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.

Haldi Kumkum, Ambedkar Jayanti …a slice of Amchi Mumbai

Looking for inspiration every morning to get out of bed? Do you wake up early morning saying “let me go for a run”? I do not do any of these things knowing I should. I know that I have so much to be grateful for and we all do. But I am never content. Always looking at what I don’t have and how I can acquire. It could be a skill, a habit, a trait, an art, a thing or more. If nothing , then I am looking at which new holiday destination I can go to. Don’t know if this makes me restless or gives me a purpose in life. When one thing is accomplished, I seem to move on without even acknowledging myself for a job well done. What I have realised is all this is okay for myself but my fear is that I am expecting this from others too, in an unconscious manner. I don’t want to have too many expectations from people but even there I am upping it. Am I getting more disappointed? Not at all. Though I am a little concerned if people are feeling the pressure with me. Gosh, I am sounding so lofty even while writing this. It is like I am perfect and are the people matching up ongoingly?

Mumbai is really bright and beautiful at this time. It has fresh light green new leaves on all the trees. There are yellow flowers blooming. The chirping of the birds is heard more. Gudi Padwa has unleashed a series a festivities in the neighbourhood. Our entire lane is lit up with fairy lights from a fortnight and they are on the full night. The loud speakers start at ten pm and definitely no BMC guidelines are followed. For Ambedkar jayanti, There was a procession of the people in the Chawl.  The men and women wear white new clothes. Ambedkar party flags are in everyone’s hands. The ladies and young girls wear Navari sarees or the 9 yard sarees with a Peta, Pagdi or turban.  The were doing synchronised lezim dance. It was so graceful with Dhol. We had seen them practice for three hours every night before the event in the playground, after finishing all their chores. The week long celebrations included games competition, singing, group dance competitions. Three chawls right next to each other vie for the first prize/ the winners trophy. This year the MC ( Master of ceremonies) made the wrong announcement. He declared a winner, realised his mistake and then declared the actual winner. All hell broke loose. He was accused of cheating. The faux winners whose name was declared first started abusing and fighting with the actual winners. Women and men got into the fight. Police was called at 4 am to settle the matter. All  this happening right across us, as we blissfully slept in our air-conditioned comforts. The judges were asked to show the marks/points given to each contestant. Everything was checked and calculated again. There was no mistake  found in it. The MC apologised but the seeds of mistrust and anger were sown. I felt bad for the children who had to witness this fight by the adults whether they were winners or losers. Chain whatsapp messages abusing the winners started getting forwarded amongst the Chawls. Wonder why we have prizes in any game or sports? I know one institute called ‘Primrose’, which gives Prize to every participant no demarcation whatsoever. We need more ‘Primroses’ in this world.

Next day’s ‘Haldi Kumkum’ ceremony in the Chawl was cancelled as the tempers were flying high. ‘Haldi Kumkum ceremony is for married women. Turmeric and vermillion is put on the forehead of married women. The ceremony includes making Rangoli, design on the floor with colours and rice powder, playing traditional Marathi games, singing traditional old songs. There is a small return gift which is usually a ‘ Shringaar’ item given, like ‘Bindi’, Green bangles, or a earrings. Political parties in Maharashtra do ‘Haldi Kumkum’ ceremonies to gather the women voters. It is not just an event in rural areas but in cities too. At home, Haldi Kumkum is done to welcome the married women. A Married lady is worshipped as a form of Goddess Durga. It is held in the evening. The lady of the house invites 8,9 or 11 women to her home. Puts Haldi Kumkum, gives them milk with dryfruits to drink, some snacks and sweets. This Ram Navmi, I went for Kanya Puja with my children. The hostess had cooked a lavish South Indian meal without tasting and it tasted perfect. While cooking for the Prasaad, the food is not tasted by the cook or anyone else till it is offered to the God and the Kanya i.e. the young girls called for the Puja.  Seeing and experiencing the Divinity in human beings is practiced in every ritual. She applied Haldi, Chuna and Kumkum on the feet of the children. The toes and the front of the foot was covered with this auspicious paste. Chuna is calcium carbonate which is used for orthopaedic purpose. Turmeric has antiseptic properties.

In Jharia, if one of us had a fall, Mom, Chachi, Granny or Sitaram whoever was at home would immediately apply Haldi powder. We never even had a Savlon or Dettol antiseptic at home in a house of six children. Only home made remedies were used. For a sprain, warm dough of  atta haldi and oil was applied with an old cloth. Alternatively one could use onion crushed and warmed, applied on the wound. All pain was gone with this. Gauri Bai made a powder for digestion and some dark bitter syrup for cleansing the blood. Any stomach pain, we were never given deworming tablets. Our Doctors did not prescribe medicines if rest and fluids could cure us.