A letter from Norway

Sarees brought me the love and friendship of many special people across the planet. Some of them lovers of the six yards, others not but all of them wonderful people. A few have grown to be friends I’ll love all my life. Some have also been correspondents over the last couple of years and I have enjoyed the slow pleasures of letters written in beautiful hands. Often these notes are accompanied by something handmade, in the case of a special sister of the soul, tea for two. 🙂

Most days, I go through life unconscious of my presence in anyone else’s life. But every once in a while, I receive an act of kindness which makes me feel overwhelmed. It is a surprise that one is thought of in private moments of the spirit of another person. One such happened today. I received images of a letter that was written about a couple of years ago in a train between Bergen and Oslo.

R discovered the notepad on which she had begun writing that letter to me recently and shared pictures of the pages today. I was deeply touched to know that someone remembered me on their travels, enough to write their deepest thoughts as they watched a white landscape hurtle past a silent window. The pictures through the glass speak of harsh winters although this was a trip in April or May. I’ve never seen snow, not yet and often wonder how it might be to experience the silence of a giant white blanket for months on end.

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Picture courtesy : R from her train ride between Bergen and Oslo

Letters though are a wonderful way to break that silence. They are a window into thoughts that are free from the constraints of conversation. Of course, they have their moods and colours. Sometimes playful, often contemplative, at others obscure and so on. But, generally, they tend to be a plane where there is a relaxation of our personas and an emergence of our person. Often they are about the mundane while at times the pen wanders to think about deep questionings and at still others they are simply a record of activities. It made me question why I write letters almost compulsively but that probably is a separate post.

In an age of instant news, instant sharing, I find an almost fierce need to protect the slow savouring of thoughts that belonged to a loved friend but could be relived in the reading of a letter. Perhaps it is a result of growing older and wanting the comfort of a touch of lives through paper, a medium that is comforting. Or maybe it is a need for a physical reminder of something that transcends distance and time. Most of the letters I have received have been from friends, very few from family. In my books, friendships are probably the best among different kinds of love.

As I type this, I realize that this too has turned into a letter of sorts, perhaps a reply to that letter written on a train miles and months away from here and now. Maybe that’s what this blog is too, one long endless letter. Thank you R for your gentle, compassionate touch in my life. It has been much the richer for your radiance.

Some letters are best received much beyond their writing.

Love

S.

Bald heart

Maybe she’ll walk
her way into being a monk
that way she can lavish
all her being which
beats in her bald heart
in moon rain that falls

Perhaps someday
she’ll grow like Ani
she of the beatific smile
and sweet voice
radiant beyond measure
sublimated

until then she will wander
bleeding, stanching
tears or blood
who is to know?

Converge

A few days ago, I ended up reading bits and pieces from different books at various points during the day and there were three themes that sprang up. Dying, Forgiving and Love. I found the three again soon after in an endearing movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.

A cynical, jaded journalist who is known for ripping people apart is disarmed by the kindness and love of a stranger. Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers brings the gift of his complete presence to his interactions and invites people into his mindscapes of difficult emotions. He does this through the weathered puppets who have accompanied him on his journey as a host for a children’s show. The movie revolves around difficult parent-child relationships through the lens of death and abandonment. A dying father finds it necessary to make peace with his estranged son. Ultimately, an autumn funeral is one of love that finds redemption in the character of Mathew Rhys wanting to be a better dad.

Dying

About 8-9 years ago, I became interested in Indian philosophy and since then dying has had fascination as a thought for reflection. B.K.S. Iyengar’s words probably express it best, “Live Happily, Die Majestically”. It is considered inauspicious to talk about death and dying but that’s what we are heading towards the minute we are born. I’ve found being aware of mortality, my own and that of loved ones has been a way to live more intensely and joyously in the present. Now more than ever it seems urgent to reflect on what it means to die and therefore how one should live. In the context of yogasana, I remember Geeta Iyengar asking if one is willing to die in the pose? Change happens in that moment and space of a breaking point. Stick around, walk into the pain and you cross over into an unimaginable freedom.

Forgiving

Forgiving has always been a contentious word for me. Who am I to forgive anyone? But while sitting with the thought, it automatically split into ‘for’ and ‘giving’ and that made sense. Service. Giving like the flower gives, giving like the bird sings, giving like the sun shines. Giving wholly of oneself is its own reward. Often, it means just sharing our stories as they are. At the end of a life, the holding back of their ability to connect and heal don’t matter and just make for a dead weight kind of living in isolation. Vulnerability is like having the shell ripped off a soft body and the fear of being crushed is very real but it is also a taking one’s place under the sun in one’s fullness. That’s a brilliance which touches everything around it.

Yehudi Menuhin’s foreword in Light on Yoga is one of my favourite passages and a sentence in there expresses it best. “Whoever has had the privilege of receiving Mr. Iyengar’s attention, or of witnessing the precision, refinement and beauty of his art, is introduced to that vision of perfection and innocence which is man as first created- unarmed, unashamed, son of God, lord of creation- in the garden of Eden.” I’ve experienced this sense of innocence in my yoga teachers too. It’s a clarity of a clear stream in which they allow all to enter, the good, the bad and the ugly without any discrimination and with compassionate detachment. So, the stream remains unsullied even while allowing all who enter it to wash away the accumulated dust of tendencies.

Love

Love was the first theme I had encountered during the course of that reading day but while reflecting on all three, it made sense to see it as the last and encompassing the other two. My reading was from The Prophet and one of my favourite lines from that prose poem is, ‘All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart’. Recently, I got a lovely note from my daughter where she spoke of a state of flow, desire, abundance, detachment all aligning themselves with one’s destiny. She ended with I love you. Three simple words and I was grateful to be the recipient of those beautiful words while also keenly aware that I haven’t been able to say it to my parents.

There’s one point in the movie where Tom Hanks asks Rhys to hold a moment for those who loved us into being. It’s a moment where the other patrons in the restaurant also pause and I found myself pausing. But, that was a hard minute. One that also flowed into thinking about who do we really know as our parents. My mother reminisces about her childhood and youth and I listen. I also listen to my daughter about her young life impressions and switch between the roles of child and parent even as the individual me relates to my family members as individuals. As I listen to my mother, it is easier to understand how a young person was shaped through life experiences and inherent attitudes to meeting them. And my daughter’s words allow me to see that process as it is unfolding.

Kindness as a mirror

In the movie, Tom Hanks becomes the kind mirror we need to see ourselves and our frailties. The puppets in his bag are a poignant reminder of our lives alluding to the way we are played by the strings of our hurts, anger, fears, victories, loves, losses and a gamut of memories and inabilities. Often, they are patterns so firmly entrenched that it seems nigh impossible to even consider the possibility of another way of expression. Tom Hanks seems too good to be true and when Mathew Rhys likens him to a living saint, his wife points out that that would make what he has seem unattainable for people! She goes on to say, “he works at it all the time, it’s a practice. He’s not a perfect person, he has a temper. He chooses how he responds to that anger. He does things every day that help to ground him… reads scripture, swims laps, prays for people, writes letters, hundreds of them.” Letters really jumped out, I find them almost a meditation that can be shared with another and they have been a constant especially in the last few months.

Lately, I’ve found that all my loves converge and compartmentalizing them into neat little web notebooks is becoming harder. They seem to spill into each other and perhaps it is time to bring them all as a singular offering. Call it the yoga of words perhaps or sound. Writing is really speaking on paper or a screen, a silent sound if you please.And I find yoga in every moment of living, in music, musings and movement. It makes for a rich living even in the bleakest of times, providing an anchor to meet whatever comes or goes with a light heart and steady gaze filled with love.

I wish you love.
I wish you light.
I wish you life.

Remembering Forrest

The last couple of days have been a bit of a whirlwind as I got swept into some volunteering work. It got me musing about the ways in which I’ve navigated the decades. Perhaps, the decades have navigated my life instead. I’ve picked up jobs, skills and interests along the way and mostly been a bit of a rolling stone. Today, in between long calls, I found myself wondering how I came to be immersed with a group of people I have never met before and I saw Forrest flash before my eyes.

My first job was probably around the time the movie was released and since then, I’ve seen how living changed for an entire generation. Work, relationships, entertainment, health and through all of it the inevitable thread of technology that now connects all of our lives, individually and collectively. Under the isolation of lock down, there are strangers seeing each other and hearing each other over a screen trying to help other strangers. 25 years ago, we didn’t have mobile phones and now it is possible to conduct business on one. While I ride on its convenience, sometimes there is a desire to unplug and go back to a simpler way of being, one of real breathing connections. You know, the kind where you break bread and share a coffee and drink in the scents and textures of the day.

Forrest Gump has been a beloved movie since the first viewing and not just for Tom Hanks. It’s mostly for an almost unbearable sense of lightness in the quiet stillness of his character. I think he possibly epitomizes maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha in his simpleton self. Not a mean bone in his body and always the hint of a smile although that seems more like a Tom Hanks trait rather than just that of his character in the film. But maybe I’m biased. 🙂  He runs through the years inevitably in the middle of all the key shifts of the different ages while being removed from it. In the world but not quite of it. Detachment at its best perhaps? Maybe one needs to be a child at heart always for that kind of being.

I love the gentle kindness in the way he relates with the people who weave in and out of his life, the way he cares for the troubled and vulnerable Jenny who finds it so hard to bear the incredible lightness of his love and her own returning love. Theirs is an unlikely friendship and love story, less a juxtaposition of simple and complex and more one of a shared childlike blossoming. The weight of her brokenness is a shard that repeatedly makes her run away until near the end. Love is unequal, I suppose, the lover always loving a little more than the beloved. And Forrest is all the more richer for it in his uncomplicated wholeness.

The movie invariably brings a whiff of nostalgia for my running days, especially the latter ones where the feet were bare and the runs were long. It’s an occasional sweet ache now, the memory of that runner and the road as the seasons rose and fell.  “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” remains a delightful reminder about the randomness of life and a certain curiosity for its various tastes. Maybe it is time to unwind into the delights of an old favourite as light as the feather that opens and closes the film.

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Barely have any running pictures but think Forrest and it seemed fitting to find one of the rare few that some stranger clicked…

Feast

He read a poem
and she fell in love
with herself
just like the words
promised.
She sat
and feasted
on food
on words
and smiled
at the stranger she met

A Sunday brunch after a philosophy class in the company of a poet’s last work. I was introduced to the poem Love after Love by a friend and since that first reading, I find myself with that same sense of wonder at the discovery of oneself. Inspired by the spirit of the words of Derek Walcott, I took myself out to lunch and feasted on my life.

Sharing the poem below because good things must be shared.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott

A letter

A letter found
its way to me today

It travelled many miles
carrying tea for two
and notes of ache and love

The writer’s touch met
the reader’s touch
over paper

Light. Love. Life.

Kindling

and so she sways and sashays
kindling on her head

Behind her a sister shouts
“wait for me”
but she walks on
a song on her lips and
dance on her mind
thinking of Raju
who helped her split wood

Oh how she wished
to have him all alone
but that would never be

So she sways and sashays
thinking thoughts of Raju
and his mesmerizing musk

Dragonflies

The stragglers are left
Drunk in the winter sun
Buzzing here and there
in frantic dance

Their tribe has gone
Disappeared someplace
Where do they go anyway
Once the season is done

Another time another place
They were a sea
of glittering wings
and happy dance

Now they’re old dragonflies
In the last throes
And so they love
Like there is no tomorrow

Tree love

she grows tall
even as her roots
move deep
under ground

the forest floor
rises up
to wrap itself
around her

climbing vines
hold her
green fingers
strong and tender

embracing age
they’ll grow
luminous
an olden love

Tuesday with a shoebox of memories

A Tuesday morning spent in the company of an old shoe box with even older letters and cards.

This was written on a folded piece of paper by a friend who is a star herself. She was one of my early correspondents as I discovered how fragile and difficult adulting can be. Back then, the term didn’t exist but the suffering was real.

She died young but lived a full life of music, art and swimming with the dolphins. India was probably her soul home and she would spend 6 months at a stretch here before heading back to England.

The very last time I saw her was when she stopped by on her way home. She was quite poorly then but wouldn’t miss spending time here. As I type, I can see her bright eyes, freckled face and wisps of blonde hair bleached by the sun. Her arms were tanned and spotted with much sun and she radiated beauty.

Her letters lifted me up on days I struggled and now when I look back, I wonder what did she see in that barely 20 year old?

This particular line is so beautiful and is as true today as it was over 20 years ago. This one is for a new old sister of the heart who completes another trip around the star of our Solar System. Sending you love T, from a star in the skies. .