A day in pictures

Morning visitor says my garden is a happy place
Propping up with bricks and books
Wore jewellery after months!
All bets off.
Green grave for bikes
Sometimes the resident artist approves of picture take-outing 😁
She sings and I ride on her words and the clouds, half a century away…

Lavender

A fallen jasmine found hues of lavender decay

As a little girl, I would be mesmerized watching my mother getting ready for work or church. She would take her time choosing a saree and the right string of pearls to go with it. She would easily tame the six yards into tidy pleats and pin them up where they would rest obediently until it was time to come undone. Then would come the light dusting of compact powder and a change of jewelry if she felt like it. Last was always perfume. I’d watch her transform into this glamorous woman and gawk artlessly.

Later, when she was away, I’d rummage through the linen bag and wind her saree around myself trying to find her elegance. It never came. I grew into a lanky teenager, all long limbs and gauche, always falling short of the ideal of feminine elegance which remained her image. The first saree I ever wore was a deep purple silk for a school farewell and I remember being extremely self-conscious. One of the tallest in the grade, I stood a head above my classmates and on the fringes. It was both heady and excruciatingly painful grappling with the insecurities of that age.

A few years later, the saree became part of my everyday as a young mother. It was a handy garb especially when feeding a hungry baby, providing enough cover and doubling up as towel and sheet. I wore cottons and that preference has remained a constant. Clean, cool cottons. But once in a while, there is a breaking away to enter the flirtiness of chiffons or whimsy of lace or then the stateliness of silks. But that’s rare. Today is one such day with a lacy number that belonged to my mother. I loved this one over its pale pink twin, never quite imagining that I would one day be wrapped as effortlessly in its fluidity.

My mother turns a year older today and she has been excited about it like a little girl. She was quite harried as a working mother of three and back then it would be hard to see her let her hair down. It’s nice to see her liveliness now. Age and decay catch up and I remain keenly aware of the frailty of human minds and lives. Here today, gone tomorrow. A pandemic, old age and a decline in health are more than enough reasons to wonder if there will be a birthday next year. For now, she feels loved and special with all the wishes from family and friends and I am grateful that she is happy.

Early this morning, she got a little teary eyed when I wished her and I realized that the mother had now become the child. All I could do was to gather her unto myself.

Vintage lavender from about four decades ago

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.

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

Notes on Desire

What is this desire
Will it burn and consume
Will it stoke and feed

Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha are the purusharthas or four goals of human life and living. Each stage of life, roughly estimated at 25 years was meant to be devoted to one of the goals in that order to maintain harmony in the individual and society. Essentially, it was to keep a time and place for all aspects of being human. In the context of our diminished times, they can be split into 20 year blocks and it will still remain true. Go explore.

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.

 

Kitchen windows

Recently, I sat at a kitchen table of a woman I had never met before. My mother’s friend, let’s call her V, is her walking companion most mornings. They go shopping together and have an easy camaraderie which reminds me of the friendship of little girls. Now V aunty (since aunty is the necessary blanket suffix used for all the parents’ women friends and acquaintances) expressed a desire to see me and so I accompanied my mom to her place. A younger me would have wriggled out of the situation but as I get older, I find that I wish to humour my mother’s wishes and do what makes her happy.

V aunty kept a spic and span home. A mildly obsessive compulsive husband helped with weekend deep cleaning so it was a joint effort. The entire house was done in dull shades of brown that kept temperatures cool and somehow had a very calming effect. At one time she was a working mother but now she’s an empty nester who carries the ache of a silent house in tired eyes. The energy she exudes though is another force altogether, one of sheer enthusiasm.

It was a hot morning when we reached her place and my mom made her way to the kitchen, a familiar practice for the two. I followed and sat at the table from where the window on the other wall was a living screen. A brilliant copper pod tree stood right outside it and the grills held a neat napkin and a basket to dry dishes. The window remained my muse through their chatter and I watched a crow come to the window for a drink of water.

Aunty V set out three glasses of the most refreshing buttermilk spiced with ginger, curry leaves and shallots for us to drink. The two of them exchanged notes about their common friends and I was content to listen to their voices wash over my mind. These women had their share of life’s struggles and at this stage still giggled like teenagers. How does age shape thoughts and actions? Would I have the lightness these women brought or would a current spell of darkness be a permanent night? The buttermilk was just the necessary distraction and aunty V was delighted to give me a refill. Something about feeding people that makes my mom and others of her generation happy.

The table brought back memories of a scarred dining table in a home I left behind, one that was an equal participant in similar conversations with a friend. That walnut table looked across the kitchen to an old silver oak which was home to a pair of crows. Maybe they were a much married avian couple quite like us humans with one doing the talking while the other sat stoically. Kitchen windows have an odd comfort, a sense of slow time that is gentle and forgiving. Writing about it, I can see myself at my usual chair looking out of that window and straying into thoughts of my dad. His presence is an unassuming one on days when I wander in quicksands of the mind.

IMG-8639
Looking out of that old kitchen window

There wasn’t much time to linger in fragments of the past as the two women decided to move to the living room. The windows there looked out at a beautiful mango tree. A thoughtfully designed ledge along the window sill was a cool spot to sight squirrels scampering in the compound and sparrows carrying little twigs. Maybe it is nesting season for those tiny birds. A lazy cat ambled atop the compound wall with typical feline elegance. I didn’t realize summer days as an adult child of my mother also has its pleasures.

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And saree of the day was no. 75/2019 which is the only one I haven’t managed to document for myself this year. Dug out an old picture and incidentally this one has that scarred table.

Relentlessly Me

Because we will not wait for the year to be good but catch it by its pigtails and swing away. 😛

If I had to have a word of the year, I would choose, relentless. It is an intense word with a negative connotation but the paradox is that the word springs from relent, which is soft and yielding.

Why do I choose relentless and what does a saree have to do with it? This stubborn desire to mark every saree wear in 2019 is part of a larger design, to be relentlessly me. No matter what, I’ll keep chipping away at everything inside me that does not serve the essential me. And it gives me wild pleasure to see others who do so effortlessly or take the plunge into a tentative first step.

Saree of the day is a reminder to be #relentlesslymetoday and marks 45/2019. This one is special as it is from a dear friend’s leap of faith into an entrepreneurial venture with nothing but a studentship of weaves. I loved the name of her curation, Anandi’s Trunk. As she says, “Anandi is every little girl or boy who wants to dress up like her/ his mother or grandmother, and the trunk is that precious box of old textiles that are part of our inheritance.”

Sarees have no boundaries of time, space or gender. Period.

My favourite Odisha handloom sarees

Pleatsnpallu is a lovely instagram page which features the fluidity of the saree, transcending boundaries of not just time and space but also gender. Her latest blog post has curated the weaves of Odisha through the eyes of personal history as it has trickled over the years from the women in her family. Definitely a must read if you are a saree fiend or tentative draper.

Pleats N Pallu

I have a deep abiding love for Odisha handloom sarees and textiles, here is a list of a few weaves that I am extremely partial towards…

IMG_0891IMG_0950IMG_0985IMG_0906Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

Handloom textiles are the true definition of wearable art that reflect the social histories of their places of origin. Ikat is one of the most intricate and elaborate methods of hand weaving involving first resist dying and then weaving of loose threads post the dyeing.

These photos feature a vintage Bapta saree from Odisha worn with a top made from Ikat fabric from the neighbouring state of Andhra. Handlooms don’t really have to be restricted to traditional wear, the same top worn with the saree was paired with a denim skirt and the same sneakers for another day of adventures.

The Ikats from Odisha, locally called bandha kala generally are weft ikats that follow a curvilinear style…

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Forgotten summers

There’s still a summer from long ago in my forgotten lane. It finds a voice in the golawala’s bell that rings loud around noon, the proverbial pied piper’s music and children tumble out from buildings, helpless to the sweet-sour tastes of his golas.

His bottles line one end of the cart, a tantalising world of possibilities of colour and taste and the little humans fall under the spell of the array. Sometimes, they sneak out and at other times, they pester their folks no end till it’s just easier for the hot and bothered adults to say “go”.

My daughter is the same age as his, 11 and she asks if she can go and get a gola. Her need is so great and her suffering so huge that I smile and say ‘Yes’. The little mite gets me one too and we spend a summer afternoon in secret pleasure, our mouths stained the colours of wine and hearts filled with happiness. It’s a pleasure unlike any and brings back memories of sweet summers as a child. The heat doesn’t bother children, it’s just the adults who sweat and swear while the mercury rises. The kids just enjoy the season and make merry with crushed ice.

The other day, I asked the youngling about the golawala and her only important piece of information was that he gave free golas once a year to all the kids. It piqued my interest enough to want to know more about this man who so obviously seemed to love his job. I succumbed to the bell and ran down to catch him and find out who was this magical man. His name is Kailash like the mountain and I thought he couldn’t have had a more appropriate name.

Now, Kailash has been selling golas in the neighbourhood for 18 years. He plans to retire in a couple of years since he says, a man pushing a cart should work for only 20 years. If only, retiring was that easy for the rest of us. He came to the city from Jalgaon and joined his sister-in-law who had a cart. A few years later he branched out on his own. Perhaps, the birth of his son might have necessitated the need for independence and a little more money in the pocket. His son is 18 now and a college dropout. He works in a mall though and Kailash is a little sad that the boy hasn’t chosen to complete his degree. He has high hopes for his little girl and proudly says that he will educate her. “Main tho use padaoonga (I’ll educate her)”.

It’s a harsh life, selling golas in the punishing heat of Pune. There is also the added hardship of having his cart impounded by the municipality and the loss of business until he manages to release it or get another one. He sells anywhere between 50–100 golas a day and has no fixed income. He nets about 200–300 rupees a day and the family’s income is supplemented by his wife who also works. He used to work in a restaurant but prefers the freedom to be his own boss.

He sells golas for 10 months of the year. In the monsoons, he takes a break and sells butta (roasted corn) instead. He makes his own syrup and is proud to say that his concentrate stays as is for a year without getting spoilt. It’s basically a sugar concentrate which is cooked and left to cool before the fruit extract is added and mixed. The crushed ice is packed onto an ice-cream stick and swirled in the liquid before it is served.

I wonder if anyone else was interested in his life and day. He was happy to chat and had a smile even when not smiling. Perhaps, it was the honesty in his heart that shone through. I wonder if he went back home and told his family about a tall, lady in a saree who was mad enough to want to know about Kailash the golawala.

These are the magic people of our lives, the unsung heroes to our little children, the ones who make memories for them that they can turn to as adults. I know many mothers will be aghast at the thought of the unhygienic conditions etc. but none of the kids have fallen sick eating his colourful golas. Not yet.

Summer is gone and the rains are going. He’ll come again with his magical bottles and sunshine smile to create magic with ice and colour and you’ll be helpless and say, “bhaiyya, ek gola de do (Brother, please give me one gola)”