Darling, I love You: A Therapy

CapturePatrick McDonnell — author, illustrator, and the creator of the beautiful Mutts — has collaborated with poet and translator Daniel Ladinsky and has created a soulfully addictive book called Darling, I Love You, Poems From The Hearts of Our Glorious Mutts and All Our Animal Friends.

Most poems in the book are shorter than the title. πŸ™‚ I have been revisiting the book often with the intention of memorising the poems; they are so full of heart.

Daniel Ladinsky has translated the works of Hafiz, Rumi… The poems which he has written forΒ Darling, I Love You too present themselves like they are the fallen leaves from the books of the great mystic poets themselves.

The cover features Patrick McDonnell’s heroes Earl (the dog) and Mooch (the cat) and the book features most of his regular characters. Their humans, friends in their neighbourhood, and their furry and feathery friends. Since I have been reading Mutts Comics for a couple of years, it felt like a reunion for me when I met them in Darling, I Love You.

20170810_132405Earl, Mooch, and their humans are peace advocates. They ask us to meditate, listen to birds, smile at canines and felines, make eye-contact when we converse with humans. In the book, Daniel Ladinsky retains their characters and makes them more wise and adorable by throwing in his unique style.

As I am incurably in love with the book, I am sharing a couple of poems here:

Every event is entertaining, if only one observes.

A Child At A Circus

like a child
at a circus,
i am in awe

of the postman
driving by

and poeple
walking past

and that squirrel
on a
limb

and the sound
of a pot in
the kitchen

and the water
sprinkler

and my own
breathing

How does one understand a snail? πŸ˜‰

She Phoned Saying

she phoned saying,

“i will
be over in a
minute,”

but the sweet snail
was just figuratively
speaking

of course

These Zen masters want me to slow down.

Going So Fast

i wonder
where everyone
is going so fast…

and then
once
there…

probably still
feel anxious about
something

I am moved to tears.

The Sky

the sky is
a suspended
blue ocean

and the stars
are the fish that
swim

This is the simplest poem I have ever read on interconnectedness that I kept reading in Thich Nhah Hanh’s and Pema Chodron’s books.

Greet Yourself

greet yourself
in your thousand
other forms

Darling, I Love You is the kind of book that I want to read at the end of an awful day to heal it, at the end of an amazing day to thank it. It’s the kind of book that I want to carry in my bag and keep beside my pillow. It is my best friend in a paper jacket.

The Liberation of Sita: Remaking of The Past

CaptureI grew up listening to myriad stories from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. During my high school, I spent a lot of time learning and reciting slokas (Sankrit prayers in meters) from Bhagavad Gita, and Bhagavatham. Whenever we visit ancient temples, Father narrates intriguing stories from Hindu mythology.

I have always loved the stories. It’s been exhilarating, intimidating, and comforting to be told that, regardless of all the trials and tribulations, the law of karma wins. But as I began to expand my reading horizon, it became obvious that only men won in all the stories which I learnt from my childhood. Women were abused, humiliated, and used as pawns. I didn’t recognise then the need for a story to be written about the women who are pushed behind the curtains. When I spotted Volga’s The Liberation of Sita at a bookfair this year, I knew it was an important book, for it’s the voice of a woman who was not given a chance to talk.

Originally written in Telugu (one of the widely spoken native languages of India), and translated by T Vijay Kumar and C Vijayasree, The Liberation of Sita is a beautiful remaking of the past.

Sita is now abandoned by her husband Rama. She lives in sage Valmiki’s ashram and raises her sons Lava and Kusha. The tiny book, presented as five stories which are interconnected, follows Sita as she meets the women — Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila, and Ahalya — who were insulted and hurt by men. Sita listens to their inspiring and enlightening stories, learns how they rebuilt their lives, and gradually releases herself from the clutches of her love for Rama and their sons. Toward the end of the book, Sita, as ably aided by the women’s wisdom, discovers herself and a life beyond her husband and her family.

In India, writers are most often not allowed to exercise their creative freedom to recreate parts of Hindu mythology. Despite the straitjacket, Volga has woven a tale that is clever enough to not offend the fundamentalists, and loud enough to offer a feminist voice to all the women who were insulted in mythology.

Besides allowing me to travel with Sita as she liberates herself, Volga dedicates a chapter to Rama. In that surprising tale, Rama laments for being a prisoner of Arya Dharma which doesn’t allow him to bring back Sita from the forests until she proves her chastity. The reluctant king is lovelorn, depressed, and finds no way out from everything that suffocates him. Sita might have been abandoned by Rama. But, with the help of the women like herself, Sita discovers her free path and Rama continues to be caged. The most unexpected irony.

I adore this note written by the translators:

What Volga attempts through these stories is a compelling exercise in ‘revisionist myth-making’. It was nearly four decades ago that Adrienne Rich made that famous statement about women’s writing as ‘re-visioning’. In the words of Rich, ‘Re-vision — the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction — is for us (women) more than a chapter in cultural history, it is an act of survival’. Since then, re-visioning has figured prominently on the agenda of women writers, and all institution — political, social and religious — have been subjected to a critical re-vision in women’s writing. Even the process of cognition and contemplation have not escaped the re-visionist project and feminism has come to mean ‘a rethinking of thinking’ itself. In the process, re-vision no longer remains a simple act of looking back nor a mere act of survival. It evolves into an active remaking of the past and a re-invention of tradition. In other words, re-vision has turned into an act of creation and trans-creation.

The Liberation of Sita is a fitting tribute to all who try to break gender stereotypes, who raise their voices for the suppressed, who struggle to eliminate the taboos, who initiate life-altering dialogues, and who stand up for what is right.

Note: This is my second read for Bibliobio’s ‘Women in Translation’ month. I am so glad that I read something that was written in an Indian language.Β 

Out: Unleashed Monsters

CaptureI read Natsuo Kirino’s Out for Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge and Bibliobio’s Women in Translation month.

I finished reading Out last night and I still can’t remove quite a few graphic images from my head. I am also wrestling with some questions for which I can’t find answers. I hope you will help me understand the book more. (This blog might contain spoilers because I would like to discuss a couple of loose ends which are haunting me.)

Everything is going wrong in the lives of Masako, Yayoi, Yoshi, and Kuniko. Everything. They all do night shifts, making boxed lunches. The factory sounds like a place that can make a sane person insane. Quite a gruelling job and an unfriendly place.

Yayoi murders her husband, and all the other women cut up the cadaver and dispose it around Tokyo’s suburbs. That’s only the beginning. They now cannot stop what they have started, for things have gone beyond their control.

I like the book till here. I have given four stars on Goodreads. I still like the book but I don’t see myself recommending it, for I am worried about the all the ghoulish details.

Natsuo Kirino’s observation on gender equality in workplace makes for a great point to discuss. Masako, despite being talented and incredibly focussed at work, is not allowed to grow, only because she is a woman. The men who joined after her are enjoying higher compensations and promotions. I was thankful to Kirino for dedicating a chapter just for that.

I loved the idea that four unassuming women — three of them are pressed by financial crisis — were courageous in their own ways to chop up a body in their bathroom, and tried their best to lead a normal life even after the incident that would have shaken anybody’s core. Although there was no camaraderie among them, they were united by their own problems, by their selfishness. If they were bonded by a heartwarming friendship, perhaps, the book wouldn’t have come across this cold and clinical.

My problems lie here — I do not find Masako’s motive convincing. I understand that she is shutting herself away from the world, her family is dysfunctional, her 20-year-old career turned futile, and that there is a huge void in her life and she decides to fill it in an unconventional way. Despite that, I still wanted a strong reason for Masako to jump into this pool of blood and flesh and bones.

The biggest of problems is this: The climax. I didn’t expect Masako to identify herself with Satake (I choose not to mention anything more about him!). I didn’t want her to find pleasure in being raped, nor did I want her to think that he was the love of her life. When I reached that part, all the bathroom scenes seemed less nauseous. Perhaps, that was a strong statement. But till then, Masako looked human in some way. She might not have drowned in guilt like others, but she still seemed human. After she began adoring Satake, she seemed even more lost and cold.

I enjoyed reading Out. The horror tested my endurance. When I was brushing this morning, I measured my bathroom in my head, and envisaged having a corpse there. I shook my head harder to dispel the image. Sigh!

Keep Calm and Raise A Dog

18622289_10213227988791246_1812418652393065419_n
Shravan and Anu Boo ❀

It is hard to adult when I am with Shravan (my nephew). He says I am a child in an adult’s body, but I truly feel light and happy when he is around. Of course, we fight. He steals my ice cream; I refuse to share my murukku. I read a book to him and he asks me a random question about a random character. I lock horns with him again for not focussing on the protagonist, but he asserts that it’s okay to talk about other characters in the book.

Our brawls go on and on; I love our relationship that way. Maybe, I am his sibling whom he never had. And he is my sibling whom I lost to adulthood. (Krithi, why did you grow up?)

19149461_10213504368980578_3807246222182649039_n
One of those times when we weren’t fighting… πŸ˜‰

I know a lot about him. His favourite ice cream flavour. His favourite friend. His favourite everything. But I wanted to know more about him and as always, I tried the Proust Questionnaire on him. He was so Shravan when I asked if he wanted to answer my questions. With enthusiasm that shot through the sky, he asked me if I was going to do a video interview. I brought him down from the clouds and said that it’s a text interview. He still agreed. I feel grateful. πŸ˜‰

My dear reader, here is Shravan Sreenivasan AKA Thichi’s Boy:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A world with no school; a world with me raising five dogs.

What is your greatest fear?
My own rage. I am a little bossy, so I lose friendships because of that.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I am not satisfied enough.

Which living person do you most admire?
My mom. She knows how to be happy. And of course, Calvin. He always chilled and he was the most loyal dog. (I reminded my 11-year-old nephew that Calvin is not alive anymore. He frowned, “He is!” Shravan was right in many ways.)

What is your current state of mind?
I am sad because I have to go back to America soon.

On what occasion do you lie?
I lie when I am scared. Also, I would have imagined a situation in one way and it would have turned out in another way.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Just kidding.

MAHI2345
Shravan with his mum and dad.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My family. And Arzoo! (Shravan evidently blushes. So you know who she is. Ahem!)

Where would you most like to live?
India. When I grow up, the Himalayas. I love the mountains.

What is your most treasured possession?
My stuffed animals. When I moved to the US, I was lonely. My mom got me Max with whom I started talking a lot.

What do you most value in your friends?
Loyalty.

Who are your favorite writers?
RK Narayan, JK Rowling, Ruskin Bond, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Kinney, Stephan Pastis, and Fred Gipson.

What is your motto?
Keep calm and raise a dog!

I love, love, love Shravan’s motto. I am so proud of thichi’s boy. ❀

A Feathery Secret

Capture
I doodled a feather. ❀

I fear that I might sound ridiculous; I am still throwing caution to the wind and have chosen to relate a profound moment I shared with the Universe.

All my life, I was agnostic. Cynical. Bitter. I didn’t believe in looking for signs. I must admit that the cynicism stemmed from my inability to read signs even if one did an elaborate gig in front of me. (A friend once observed that I was terrible at reading signs. If there was only one way to interpret a sign, maybe, it should be called science right?)

Since May, I started spotting a lot of feathers. So white. So light. So free. They were floating in the air. I was far from them. So I couldn’t collect them. But I saw them floating and floating and floating.

On a particularly dark day, I told myself that I wanted to see a feather. I had a little conversation with the Universe and said that I would love to see a feather. I finished uttering the words in my head, turned to my right, and there was a feather. White. Light. Free. It was floating. It was there for a few seconds. I was entranced. Although my gaze was fixed on it, the tiny feather disappeared where it was. No. It didn’t float away. It disappeared. Like somebody swished a wand and made it disappear. Gone.

I blinked again and there was an orange butterfly by my window. I blinked one more time. That was gone too. I smiled. Did the Universe try to make me understand that everything was going to be okay? Was it a sign to be gentle and light?

I wanted to find the right word to name my feeling. But words were elusive.

Now I can grasp a word.

Miracle.

Somebody said I must have daydreamed. While this entire account makes me sound weird, it humbles me to realise that there are things which are utterly ineffable.

I see feathers everywhere now. Lifts. Pavements. Restaurants. Windowsills. Even in places where they are not expected to be seen. Sometimes, they are simply found. Sometimes, they come flying and land at my feet. Sometimes, they come floating and cross my path. I see them everywhere. Maybe, synchronicity works that way.

18740340_10213279876408404_8152275338973204828_nI see them in various sizes and colours. I collect and store most of them in a tin box. I do not know what I would do with all the feathers. But those are tokens from the Gods all the same. Witnesses of the conversations I have with the Universe. Wordless promises. Silent solaces. My version of love in the air. Surprise gifts at my feet. Messages from the beyond.

When I met a feather yesterday, I showed it to AK. “I think they are following you,” he smiled.

I couldn’t bear that weight on my shoulders. I looked at the grey feather one more time and said, “I follow them.”

The Semicolon

β€œWhen you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert

10390320_10208436588969245_8875653394517465423_nI am 30; I am unemployed and I do not know what kind of job I am seeking; My bank account laughs at me, so my father feeds me; I am recovering from a relationship that questioned the purpose of my existence; I am in a relationship which I am still trying to grasp; I have walked out of friendships to which I couldn’t do any justice; I am anxious most times; I am depressed.

I was talking to a general physician about depression, who nonchalantly observed that everybody is depressed these days. But I wasn’t sure if he understood the difference between one being depressed because the dosa isn’t crispy, and one being depressed because one can’t quote one reason to be alive.

How will I make that doctor understand that I slashed my calf nineteen times in the last two months because I was haunted by my past, and I was intimidated by my future and I couldn’t befriend my present? How will I make that doctor understand that I imagined myself dead several times because I loathed myself? How will I make that doctor understand that I couldn’t muster the courage to confess, write about my mental health, because I was scared that this blog could be read by my potential employer, who would certify me unfit? How will I make that doctor understand that everybody could be depressed at some point in time, but most of us do not open up, and seek help, because we fear harsh judgement?

Today, as I wrestle with my demons who haven’t stopped smirking at me, who haven’t stopped ridiculing my choices, who keep crooning funny songs about my impulsive reactions, who label me useless, who try hard to convince that my life is meaningless, I tell myself that it’s okay to tell the world that I have been depressed, and I relapse often.

Yesterday, I might have posted a selfie on Instagram. Today, I might have written about my happy puppy on Facebook. But that doesn’t mean I am faking my episodes on depression. And it doesn’t mean that moment of happiness was a delusion.

The streak of light, and the cloud of darkness travel together in my head. They grant me no control, so I don’t know when I would see the light and when the darkness would smother me.

All I know is that I am their home.

I can’t drive the darkness away with that streak of light; I can’t fan the light with that darkness. I have to hug both of them, and feel them intensely. I have to gather all my courage to endure the darkness, and thwart its ruthless efforts to kill me.

Between that streak of light, and the cloud of darkness, there lies a semicolon.

It’s the most powerful symbol; the anchor of life.

When the waves of regrets and guilt and shame and disappointment and betrayal and self-loathing drag me further down into the deep, dark sea, I cling to the semicolon. I allow the wave to wash over me. It makes me breathless. It makes me believe that I don’t deserve this life. It whispers into my ears to let go of that semicolon. But from an invisible source, I receive a gentle instruction to hang in.

I listen to it.

We live through the phase of semicolon time and again. I hope we would be kind to ourselves when we take time to recover.

Our loved ones rest in that pause for a while. I hope we would hold their hands when the nightmares assault their souls.

We are all we have. I hope we would hold each other in our hearts.

β€œIf you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
— Stephen Fry

Perfect Eight: The Symmetry

CaptureI stumbled upon Reema Moudgil’s Facebook page Unboxed Writers a couple of years ago, and wrote to her like a shy squirrel, asking if she would like to feature one of my blogs in her website. She readily agreed, and since then, like a friend who clandestinely sends her artworks to media houses to have those published, she visits my blogs on her own, and publishes my stories in her website. Believe me. Such people exist! ❀

Unboxed Writers is a central repository of inspiring, moving stories. (My stories are there too. Ideally, I shouldn’t be bragging much all right.) πŸ™‚ So the page is here.

A long time after I discovered the page, I learned that Reema Moudgil had written a book called Perfect Eight. I don’t remember when I bought it, but it was languishing in my little library for a while. Why I did not go to the book for so long is a mystery that I would never resolve.

I felt livid when I started reading Reema Moudgil’s Perfect Eight;Β I was smothered by the unfairness of the world. A beautiful, poetic book like Perfect Eight just has 17 ratings on Goodreads, when books which don’t really talk to our hearts garner soaring attention. But that’s how life works, doesn’t it? It’s not always just.

What can a reader like me do to honour the deserving books? Write about it.

Perfect Eight has a life of its own. The protagonist — whose name I choose not to reveal — stayed with me for a couple of days, relating her life. Sometimes, her presence felt ghostly, sometimes friendly, sometimes depressing, and sometimes she exuded hope and peace. I adored her company.

When she finished narrating her story, my hands pierced through the air, and searched for her. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to tell her that she is loved and cherished. I wanted to tell her that she fought, and that her spirit is invincible.

She had no more words to offer, but I still feel her presence deep inside my soul.

Her mother bears the brunt of the Indo-Pak Partition. She is uprooted from Lahore, thrown into India, where she travels from one place to another, not feeling the sense of belonging anywhere. Her father — an inspiring idealist, a true worshipper of life, a smile-dealer, an eternal optimist — tries to keep their family happy despite all the adversities.

And their only daughter sees beyond what is apparent. She understands the displacement that has wounded her mother. She revels in the unconditional love of her father, and his songs and poetry and wit.

But she is lovelorn in her own ways. Samir. The annoying-yet-lovable Samir handles her heart with reckless abandon. She is vulnerable, and that makes her more beautiful.Β I won’t ask her to be any other way.

The atmosphere is thick. Indo-Pak Partition. 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots. Demolition of the Babri Masjid. Maybe, it has to be thick, and laden with conflicts, for it is a true reflection of the battles which take place in her.

She bleeds all her life; she recovers like all of us.

Perfect Eight poses important questions on home, love, war, violence, passion, trust, fear… It allows me to meditate, as I travel along with the protagonist, from Patiala to Delhi to Bangalore to Ambrosa, from darkness to hope to light to death to rebirth, forming a perfect eight in life. Just when I begin to think that I need answers, it offers. I want to keep them safe. I would certainly go back to them.

Sometimes, I sat alone on my terrace to watch kites of the deepest pinks, blues and greens and pet pigeons being guided back home with flailing arms, strange, guttural, human-pigeon noises. I wished I could fly too. Somewhere. With someone. To someone.

‘This island is a miracle. It moves from one place to another but no one can see it moving,’ Inder uncle told me. I looked at the island and it looked at me. It was my mirror image. I knew then that, one day, I would move away to a place no one ever expected me to reach. The thought made everything else easier to bear.

The home town, I realise, is a memory of smells that trigger off unbearable nostalgia and unbearable joy, a place too small in retrospect but also the incubator of dreams, a womb of safety, a well-thumbed album of mohallas, familiar faces that smile at you, little lanes you will never be lost in, small shops with fading signboards and beloved bazaars fraying at the edges.

You cannot escape from life. It won’t let you escape. It will find you. And when it does you can either stay or you can run a few more miles till it finds you again. Choose. You tried to hide. To run. Always. What do you fear so much? When you learn to trust, you will learn to live.

Reema Moudgil has given us a heroine, who is incredibly alive. She is so alive that she often worries that she is not living enough, that she is not trusting enough, that she is not loving enough.

Now I must tell her that she is perfect.

She is as perfect as the eight that the silver road at Ambrosa makes. Walking along the eight might bring her back to where she started, but each new round would make her wiser, stronger, braver. So it doesn’t matter if she is taking the same path again. When she embraces her losses and pain, when she sheds her apprehensions, when she takes each step with the belief that she is a new person at every dawn, then every round on the same path is new, and full of possibilities.

Like those occasional marbles on a gravel path. ❀