Charity begins at home

Everyday in our house in Jharia, Rotis were made for the dog, crow and  the cow.  I did not live on a farm and we did not have dogs as pets. These rotis were made every single day for them who were stray, homeless or should I say ‘free’, which really would be more apt. In Fatehpur Galli, no one had pets. Somehow keeping an animal or bird, captive and providing them with the best food and bed, did not gel well with the lane. My grandmother would take a few Rotis every afternoon and go down to find a dog and a cow. The rotis for the crow were torn into pieces and thrown on the terrace. If my grandmother was out on a Teerth Yatra or a pilgrimage, the servants, when they went home for the afternoon nap would take the rotis and give it to the animals. This was not a big deal or some big charity we were doing, it was a routine. Similarly putting grains on the terrace for the birds, was a way of life. Gauri Bai had Bajri and Jowar grains in a Dalda tin with a small round Aluminium mug or measuring cup, we used to go to the terrace across and throw it for the birds.  It is only when I came to Mumbai, I realised, what I thought as a way of life, was not a norm here. Simple practices which enriched my life.

Then after some years, my Dad’s cousin kept a Pomeranian dog. All hell broke loose in her house. This was her way to rebel against her family and do something of her own. They named the dog Jackie. Her family of senior citizens, did not like the dog coming in their way or around them as they sat to eat. The dog was not allowed to climb the bed or go in the kitchen. Later everyone just got used to the dog around. He died in some years and then they got another dog and then a pair called Jackie and Julie. The house was big and the dogs did not come in the way. My Aunt was immersed in showering her love on them. Over the years, four dogs came in her house and eventually died. Heartbroken, she did not keep a pet again. It involved not just commitment and patience but a lot of attachment and heart ache.

Here in Mumbai, our help Lakshmi, makes a bite size roti first, before she puts our Roti on the tawa to cook. That small little piece is a symbolic of keeping aside for the cow, bird and the dog. We used to take Atta or flour and sugar and put it around an ant-hill or a Banyan tree. This was for the ants. Feeding the smallest animal was important, making an ant-mountain in your own house was not. Every time the rotis are made, when you lift the ‘Paatlo’ or the wooden round platform/ rolling block where you roll the roti, there is a round shape made of the atta / flour which spreads out. Lakshmi always prays to it. She says ‘Chand banta hai usko aise hi nahin uthaatey’. She means that it makes a circle and we pray to it as Sun or Moon and then wipe it or clean it. These small things were just there to keep us in the present. Really, not let the mind meander and make the cooking mechanical. The fire was always worshipped and you never threw water on a hot ‘Chulha’ or even a hot ‘tawa’. In Hindi, the  round shape is always referred to as ‘Chand’ or moon and not as ‘Surya’ or Sun. May be Sun is too hot to handle.

“Too hot to handle but ready to scandal”… I am even embarrassed to write this sentence. I think during college days, the guys used to say something like this. I don’t know if  my over active imagination is telling me this. It was used for whom the boys termed as ‘Fast’ girls. The definition of a ‘fast’ girl keeps changing with time but it is always used in reference to a girl.


Mobile Menagerie continued

My new phone is a Google Pixel and there is nothing dramatic about it. The time spent in deleting all possible whatsapp images is huge. Everything including voice notes will get saved, no matter what you do. Your full time job is to sit and delete. You can only say that let it save on wifi and not on your cellular data. This is the big thing with the Pixel. Unlimited pictures. Now on my phone, I have a few hundred positive thoughts from Buddha to Paulo Coelho. Each one knows how I can lead my life the best. I have umpteen numbers of videos which other people find motivational and the funny ones too. I don’t seem to have any humour left as I delete the clutter from my phone. When I wanted more pics on my phone, they were never about friends’ friends dinners, holidays, someone ‘s nephews and pets, gardens and the new dishes they cooked everyday. I am feeling totally incapable now as a human being, cook, Mother and what not. Basically I do not like my phone cluttered with stuff a.k.a media, I do not want. When I have a huge house, will I keep other people’s things, even if there is space? I will not and the same applies to my phone. The phone does not delete when you are watching the media, you have to select and delete or go to the gallery where the bunch of whatsapp images is stored. Go to some other place on your phone to delete the voice notes and a third place to delete the videos. Gosh, I have no generosity for excess.

And the best is yet to come. Remember the days, when I thought the iPhone charger is so expensive, so short, tears fast and I cannot use other chargers on my iPhone. Viola, I cannot use other Android chargers on my Google Pixel too. The battery life is good but I am fed up of the constant monitoring the phone does on me. It tells me where I have parked, where my office is, how long will I take in this traffic and which mall is close by as I drive for my Ramcharitmanas satsang. Am trying to figure out how to shut all this but Google has no answers. Then like Siri of Apple, the Assistant is ever ready. Now I realise that I never wanted another phone, I just wanted a better Apple phone. Isn’t this what people who walk out of their marriage want? A better spouse, which is truly better than the earlier spouse. They think they are looking for a new spouse, but actually the new one has to be better than the before.

This world has not made me greedy and dissatisfied, I have made myself like that. Always wanting to improvise, not on myself, but on things and people around me. A perfect house found or made with love, soon starts having innumerable faults. The perfect child born becomes an irritating toddler and an over smart teenager. A great party suddenly becomes about making fun of someone who is there or the game to prove I am always right. Attending a wedding becomes about what to wear, what to give, whose was the best performance at the Sangeet and most important how was the food and what were others wearing. The holiday becomes about how the last hotel did not serve well or the driver who drove badly in the last leg of the journey. A marriage for some becomes about hard hard they worked to please their in-laws who never appreciated. People do not take long to get bored and criticise perfectly beautiful settings and relationships. Mea culpa.

Mobile Menagerie

My mobile stories do not end. I am forever in search of a new mobile phone. The reason is not that I am excited about new technology but because I am forever unhappy with my phone. The past two times I have had an iPhone 5 and 6. Lost the first one in the desert sands of Dubai. With the iPhone 6, I have lived in the fear of  loosing it. I have been so alert that I was stressed. I got used to its newness but was always scared that I will drop it. I bought the golden iPhone but put a cover on it so as no harm comes to it. I think I took care of this one more than I took care of my children and it is perfectly okay to exaggerate things. I was just glad that I had an original iPhone cover and not the multi coloured covers everyone around me, has been using. After taking care of the phone so much, I had to keep deleting pics all the time even on a holiday. I hardly downloaded any apps except Whatsapp for friends and school Mom groups and Camscanner for clicking homework and sending to a Mom of a child who missed school. I never downloaded a game or a song as I could never figure iTunes. Later, I could barely hear on the phone. The picture quality was good but since I did not buy the 64GB, my pics would not fit. The battery kept getting drained and I was on ‘low battery’ so often.

Then I got another phone. It has limitless memory for pictures. It is all wow according to all the reviews. The camera is great. And I am still unhappy. This time because my phone is silver and not golden . It is heavier than my earlier phone. And it is not as simple as the iPhone. Now I remember the husband saying that you won’t like another phone after an Apple. I was desperate to get out of Apple. Now I cannot FaceTime. There is no iMessage service to the child’s iPad when I am out of the house. Cannot expect people to download Duo in their already bursting to the seams mobile phones. iPhone truly is a dumb man’s phone, I am not saying it, a friend told me this. It is extremely simple to use and very less keys to be pressed for any action. I realise the difference only now when I have switched away from it. I have a ‘state of art’ phone and I am still cribbing and comparing. I was clear I wanted to move out of Apple but now I am not sure of the wiseness of my choice. In fact, friends were thinking I was weird as I was unhappy with the old and new phone.

This episode has made one thing very clear, in life, things do not make us happy. They have a purpose in our life and we should restrict it to that. Happiness is really within and I have got it flat, now. When our basic relationship with a certain thing is not good, how much ever we keep changing it, it will continue bothering us. For me, things take a human form and I start having attachment or dislike towards it. That is such a waste of emotion and cause of stress. Why can’t a phone be just that? Why does it have to overtake my life? Why does the landline keep getting spoilt? We were so happy with just one phone for a family of eleven members and there was so much love. What is there to check ongoinly on Facebook, whatsapp, Instagram and Twitter? What will happen to the world, if I do not get some news or information? Why have I become so dependant on the mobile phone? Why do I feel the need to react to people’s pictures, jokes or forwards? Can I change the world with my phone? I do not know if I am capable of that. But I can surely use it as a gadget and nothing more. Like I use the Mixer Grinder only if I need to grind a paste or juice in the kitchen, why can’t I have the same with my phone? Use it only when needed then put it away in its place. Use it only for a little while. I do not keep staring at my microwave oven or my mixer grinder then why is this urge to keep looking at the phone screen every few minutes? I am not someone who ever watches Television, then why do I need the mobile phone constantly? Is it because I am looking for some friends or some friendship? Why is it that people who do not take my calls, reply to my messages real fast? What kind of relationships I am having with the people in my life? Points to ponder upon before I sleep. Have we become a menagerie for the mobile phones?

Three Little Miracles

don’t know if I have mentioned this here before that I have an aversion towards long weekends. I do not mean the usual excuses which I have heard from others, about husband being at home or children being demanding or loads of cooking or maids taking leave. I do not like going to hotels and staying for long weekends in Mahableshwar, Matheran, Lonavla, Alibaug type of places. I do not have a bungalow in any of these places and may be that is why I am not inspired to go. I can’t imagine the traffic, the hotel rooms having the rainy musty smell and the Bambaiyya tasting sweet food. Basically, I don’t want to see the exodus of Mumbai people, when I go on a holiday. I also strongly believe Maharashtra hardly has any good hotels to stay or may be I do not have the exploring streak in me.

This long weekend I chose to go walking to Siddhi Vinayak temple on all three days. Siddhi Vinayak temple is a very auspicious place. Most tourists coming to Mumbai will want to go there for ‘Darshan’.  It is in the heart of the city in Prabhadevi. It is a 25 min leisurely walk from home. People walk to this temple on Tuesdays from really far off suburbs of Mumbai. I keep thinking, the temple is so close that I can go any time. The result is, I rarely go to Siddhi Vinayak. The place invites lot of celebrities too. This temple has expanded over the years and has built office space above it. There is no art or aesthetics to the design which most temples have. It was dark, muggy and needed artificial lighting even during the day.

People thought I have taken a ‘Mannat’ and hence am going on three consecutive days to the temple. ”Mannat’ is a prayer for a desired result. I shall do whatever I have promised if my dream turns into reality. I do not know if there is a better word for it. In Gujarati, we said “Maanta lidhi chhe’  which means ‘ I have taken a mannat’. I make a promise to myself and to my Ish or God that I will say prayers or fast or give up something dear to me like sweets or alcohol and do some ‘Tapasya’ or penance. At home, Mom used to take Mannat and say she will light five diyas for Jalaram Bapa. The beauty of this or Hinduism is that it is always between you and your God or rather only within you. God is your outer form or inner form whichever way you want to believe. Form or formless, idol or universe, temple at home or the temple within, Ekaant (alone) or Satsang (pray with people), fasting or eating, giving up or taking on, adding or subtracting, discipline or abstinence, Daan ( charity) or Karm yog  and the list of combinations is endless. ‘Mannat’ also means we take the required actions to get the desired results and we know we have a partner in God.

Yesterday morning, I woke up early, which in itself was inspiring, on a holiday. Three miracles happened in a series. My diamond necklace broke and I noticed it as I was combing my hair. So glad it broke at home and in front of the mirror. I just picked it from my neck and put it in the cupboard. I am totally grateful that it happened at home and not somewhere outside where I may not even have realised it.

It started drizzling as soon as I left home, I was tempted to pray for it to stop as I was not carrying an umbrella. I thought if all of us send this energy to stop rain, what will happen to our farmers battling drought for years. I prayed for whatever was appropriate. The temple is now all opened up. All the area which they have encroached, is cleaned up. The plastic transparent roof sheets allow the sunlight to come in and we can see the greenery of rain washed trees through it. The natural ventilation is back as all the roof covering, the dark plastic sheets all have been blocking every nook and cranny have been removed. The cleanliness of the floor is showing results as the white marble shines through.  Even the table in front of the idol is cleaned every five minutes. The garlands are sent out of the Garbha Griha very fast in a bamboo basket in an orderly manner. The authorities have really bucked up and it is a joy to see the physical changes.

I got two ‘Laddus’ as “Prasaad” and I wanted to get it home for my family. I did not have a paper to wrap it in and did not want to ask a flower shop vendor for a plastic bag. Try as I might but am not able to eliminate plastic from my life. The shoes had to be worn and I found a bench to sit on. A clean wooden white painted bench with a back rest. With ‘laddus’ in one hand and shoes in another, I sat gingerly on the bench. Right next to me on the bench was a small little ‘mithaai ka dibba’ (sweets box). I opened it, it was a clean new box. I simply couldn’t believe it. I kept the Prasaad in the box, wore my shoes and walked back home. The smile came along with me.

Atithi Devo Bhava

Time had no meaning to me when I was a child. There was a time to eat and sleep. Food was always given before we actually asked for it. I don’t know how my Mom and Aunt managed cooking meals so fast for six children and four meals a day plus some knick knacks. There were all the projects to be made, needlework, knitting, home work, house work, people coming home and social visits. We always had a string of visitors at home. Actually ‘visitors’ is such an ‘English’ term. We had people coming home and each person was connected to us in some way.

Apart from friends and relatives, there were Saints, Swamiji, Gurus, Pandits, Vaidhs coming home. Fresh meals were prepared for them as they had no place to cook or they were travellers. They ate huge quantities of food. Mom and Aunt would have to start the meal from scratch like right from lighting the chulha/ fire. My grandmother Gauri Bai used to talk to them and make them comfortable as the meal was being prepared. Most of them did not eat rice, so hot Puris were fried for them which they had with ‘Aloo ki sabji rasse waali’ i.e. potato with a gravy/ curry. That food aroma was so much different and better from our food. I am amazed how Mom, Bai and Chachi managed to cook so many meals for so many people. Then Dad’s business associates would come home for meals, the ones who were from outstation. There were no takeaway joints and outside food was not served to people coming home. They came home for home food. If people want outside food, then they go to eat in restaurants.

Can imagine the Feminists pooh poohing over the life that the women at our home lead. For them everything has to be about equalising with men. Their whole life is spent is fighting for gender equality, where none exists. It is like the fish saying I was to fly like a bird or the crocodile saying why am I not as agile as a deer. All I know is that there was lot of love in our house. Barring a couple of occasions, the women in the house did all the work, happily. We did have house help but the food for the Pandits/ Sadhus was always cooked by women as it was a privilige to cook for learned souls/ higher souls. We all were introduced and did our Pranaam to them. It was an exciting feeling just having them home.

Grandmother always gave them ‘Daskhina’ when they left. ‘Dakshina’ is such a beautiful word, it goes beyond donation and fees. There is a feeling to it which makes it clear it is not a business transaction or donating for charity. It does not ask for a receipt. There is no thought as to where the money will go. It never ever entered our minds if the money be used for a good cause.

Wanted to clarify here that people did not come home at meal times and yet meals were prepared for them. Now when we visit people in cities, they ask if you would like to have tea. And so many times my parents have come back without meals while visiting people in the city, even though it is meal time. I shudder at the culture shock they must be getting. ‘Generosity’ is fading in some and then people do workshops and affirmations for Abundance in their lives. When I have people home and a meal is offered, I have some people saying I am trying to be an ideal hostess. What I saw with my Grandmom and my parents is what I have learnt. From some amazing friends in Mumbai and Pune, I learnt to open my heart and home out for people. Another thing I learnt was that one can serve two people or twenty with the same love. My fear for having more people home and not being able to serve them well, disappeared.

India grew up with ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ and let’s not forget that.


Same yet different

I have been thinking that this year the monsoons have lost their magic.  Since the first rains touched us, nothing was exciting enough. The clouds, the heavy downpour, the freshness of the newly washed leaves, the glass of the new high rises getting foggy and the lights twinkling inside beautiful homes, all have left me unmoved. What has changed in the last one year? The only season which I have been gung ho about all my life, has left me feeling limp. All is going reasonably well in all areas of my life. By the grace of God, I cant even say there is a problem and so I am feeling bad or sad. I do want to put a reason to my listlessness. I am happy when I can justify my moods and feelings. It kind of makes my rudeness, bad behaviour or irritation as a fair response to the things around me. This rainy season, try as I might, I am drawing a blank.

Blank should be a good place to be but not for me. I like to be solving the problems of the world in my head, all the time. In Mumbai, the buzz in the air starts from Ashadhi Ekadashi. There is a shift in the mood with this festival. I am on my cleaning spree for Ganpati. Finding it difficult to remove old, unwanted or unused stuff. Have an acumen of collecting laundry bags. I just don’t like giving them away. I am embarrassed to tell anyone why I have so many at home. I mean who needs 20 laundry bags? I keep thinking I will make the inner covers of my pillows with it or use them for dusting. I dont land up doing it. People store make up, shoes, combs, bags etc and I have always smirked at it.  Do give a thought to what you store in your house. What I like is so different from what I have in my house. I mean all the stuff I have at home is nice, good quality, long lasting and user friendly. It does not necessarily appeal to me in the aesthetic sense. Most of the household stuff is chosen by someone else or gifted. I see things I like and I always wonder where will I keep them in my house. I cant find a place and the beautiful thing doesn’t find a place in my home. I can confidently say I have no artist’s eye. I like the choice of a couple of my friends in household matters of the stuff to buy and use. I keep doubting my abilities as a housewife. Why can’t I be perfect? The more I strive for perfection, the messier I feel my home is. Not a great feeling when you are constantly judging yourself by the way your house is. I do believe that our external space is a reflection of the internal one. When will I feel satisfied?

The monsoon is all around me and I have chosen, albeit unconsciously, not to be happy about it. Every New Year is where the past year’s failure stares at my face and does not enable me to make new resolutions. This year the birthday is not bringing any joy. I am excited on First January that my birthday is eight months away. Now less than eight days away and I am still wondering what to do. Do I really need to celebrate? Do I need a reason to celebrate whether it is the monsoons or my birthday? I am taken aback when people say we shall go with the flow. I cannot comprehend that. I like to plan and then execute my plan and see it in reality. Go with the flow for me means just follow others and do not chart your own course. Can I go with the flow where I do not take decisions ? Where choices are made for me and I go by them and enjoy them? Where I trust that the choices made for me by others will be good for me? Can I surrender to that degree? Does surrender have degrees? For that matter do our emotions have degrees and who qualifies them? Do I love people by degrees? A few degrees more like the temperature in my town or yours? Degrees is all about comparison and comparisons never make me happy. I am comparing this monsoon to make me feel like last year’s monsoon. I am not the same, the rains are not the same, the city is not the same, the friends are not the same. This feeling of ‘it is the same and yet not so’…..

Textured Tales: My visit to a wonderland of clothes

What happens when you do not belong to the world of Fashion and are invited to a fashion soiree? You are looking forward to see the high frat strutting their stuff and loads of air kissing. Well, this one was something with a difference. The designer called every individual on her guest list, personally. No event management company handling the invites from a list of potential customers. This was the place with a difference. Just like the designer’s clothes, this invite to have a cuppa and have a dekho at her new line of summer wear. I never had any thoughts about which dress to wear to the event because from the call I knew, this is like going to a friend’s house and spending time in her drawing room just catching up, as the day passed by with its different hues.

I wanted to be at the store early to be able to go through the clothes and leave soon before the clients start walking in and trying clothes. I did not want to hang around after I had bought something. The idea of tea was so refreshing compared to the wine and champagne evenings. I could smell the fresh Mogra flowers as soon as I entered the building. The old post box was newly painted with the name and the logo of the designer in the thread motif. The ride up the  rickety elevator  opened to a wall covered with Gobar, mitti and wheat husk. It added an interesting texture to it and the oil diyas in the traditional pital samai set the mood. There was Indian classical music wafting in. The Mogra strings were loosely hung at the entrance and the door was partially open. I could not help but remove my footwear outside. There was a divine feel to the whole place. I gingerly opened the door and nothing can describe the visual treat I got. Early morning sun, all windows open, racks of beautifully coloured garments against all walls. The mango tree outside and the sun throwing lovely light on the clothes. The studio looked well nourished. Fans running over the just mopped mosaic floor and comfortable well worn sofas to sit. Glad not to see anything artificial in the space.

The woven fabrics of a variety of colours, textures, weaves and designs, made me experience a deep pride in the skill of our Indian craftsmen. Vaishali physically drives to these villages to the weavers. She lives and works closely with them. Every garment or saree out there shows the passion of her creation. She knows what threads she has used in them and how it is woven. And the beauty is not just in the fabrics but also in the cuts of each garment. To say, each one is unique may sound a bit clichéd, but it truly is. The flow of the fabric is like what is worn in different parts of India. And the look is totally modern. I am someone who is not fond of fusion food. I feel it is okay for an experience but it can never be satisfying like a meal. Vaishali’s clothes are rooted in India and very modern. They can be worn with or without an occasion. The beauty is in the cut and the flow of the finely woven fabric.

I am no Fashionista. I was thinking that the model brigade would be like how I have seen in films and books. Once again I was proven wrong. Really genuine people walked in and had a direct relationship with the designer, apart from business. Clients walked in with their children. There were lot of juices and home baked cookies, which children like. Everyone was comfortable as we would be in a close friend’s house.