The languor of summer afternoons


Being able to lounge around in your night clothes on a lazy weekend afternoon with no great plans and no burning ambition to achieve anything of any significance is the kind of life I remember having had in my youth. Often enough what that state of being was usually a precursor to was long bouts of reading — cooped up in a room, with some light in the vicinity switched on, or beside a window through which the unparalleled light of the sun was pouring in.

Unexpectedly, I got the rare privilege of having a considerably large window of time the other day to do exactly that. Not with the same sense of gay abandon I suppose — which is only fair given how much older one has become and given how one must know that time cannot be lived in the exact same way at some other time under other conditions but even so — achingly close and similar to that earlier memory.

And in doing so what I found was how the mind lets you float back so easily to memories from so long ago — the soaring songs a lover once played in a language you once knew as a child which came back to you in snatches, the confusing look of acute concentration on his face that frightened you in its innocence and intensity, the pleading in his eyes as he hoped you would stop giggling from nervousness and just listen quietly in the stillness of a hot Delhi afternoon, in a room too large, too ornate, too filled with carefully placed artifacts to do any justice to the Soprano’s song of loss and longing.

And it makes you think what if you had given in? How different would life have been? Would you have felt a closeness to his river, the Danube? Who knows, really?

And then, another old memory. Of having lost vision suddenly in one eye on my first trip abroad on my own as an adult, walking in thankfulness side by side in the shivering cool breeze by the Thames in February with an old friend, who always had time to meet me when I finished work, who always took me to a new cafe or restaurant with ‘student rates’ to ensure I tucked into some dinner, who always listened openly and fully to whatever it was that I was saying — whose steadfast friendship, affection and love helped me get through my first professional training course while fighting the horrifying possibility of going completely blind.

But also in retrospect now the embarrassingly ungrateful way in which I fell madly in love with his best friend a quiet, reserved Irishman — who took me in, made me for the duration of my stay in his city a part of his inner circle, who spoke to me at length of his family, his ailing mum, his distant, calculating siblings, his father’s painful passing — and then almost just as quickly dropped me off. Leaving me wondering even now what exactly ‘went wrong’ as though one could ever really understand why we feel what we do — whether meeting him at another time may have led to other outcomes — and if what had to happen, had to happen then why at all it did?

The book that precipitated all these old memories did so in part because it was also about young love. It made me remember the exquisitely painful experience of being wrapped up in another person’s life as though there was nothing else really worth living for. And yet, in hindsight, the wonderful thing seems to be that it is all worth it. All the pain, all the anguish, all the suffering. What exactly for I cant quite yet say but worth it, yes, without a doubt.

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The search for a ‘nice’ woman


An old friend of mine posted a hilarious exchange he had with a Sri Lankan doctor. The conversation was about marriage and the doctor’s quest for a ‘nice woman, a teacher-type, with long hair who would wear saris, keep a beautiful house and raise the kids’. My friend being genuinely modern, egalitarian and effortlessly respectful of and chivalrous to women said he found himself going, ‘WTF?’ in his head but refrained from saying it.

Coming from him, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

But the exchange reminds me of how casually these words are bandied about by people, young and old, male and female, who are for all effect, the very thing they say they despise.

I find that sort of deeply entrenched ‘traditionalism’ or machismo far, far more disturbing. Both in that you find it where you least expect it, and that in existing in those who consider themselves truly enlightened, liberal and progressive, it takes on an even more virulent form.

I have been shocked to discover it in women friends and relatives who have otherwise seemed fairly liberal in the way they comment on unusual family situations in surprisingly prescriptive and narrow-minded ways.

And I have been startled to find it in male friends and relatives who go around holding flags and banners for all sorts of causes but in their most intimate relationships display the same sorts of
aggressive, insensitive and bullying behaviour that they say they loathe.

A dear cousin of mine who is incredibly gentle, insightful and kind says some of this ‘just is’ in the genes. He says no matter how much he ‘knows’ it, he finds himself returning mindlessly to ways of behaviour, expression and decision-making vis-a-vis his wife and partner of 20 years that are as he calls it ‘indescribably male’: casually overlooking her opinions, bull-dozing his way through decisions and informing her rather than consulting her on things big and small.

And yet, the problem is not of course with the gender but with the way both men and women seem to agree to entrench themselves in opposite and adversarial positions — and find themselves, before too long, sinking in the mire without recourse to alternative ways of life, living and loving.

On a positive note, I have to say, I have felt very, very, very happy to have met a few young couples here and abroad, who hold a light to a better dynamic in being nearly equally considerate, compassionate and giving with one another. And especially happy to have met and heard about the new-found partner of an old, dear friend who had spent years and years lamenting the absence of a loving companion, and who found at the other end of the world, a wonderful man who seems to still surprise her by being real, loving, deeply kind and right beside her!

Happiness


A patch of green right in front of our flat getting cleaned up. The insistent roar of lawn mowers. A group of bored looking maalis laden with sacks of dark earth, seeds, planting equipment. Quietly busy for days on end. Coming in the mornings, leaving in the afternoons, shifting wordlessly the heavy, long pipes spouting stinky, untreated water – the only kind that can be used so generously in our part of the city for non sentient beings or so we believe.

Six cheerful neon coloured benches parked in various spots.

And already, flower beds blooming. Purple and magenta heads bobbing in the breeze and an entire swathe of smiling yellow heads – the ever cheerful sunflowers. A few bushes ringed with clutches of white, red and pink flowers with translucent petals and long, bendy, fragile stems.

The local cricket team graciously opting to play on the other side of this now fertile part.

The sun shining down, pleasantly warm. It’s occasional sting eased by a wonderful breeze.

A fraying carpet no longer too loved to always have to live the good life, now used as a picnic mat.

Little T, mum and I waiting for my friend and her girl to come.

And in the interim, a sort of march past of nearly all the neighbourhood families we know – stopping by, asking after T – our block of flats’ only or in any case most adored little person; remarking on the lovely weather, the picnic mat, while she does circles around me, soaking in all the warmth, giggling, half falling, rising, smiling.

Finally, after a seemingly eternal wait, our little troop of picnickers arriving.

T and her friend quickly getting ready with their plastic pails, picking grass, showering the flower beds with ‘grass rain’, picking up stones, coming to us each time they find an especially spectacular one, our gossiping in the snatches of minutes we get between their sojourns to us; proud, happy, ‘beached whale’ mammas.

Raising an infant without Gina Ford


You know what they say about there being no hard and fast rules about child raising?

I don’t know, the further away I get from the beginning — or from when my little girl had just come into the world — the more unconvinced I am about that.

I have just read, and I must admit with some degree of envy, that a friend of a friend who has been blessed with twins has, with Gina Ford’s help, got the two little ones sleeping soundly at a stretch in the night by preventing the babies from nodding off whenever they please and also managing their feeds during the day.

I did hear of her when I was pregnant and I do remember flicking through her book briefly but I also remember feeling quite ill at ease with the very thought of imposing some arbitrary set of rules onto the infant who was yet to come. As though it was alright to assume control as parent and as though raising a child was about adhering to some other person’s, (no matter how famous and well-regarded), method.

But now when I’m reminded of those early days or actually the entire first year, I wonder if having introduced some amount of discipline in nap times and feeding would have helped me feel far less exhausted and given the little one a bit of a sense of structure.

I guess I’m still quite uncomfortable about viewing the parent-child dance as something that can be preempted or slotted into ready-made boxes, but what I do see very clearly now is that what a mother needs most as she is just recovering from the l o n g journey pregnancy is, and the hard, hard work deliveries end up being, is multiple sources of unconditional support and loving friendship. People and relationships that help her stay focussed on the crucial, intense and all-consuming experience as a mother — in whose having, a scepticism towards all methods — (no matter how certified) doesn’t feel foolish, foolhardy or overly optimistic.

The Utter Joy of Togetherness


Lighting Up the Dark

The Gathering Gloom

For a few days now, I’ve been reminded of a rather special and memorable evening with two dear girlfriends in my kitchen of yore in the Nordics when the man of the house was away on a work trip.

The plan had been to persuade one of my friends, an ardent homebird and ever loyal and dutiful wife and new mother to get away for about two hours for an all girls evening at my place with some communal cooking and eating.

I was heavily pregnant at the time and although moving around leave alone cooking or co-cooking Indian pancakes from scratch in that part of the world was an especially challenging task in that condition, I thought it would give us three something fun and new to do and I would of course get to gluttonously feast on the smells and tastes I was beginning to miss terribly.

Once we had all gotten ourselves a fair number of pancakes on our plates and into our stomachs, and a delicious combination of lethargy and satisfaction starting setting in, our conversation moved swiftly as it always did to our men.

Of the three,  I was the only one in an inter national/racial marriage and we all knew that it was all the more exciting to spend a little extra time on probing me and goading me to spill out at least a few nuggets of ‘wisdom’ from my supposed vantage point in apparently ‘cracking’ it with so many more differences.

I loved to shock them by quoting the Other Inhabitant of the House (OIH) and his surprisingly candid views on what he called the lot of men and the baggage of masculinity.

One of the things he used to love to say was that I along with all other women he cared for should be ever grateful to have been spared being born male. He’d shake his head and say, “Rajya, you dont want to know what goes on in our heads, nearly all the time. And I mean the best of us. The ones you girls think are kind, gracious, well read and so on.

“I just think we haven’t evolved very much, you know? And really, we should be forever grateful that you girls care to spend any time with us at all!”

Now, not that the OIH felt this way at all times or even remembered what he had said to me. But that he had said it at all! THAT to me was marvellous. And my girlfriends of course were in absolute awe that I lived with a guy who had the courage to say what he did and wondered for good reason whether the unusual candour and courage extended to include other parts of our life as a couple too.

I still remember how proud I was while telling them about his candour and while enjoying an absolutely pleasant and wonderful evening with two intelligent, insightful and generous friends I felt a stab of longing for the OIH who was away at the time.

You will not believe it if I tell you that so much has happened over the last three years that OIH and I dont live in the same house or country any more. And there is much to be said about the unfortunate and miserable ways in which a sparkly connection between two people can unravel.

But I am able to see very clearly three years on from that evening, in the gathering gloom that define Nordic winters, that the jab of pride, joy and thrill one can feel while being entwined with someone, (no matter how entwined or not entwined the other person feels with you), is absolutely marvellous and is undoubtedly one of those few, necessary experiences everybody must subject themselves to — to just know, first hand, what immersion in another’s life, thoughts, habits, feelings is about.

Although the demands of everyday life impinge quickly on this nearly spiritual experience, the moment and passage of immersion is worth ALL the heart break and sorrow and desolation that it inevitably wreaks, on oneself and others.

The only exception to that, is perhaps the onset and responsibility of parenthood. Which is a whole another kind of immersion.

But more on that in another post.