Unrush

A couple of days ago, someone left a nice comment on one of my IG posts and the word ‘unrushed’ stayed and grew into a few lines…

Screenshot_20200412-144856__01__01 (1)

Come my friend
Sit by me
Sit in silence
Sit a while

We’ll hear the
scents of woods
and taste
sights of sunsets
let them touch
the stillness
of our hearts
where
time and space

unrush

in
one
full
moment
and know that
all is as it should be

Trashed Beauty

I woke up this morning and found myself on the floor, glasses askew, mugs and bowls, books and papers all around, earplugs entangled around my arms and a trailing saree. After an initial moment of bewilderment, I put on my glasses and remembered a longish night, laughing to Forrest Gump, nostalgic wanderings to a trail in Auroville, a midnight snack and some beautiful sketching by the youngling. There was music too that wafted to the accompaniment of moonlight and jasmine scents of a summer night.

Magic

The trashed room was actually a lovely reminder of the fullness of yesterday and its incompleteness too. It’s always the longing for what lies just a little beyond even as you go about the business of living. It’s been a very long time since my room grew wild on me like that. In the midst of a night space shared by the resident young artist and this scatterer of words, both of us acknowledged the chaos of our craft.

an artist sees herself

We produce a fair bit and then go on to produce more, scattering our babies across tables and books where we cannot quite find them. Last night I was searching for a line I had written earlier in the day and had to hunt across 2 screens, a notebook and a notepad before finding it tucked away in a blue cursive hand in a letter yet to be mailed!

Daylight comes and lifts the veil of night’s magic and last night was pure enchantment. Right from the moon peeking behind clouds, the intoxication of night blossoms in my balcony garden and a shared space of music, art and words to the delight of a favourite film on my screen. I could have died then and it would have been a lovely celebration of living.

Yesterday’s blog rumination prompted a repeat of the movie and it was just as sentimentally sweet now as it was the first time I saw it. It almost seems blasphemous to savour the days of slow living and helpless creating when a pandemic has wreaked havoc. In the midst of this island of companionable silence, there’s also the din of volunteering which brings up stark realities of hunger, abuse and opportunistic tendencies. Inevitable. As my friend AJ says, it is what it is.
And so I straddle two worlds of completeness and endeavour.

Gendered Spaces

I was clearing my phone and came across this picture and it reminded me of an unusual experience. One that tickled me no end and also provided fodder for thought. Since there is time, let me tell you about an evening when I discovered what it felt like to occupy a space not really inhabited by too many women.

Earlier this month, I was back in Bombay, the city of my childhood. It was a trip with mixed emotions and thoughts, a happy afternoon with friends, an evening walk by the sea and also packing up my mother’s household. That last there was a heaviness, the knowledge that for all her aided liveliness, she would never live in that house again. And as is wont, every time there is a sense of being weighed down, I chop off my hair.

Sunset Family Salon is not really for the entire family, just for the men folk, a modest place with 6 seats under fluorescent lights and whirring fans. There was a popular show blaring on the tele and I tried hard to understand what made all those people in it laugh but didn’t get it. So, I sat staring at a mirror and saw men in various stages of grooming. Haircuts, massages, shaves- the entire gamut of male grooming at 10:30pm.

The owner was a genial man, late 50s perhaps with crinkly eyes that told of laughter and an appetite for life. He made me welcome, showed me to a chair and asked me to wait as he wanted one particular guy to cut my hair. I could have told him that it was not about a sharp hair cut but just a shedding of heaviness. But I didn’t and chose to observe the scene around me as unobtrusively as I could. It must have been strange for all the men there to have a woman sit there. There was silence except for the buzz of equipment. I’m unsure if it is so always or whether it was the presence of a woman in their midst.

It was interesting how the relief on the faces of the patrons was almost in direct proportion to the vigour of their treatments. The massages though very strange to witness close up, it seemed too close for comfort, a kneading that felt strangely intimate. The new age salons have private spaces and soft lights, this one was rough and ready under harsh white light. Hair colour was meticulously matched with eyebrows and moustaches although I’m fairly sure instruction leaflets would mention their use only for the mop on the head. The head massage looked like karate chops and truth be told, I was tempted to ask for one but the hour was late. It wouldn’t do justice to cut corners on something like that. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.

At the moment, I’m mildly contemplating learning how to cut my own hair or then letting it grow out. Long hair looks pretty but it takes effort. My current shock allows me to wash and wear without the need for a comb or brush. I’ve been lazy about going to a salon for what many women consider essential grooming like monthly manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing etc. Blame it on an indifference. My indulgence remains old fashioned oil massages and hot baths, easily accessed in the privacy of my home. When you spend enough time walking with naked feet outdoors and welcome the sun’s relentless heat, the need for a pedicure or facial fall by the wayside. As to hair, I like greys so there’s no question of colouring it. If there’s one extravagance, it is the draping of everyday cotton sarees. That is a deeply sensual pleasure, cotton on skin.  

A buttercup cotton saree a friend left behind. Yellow and white remind me of wild daisies.

I try to imagine what a reverse situation will be like in one of the ‘beauty parlours’ meant ‘only for ladies’ and it would not have been the same. There would be outrage. But I could enter a male space, like in the general compartments in Bombay locals and the same would not be the case no matter how much the men might resent the intrusion.    

The young man who chopped off whatever little he could from my already short hair was pleasant and knew his job. He was the owner’s son and worked in an upmarket salon by day and in his father’s establishment by night. Sunset Salon has been the place where little boys in the locality got their first haircut and while some may have transitioned to the unisex chain salons, the perpetually filled chairs indicate a staunch loyalty of its longstanding patrons. The owner would come over home to cut my father’s hair after his stroke. Maybe if I lived there, I might want to frequent it too for its no fuss service and sense of a throwback to life when I was a child and the streets were free from traffic. The current lockdown is reminiscent of that life.  

Spending half an hour in that joint got me thinking about the spaces occupied by women as women, especially roads. Sometimes, I walk late at night and till date have never seen another woman taking a walk by herself. Usually, couples walk together. If there is a lone woman, she seems to walk with purpose and accompanied by the trappings of work or study gear. Men and boys though walk with swinging arms or hands stuffed in their pockets. The gaze of men and women differ too, raw and diffused. There have been occasions when a refusal to avert my eyes has changed the dynamic of encounters with strangers. There is a perceptible shift. The neighbourhood streets have always felt safe even when deserted, yet there are no women walkers on night streets.

Short hair and a tall frame make it easy for people to mistake me for a man and perhaps that makes it easier to roam freely. It’s only when they see me up close that there is a startle in their eyes but by then it is late to rearrange their reaction. I’ve been marked as male and it is too much work to look at me as a woman. In many ways, this androgynous receiving is a relief.

A perfect Thursday in January

One fine day, she rose early. The kitchen woke up under her fingers and she cooked for the day, simple nourishing food for two. Much later, she wrapped herself in cotton sunshine and went to an enchanted garden of old trees and pretty flowers. She found a pretty yellow shevanthi to call her own, a burst of happiness in a happy day.

She drank deeply of nature’s beauty and slowly found her way home. Along the way, a young friend joined her and they watched a movie they had begun a long time ago. They didn’t finish it and have made a date for Monday afternoon, away from the bustle of the city. They’ll sit below a sturdy old tree and finish what should have long been finished.

She went to say good bye and on her way back, stumbled on a delightful little patisserie. She got herself an indulgence, a perfect lemon tart with just the zing to celebrate the coming of spring. It was a perfect Thursday in January.

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

Desire

2020 woke me up to the sounds of peacocks.

2019 was tumultuous silence.

It’s difficult to make sense of a year that destroyed life as I knew it. Early on in the year, the word relentless got set as a cue and proceeded to unravel the frayed threads that were held together with the grime of inertia. The year stripped me naked with nothing left to hide and nowhere to hide unlike Draupadi’s disrobing which never unclothed her. It left her with smoldering rage while I became a clear stream.

Of all the sarees, this humble Kadappa cotton is probably what desire would look like for me

A year later, I find myself drawn to ‘desire‘ and maybe this will be a year of discovery. What do I desire? We’ll know in 12 months. Serendipity, I don’t know but the first book of the year is Kama The Riddle of Desire and right in the early pages, the author says, “Over the years I have come ro realize that one has to be deserving of desire.” As a theme, it has been a subject matter for my offline writings and I cannot help but draw a parallel between the act of writing and desire. Both seek expression. Can the wild flower refuse to blossom for you?

Desire is that wild bloom, for its own sake.

May the year show you what you truly desire.

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

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

A city in couplets

My poet’s out in the city
Turning it into couplets

Of people and their stories
Mostly imagined

Of trees and their lives
Mostly real

Of streets and their dramas
Mostly crafted

Of cats and their gaze
Mostly experienced

Of light and its play
Mostly seen

Of sounds and their chaos
Mostly heard

Of foods and their smells
Mostly tasted

Of seasons and their cycles
Mostly confused

Of birds and their song
Mostly enjoyed

Of trails and their meanderings
Mostly aimless

Of houses and homes
Mostly closed

Of filth and its stench
Mostly avoided

Of crime and its pain
Mostly despaired

Of lovers and their loving
Mostly hidden

Of parents and their progeny
Mostly opposed

Of beggars and their belongings
Mostly bare

Of wandering minstrels
Mostly conmen

Couplets turned out
My poet’s vanished

Inspired by an exchange with a stranger(no more) friend

1969 -2019

The year was 1969 or thereabouts. 50 years ago, India would still have been very young in her freedom and quite poor but the handcrafted aspect of her everyday was rich, a living, breathing continuum of history, full of colour and flavour. A tiny part of that piece of culture wound up in a country far away marking time.

A New Yorker visited India as her friend was from this exotic land of colour and chaos. Perhaps her only visit and she might have been enamoured by the colourful sarees she saw on the women around her, enough to splurge on a few herself. Soft silk with exquisite zari work, thread work and unusual motifs, they lived half a century in the wings before winding their way to me.

I wish I knew more about that lady, her impressions and thoughts about my country as it was then. Travel in that era would not have been like it is today with app based cabs and airbnb. It would have been fraught with logistical nightmares and culture shock. I am curious to know about her relationship with M, the Indian lady who was her friend. Which part of the country was M from? What nostalgia did she bear for her country that kindled a desire in her friend? What were the seasons of their friendship and how did their lives play out?

I don’t know any of the answers and the questions still bubble over as I run my fingers over 50 year old silks in extremely good condition. Part of me wants to know and the other part is happy imagining their lives and flavouring it the way I choose. All of life is really a series of choices, moment to moment anyway and a different choice at any point could result in a different unfolding.

These sarees found their way to me via a pretty circuitous route. I opened the package yesterday and they shimmered in all their silken glory. The choice of colours would have made it just the right range for an exotic garment of an infrequent saree wearer. I wonder how many times M’s friend would have worn it and the way she might have played with it.

M’s friend would have been quite the hippie and might have worn the saree out and about in NY. I imagine a happy woman with a full throated laugh who would own a drape and make it her own. In my head, I have an image of Audrey Hepburn like elegance. These were a part of her life’s possessions and her daughter kindly offered them to me, a stranger on the internet. And just like that six yards of silk stretched across time and space to connect the lives of 4 women and an unknown number of hands who wrote poetry on silk.

Social media often gets a bad rap but it’s brought me real people and their stories, some from many miles away. Often, homes are opened and strangers like me have been privileged to break bread. And sometimes, they take the shape of stories, like this one about vintage sarees that unfolded thanks to a fellow blogger’s generosity. Thank you Caitlin for sharing a piece of personal history with a stranger.

Update:  The New Yorker in the story- that’s Caitlin’s mother Cynthia and Molly Tharyan’s friend. Cynthia wore these sarees around Toronto causing quite the scandal amongst the sedate moms in their understated and elegant pearls and cashmeres. She would have been an exotic adventurer considering she did a trip to India in a cervical collar after an ill fated dive into a swimming pool. The silks are so vibrant and full of life, colours of throaty laughter and uninhibited expression.

Half a century later, Molly has passed on, her sister and daughter lost to distance and time. Estrangement at many levels. Some wild art of me wants to see a story unfold here, it’s just a romantic’s dream. Maybe Molly Tharyan’s daughter and sister stumble upon this post via an unknown reader and connect with Caitlin. I’m not sure if that’s desirable or not but it makes for an afternoon’s worth of story making.