn’t intend to take a break from blogging. But, sometimes, one starts watching what one eats or controls the portions without preparing oneself for it. When friends ask if one is dieting, the answer is usually, “Not really. But I think, yes.” That’s what happened to me. I simply lost the appetite for writing.

When Delia asked me once, why I write, I said, “When I am insanely chased by a thought, I write to liberate myself from it. I have to blog about that pressing idea to move on with life. If I resist, the thought would almost sabotage my universe’s equilibrium.” No thought chased me. So, I went on a hiatus.

Did I miss writing? Yes. Did I agonise over not having the urge to write? Yes. A wee bit. Did I try hard? No. But all was well with life all the same.🙂

Now that I am back here, I must tell you what I have been reading.

April:
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard
Zen Animals: Creative Tangled Animal Designs by Abby Olivia Collins
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmenn
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

May:
The World of Nagaraj by RK Narayan
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Guide by RK Narayan
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini❤
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson

9781447294825And, and, and, I finished reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life last night. I am supposed to be excited; I am going on a 5-week vacation next weekend. But I am utterly devastated. So devastated that I am not able to begin my next book. So devastated that I am Zen-doodling to deal with this singular sorrow. Because A Little Life was beautifully dark. So dark that now every brightness seems blinding.❤

Also, I realised that I haven’t lost my love for big books. Yaay!🙂

So where am I going? I am going to the US to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and my nephew. They live in Dallas. So we are planning to travel around Texas.

And, for the first time, I am going to travel alone. That is, I will spend some time all by myself in Chicago. Just me. This time, last year, I was battling depression and anxiety; when I was frantically cleaning the house, owing to anxiety, I didn’t know that I would be able to afford a 5-week vacation, an adventure in Chicago, and a reunion with my sister in a year. Now I remind myself that things do get better after all.

“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara,

My nephew is now a graduate. *clears throat😉

He has moved from Elementary to Middle School. So I did a doodle to congratulate him.

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I haven’t been doodling a lot these days. However, I so wanted to do something for Harambe.😦❤

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How have you been? What are you reading? Please let me know.🙂

Event Update: RK Narayan Readalong

Have I told you that I read my first book of RK Narayan in 2012? It was a hot summer day. I squatted in front of my tiny bookshelf, picked up Malgudi Days, and blew the dust on the cover. After reading the introduction, I ran to my Father, who was watching 1983 Cricket World Cup for the 14th time.🙂 I exclaimed, “Appa, Malgudi is a fictitious place.” Father laughed out loud. He held his belly and kept laughing. “What is wrong with you? Everybody knows that Malgudi is not real.” He continued to guffaw. My ego was slightly bruised. But that didn’t matter, for I was about to travel to one of the extraordinary literary places.

A friend asked me once if I were given a chance, would I go to Hogwarts or Malgudi. Without thinking for a moment, I chose the latter. But are you surprised?🙂

So, I am having a whale of a time now. I am delighted to read your blogs on RK Narayan’s books. Thank you very much for participating. If you were not able to join, please don’t worry. I would love to read your thoughts on Narayan’s books whenever you write. So, please continue to let me know if you blog about RK Narayan.

Here are the links to other blogs:

Katy from A Library Mama read A Tiger for Malgudi and The Man-Eater for Malgudi.

An excerpt from her blog:
I won’t be adding R. K. Narayan to my personal list of favorite authors, but I am glad to have experienced this slice of India.  If you are the type of reader who enjoys character-driven stories featuring the quirky residents of small city and don’t mind that the residents are mostly all male (though this might not be true of all his books – my sampling is quite small), and would like to feel immersed in India, I would recommend that you look into his books.

My dearest friend Heidi read A Tiger for Malgudi too.

An excerpt from her blog:
I found Narayan’s writing in A Tiger for Malgudi to be more complex than in his charming Swami and Friends. Still he maintained the ease of telling his story in a way that draws the reader in, line by line, until we feel that we are experiencing his stories firsthand. I found this story to be more complex and more difficult to understand. Let me explain! Throughout the story I was painfully aware that my lack of knowledge about the Hindu religion was hampering my full understanding of any number of references that were made, or insinuated. When I finished the story I was quite fascinated to think of Raja (such a splendid name for a Tiger) and his life. I think that Narayan was effectively trying to see the human qualities that Raja, and other animal species such as the other circus animals contain. Man is not so different from his animal friends as sometimes is pompously thought. A beautiful example was that Raja’s conversations with the other animals were so reassuring to him, and he missed those words when he was cruelly isolated from the other animals.

Sarah from Hard Book Habit read his first novel Swami and Friends.

An excerpt from her blog:
The tales of Swami along with his pals, Mani and Rajam, reminded me of Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories, with the boys showing a reluctance to go to school and always getting into scrapes and high jinks. There is even an incident where the boys attend a ‘Quit India’ movement demonstration in protest at Lancashire cotton flooding the market and threatening the livelihoods of local weavers. The boys can’t pass up the opportunity to throw stones at the windows of their daily imprisonment – the school. In this way, Narayan manages to point to the wider political climate of the time, but all the while filtered through the eyes of these young boys. 

Janani from The Shrinkette was washed over by a wave of nostalgia. She reread Malgudi Days.

An excerpt from her blog:
His writing style definitely reminds you of Chekov and O-Henry, masters of the short story format. It is amazing how much the man can compress into a story that’s all of 4-6 pages in length. What a versatile storyteller, I’m so glad I loved this just as much as I did when I read it for the first time as a teenager. 

My lovely, lovely friend Bina read my favourite book — The English Teacher.

An excerpt from her blog:
Another aspect that drew me in was how Narayan would treat colonialism, especially regarding Krishna’s occupation as an  English teacher. Without making this the focus of the novel or taking a stance directly, Narayan does criticize the educational system colonialism has put into place.

And, I read the cute The World of Nagaraj.

Many thanks once again! I hope you had fun. And don’t forget to let me know if you read more of Narayan.

Also, I will post my thoughts on Narayan’s The Guide — one of the most celebrated books — in a couple of days.🙂

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RK Narayan Readalong: The World of Nagaraj

Nagaraj was sitting on the pyol, spending the evening as usual looking at the coconut trees with crows retiring for the night. Before repairing to the trees they assembled on the roof of the tall house in the opposite row. Scores of them flew down and perched like schoolchildren under the supervision of a convent sister. The crows argued a lot among themselves and hopped and shifted about before dispersing. Nagaraj always felt a fascination for this evening activity of the crows, and wished he knew the language of birds as did the kings of folklore. The crows probably have a leader who allots them treetops for the night and they argue and debate about it before coming to a decision. The leader would probably be saying, “Don’t you see the sky is reddening? Hurry up, darkness will soon be upon us, and remember we are not human being who light lamps for their night life…”

IMG_20160503_155207RK Narayan’s characters pay attention to beautiful, little things in life. That is one of the reasons why I adore his books. The World of Nagaraj, just like every other book of RK Narayan, is replete with such people. They find the extra-ordinaries in the ordinaries.

The World of Nagaraj, as the title suggests, revolves around Nagaraj. The man in his 50’s harbours a dream — to write a book on the great sage Narada. He talks to people from all walks of life in Malgudi to collect material for his book. Much to his dismay, nobody knows about Narada well.

Just when he is disheartened about his book, his nephew Tim chooses to live with Nagaraj and his wife. Nagaraj, who is a creature of habits and who derives immense pleasure from leading slow, relaxed life, is forced to look after his mischievous nephew. Nagaraj’s life begins to be eventful.

Tim marries a singer. The young girl practises Hindi songs every morning, when Nagaraj tries hard to write on his book. The man cannot confront. He cannot tell the girl that she must stop practising awful songs during his time. Because of his inability to communicate and confront, he loses his peace of mind.

Besides becoming eventful, Nagaraj’s life loses its rhythm. Everything goes haywire. He has to discipline Tim, prove to his brother that he didn’t let Tim go astray, ask Tim’s wife to be quiet during his writing hours, and manage to write his book on Narada.

Many a time, I was reminded of PG Wodehouse’s stories. Nagaraj is reminiscent of Bertie Wooster. His wife Sita rescues him often, quite like Jeeves. And the plot becomes thicker and thicker, just like in Wodehouse’s book.

Unlike Wodehouse’s stories, everything doesn’t end well in The World of Nagaraj. But the mood of the book doesn’t change. It stays true to its theme till the end, even when Nagaraj gets mired in more responsibilities.

The World of Nagaraj is for the readers, who like slow, funny, and warm books.

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