Dec 28, 2011

Reflections



I’ve been reading a lot of bloggers talking about the year gone by and the year to come. Read so many good posts that now I’m tempted to do it too. I normally don’t look back or make too many resolutions for the future. But let’s see how this goes.


Photo Credit: Snapclusion

2011.

Jan

Spent the first month of the year in preparation for a Yoga retreat, so it was mostly a cleansing kind of diet/lifestyle. I had to eat a lot of fresh foods and I was practically meditating all day. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the most peaceful of months, I got to meet the several demons that live within me. It was like an upheaval of sorts.
Started a baking blog, that was pretty short lived.

Feb 

Went to the retreat, it was an 8-day silence program. Confronted the demons. Killed some. Turned out sitting for 8 days with only just my thoughts, attempting to achieve true silence is pretty much one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It was frustrating, I even wanted to run away. But there were moments when it was good, and then it was really really good. Came back with new perceptions, new understanding, the silence within me deepened, and so did my gratitude for life.

March

The beginning of a new life, in a new city. This was totally unexpected and unplanned. A few last-minute decisions and we found ourselves in Bangalore. 10 days in the company guest house, not a thing to do, no cleaning, no cooking. Was like heaven. Went around exploring, house hunting.

April

Shuttling back and forth, getting things in order, settling down. Reaped the true benefits of the silence program. Encountered a major personal and emotional setback, but brushed it away with ease. I was proud of myself!

May

Played tourist. Walked around. Ate well – Dosas and coffee mostly. Turned out people love Bangalore in the summer. Relatives came over, had a great time with them.

June

Finally started settling in. In-laws came to visit. They were majorly bored, mostly because we do not have a T.V. Took them around the city, they liked the weather and the vegetables.

July

Parents came over. At this point, we were having someone over every 2 weeks. Felt good though. Mom didn’t let me do a thing! Ate a lot of dosas. Discovered CTR and Vidyarthi Bhavan. Excellent.

August

I hated Bangalore. The weather made my allergies wreak havoc in my nostrils. I was sick most of the month. Birthday passed uneventfully. Hit two-eight. Two more years to the big three-O. Found out I didn’t feel any different. My brain lacks the capacity to feel old.

September

No respite with the allergies. Started blogging regularly. Settled in some more and started freelance writing as well. Took M to the ashram, it was lovely and I was genuinely glad that he liked the place. A new-found love for Sherlock Holmes happened, M and I watched the entire 1984 series on YouTube. Also discovered JustBooks and my reading has increased ever since. 

October

The month was just one big sneeze. Nothing more to say.

November

Anniversary! The allergies settled down. M and I finally managed to get into a schedule. Exercise began to happen. Health began to improve. Life got better again.

December

Regular exercise for M and me. Both of us feel great. Eating healthy and well. Watched Dirty Picture, MI4, Don2. Loved the first, second was meh, puked all over the third. Decided to reward ourselves to a big, beautiful breakfast at Woodstock (our favourite place, hands down) on New Year’s morning for all the hard work we’ve been putting in. We’re dreaming and drooling all the time now :D

Over all, it’s been a year of solitude. Began in silence, ending it alone. Lived alone for the first time in my life. Discovered several things about myself, pulled my socks up and got more responsible. Refreshed and rejuvenated, all set to take on a new year. Bring it on, 2012!



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Dec 26, 2011

Life || The Guilt of the Feminine



One night, I was completely engrossed in something I was writing. M had come home from work a while ago. He’d changed and everything, and then he asked me if I could get him some warm milk. I wanted to, but I was so involved that I couldn’t stop and break the flow of thoughts. I asked him to get it himself. He didn’t mind, but he was lazy so he went to bed.

I kept asking him to go take the milk, I knew he was awake. I must have asked him a dozen times when he replied, “Stop feeling guilty and just write.” I was stunned to realize that he was right. Ever since I’d refused him, a nagging guilt had refused to leave me.


Photo Credit: Mattzor


Do all women feel guilt?

M went on to tell me that he saw this in many women at his workplace, and he felt it was a major deterrent to their careers. Again he was right, I’d also met many women who would cringe and cry coming to work every morning, because they had left their babies wailing at home.

Why do women feel guilt?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. From my limited understanding, I’ve concocted a theory of sorts.

Do we feel guilt because we’re losing touch with our femininity?

Let’s talk about feminine and masculine. No not as genders, but as qualities. As in, caring, nurturing, supportive, tenderness – feminine. Protecting, bread winning, survival instincts – masculine. This is how I understand it. A man and a woman have both the feminine and the masculine within. Each individual has different dominant characteristics. So a woman may have masculine energy, while a man may have a dominance of the feminine. It’s perfectly all right, that’s not where I’m going.

Perhaps, for those of us who feel guilty, there is a clash of the two qualities or energies or whatever you may call it, within us. Is it possible that while our feminine side beckons us to go and nurture our loved ones, our masculine nature wants us to sweat it out in the field, priding ourselves in our accomplishments?

Which then, brings me to the most important question – is there really point of balance between the two? Or will life just remain a series of events where either the masculine or feminine will dominate, only to average out in the big picture?

When you are committed to your work, whether it is to make a living or just out of passion, and your duty to your family is calling, which route do you take? Not just in the major decisions, but the small, daily ones. Is there a way of attaining perfect balance every single time?

Some would say that men need to take an equal responsibility at home, so everything is shared. I don’t think that’s the solution. Yes of course, they have to. But the chances are, even when the husband is doing the dishes while the wife works on a report, somewhere deep down inside, she actually might be feeling guilt. Maybe that’s because the feminine side of her wants to tell him to go relax while she takes care of him. While the masculine demands that she give her work the very best of her focus and dedication.

So, what is the solution here? Can the perfect balancing act ever be achieved? Has anyone ever done it before? Is guilt really a bad thing to feel? Sure it is unpleasant, but does it serve as a reminder of the things we might need to spend more time on? My theory has left me with more questions than answers.


Photo Credit: wonderferret

My hunch is that there is no universal answer to all these questions. It is highly dependent upon the individual at hand. Perhaps men feel just as guilty as women do, at least we are quite vocal about everything we feel. Maybe we need to stop ourselves and look deeper, reaching the very source of the feeling. The source always makes it much easier to deal with the issue.

Thinking back on my guilt, I think I have this urgent need to become a superwoman. I expect too much of myself, and that’s an understatement. I want to keep the house spotless all the time, all the work done, clothes done, dishes done, cooking – perfect, dressing – immaculate, hair – fantabulous, body – in shape, articles – all written and beautifully at that.

I suppose I must sheepishly admit that I can accomplish all of the above, only if I miraculously gain possession of Hermione Granger’s magic wand. Maybe not even then, Miss. Granger was never good at cooking charms herself, was she?


Photo Credit: Petroleumjelliffe

The answer to my guilty dilemma is quite evident, I need to learn to be easy – on myself and also the women around me. How many times have we mind-criticized the girls around us on their callous dressing, extra pounds, or inability to just get that child to stop crying? I suppose the time has come for women around the world to join hands and agree not to be so hard on each other. To stop judging each other and then feeling bad when we are judged. To stop expecting ourselves to perform the unthinkable. Maybe we just need to let up and let go.

So the next time I catch myself in the middle of a guilt-pang, I will happily remind myself that I am not wonder-woman, I do not have 10 hands, I cannot do everything at once, and that is perfectly okay!

Do you feel guilt? How do you deal with it?




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Dec 22, 2011

And the Winner is!



Heylo ppls! Phew, what a week it's been. Highs and lows, it's been an action-packed seven days. Ever since I announced the giveaway, I've been waiting to write this post, writing it out in my mind hundreds of times each day. Each time, a new way to announce the winner. I know if I don't announce it right away, you're anyway going to scroll down first and see who it is, so go ahead, I won't stop you. :-)

Saw? Came back? Good, now I can talk more. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the people who supported my week-long endeavour. Without you, of course, I would have ended up purchasing the prize for myself. So how thankful I am of your existence in my life, I shall let you know as follows:

  • Nags - for taking the time out of her vacation, just to participate and spread the word. That was very thoughtful of you, Nags.
  • Keirthana - whose words have encouraged me quite a bit, I cannot thank her enough. Also a wonderful blogger, I sometimes see her as a little sister. 
  • Sruthi - This girl is almost 10 years younger to me, but I can relate to her blog posts in more ways than one. 
  • Kalpana - One of my oldest readers, she doesn't fail to read a single post of mine. An amazing blogger herself.
  • Nikhil - The shameless fellow who reads and never comments, but was the first one to comment on the giveaway post. Sweet guy, just got married, congrats buddy!
  • Vikas - What a photo finish indeed. Entered the contest exactly 45 minutes before it ended. A great blogger himself, comes up with some profound stuff on his blog.
  • Spiff - An old reader too, an amazing writer, who I am sure is going to be a published author sooner or later.
  • Ravishankar & AS: Thanks a lot for reading my posts, commenting and taking out the time to participate. Means a lot.
And everyone else who participated, thank you very much!

There are some who couldn't take part, but support my blog nevertheless:

  • PeeVee - who generously lent me her blog space last week, thank you.
  • Muthu Kannan - The biggest critic of my work, his feedback is always bang-on, and implement-able.
  • Phatichar - A new reader, very encouraging and generous with his compliments. Amazing writer of fiction, he is.
And to everyone else who reads, thank you.

And of course, my husband M, who stands behind me in everything I do, perhaps the first person to ever believe in me. 

If I've forgotten anyone, which I'm sure I have, I am thankful to you too, please remember that. And before I turn this post any more senti, let me move on.

How I Picked the Winner

I made a list of all the names from the comments on the giveaway post. Yes, I counted the bonus entries twice. Then I put the list in a List Randomizer from Random.org. So everything was nice and mixed up. Then I used the Integer generator to get a random integer. The person corresponding to the random number is the winner.
(Note: Screenshots with accurate timestamps can be provided on request.)

The Winner

Congratulations to Ms.Spaceman Spiff, you are indeed the lucky winner of the Complete Collection of Calvin and Hobbes Boxed Set. Please e-mail your address to me at: sumitra(at)thedailymoo(dot)com. I will promptly order it for you from Flipkart and have it shipped to you. I think the delivery is made in 2-3 business days, or so it says. Please do not die of happiness, I am not responsible if you do.

And please, please send me some good pics of the set when you receive it, so I can lust over it and be jealous of you!

Now all you people, go back up and read the rest of the post.

Once again, thanks a ton to everyone who supported and helped me out. The readers of this blog are the true heroes, taking up everything I dish out and spending their valuable time providing their insights and opinions. The gratitude will remain forever!

Merry Christmas Everybody!


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Dec 19, 2011

Excuse me, While I Eat!



First off, there are three things you must know about me:

A. I have never been thin (like stick thin) in my life.
B. I am a foodie.
C. I have beaten myself up about A and B.

I'm writing to say that I refuse to, anymore. :D

Okay, so now you know what this post is about, let me e-laborate.

I grew up eating a lot of yummy food. My mom is a really good cook, and we went to these social gatherings often where almost all aunties were good cooks. My parents were never the kind to control me while I ate, they took pride in their daughter's healthy appetite (like all parents do).


Photo Credit: Logan (Creative Commons)


Unfortunately for me, my metabolism wasn't able to catch up. Result? FAT! I never really thought much of it myself, until everyone else (read: relatives) started pointing it out explicitly, telling me I needed to lose weight fast. Let me share with you the worst I heard - I was in the seventh class, when I overheard one relative tell another that no man would marry me because of my weight. I wasn't even fat, just a chubby kid. Sad, I tell you, some people are.

So then I started to get guilty about eating. I tried to change, and my mom helped me with it. It was like a yo-yo. I'd control, then lose control, then control again. I'd exercise a bit, then get lazy. Story of my life. There were fruit diets and those no-rice diets, then only boiled vegetable diets, all kinds of stuff. Nothing worked, but only because I couldn't stick to anything for long. I'm a foodie. I need good food.

Then one day, after a bad phase in life, I rose to the occasion. I cut out the rice, I ate only vegetables and proteins, I exercised like there was no tomorrow. I did this for 6 months. I lost a ton of weight. People wanted to know which branch of VLCC I had joined.

The results were nice, I was fitter than I'd ever been, but the no-carb diet had taken it's toll on my body. My hair lost its shine, I felt faint more often and my bowels suffered too. That's when I realized that what I had done was wrong. I could only maintain everything for a couple of years. Then the weight came back on, along with the food.


Photo Credit: Logan (Creative Commons)


The yo-yo was back, trying and failing. I didn't have the energy to go through one more crazy diet again, it just takes up too much. For those of you who are considering, this is how I always felt while eating just fruits or vegetables or eggs:

  • Faint
  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Constant head-aches.
  • Constantly aching for food. I miss my paneer and mushrooms and warm rotis and hot rice and spice powders and everything else!

Too much control leads to too much craving. This was very true in my case. After a lot of thinking, questioning and analyzing about this entire episode with food, I've come to a few conclusions.

  1. I do not need to lose weight to look beautiful, I already am.
  2. I need to only be fit so that if I run up three flights of stairs, I won't be heaving like an angry buffalo.
  3. I should not be trying out eating habits that I cannot follow for the next, say, 10 years.
  4. I will not believe nutritionists.
  5. I will exercise a fixed number of times a week, and take a break when my body needs it. 
  6. I should enjoy said exercise, and enjoy challenging my body each day.
  7. I will not measure my weight, or my waist, thighs, arms, neck, cheeks, nose etc.
  8. Last, but not least, I will not feel guilty when I eat!

So I did all that and more. I did not go on a diet. I continue to eat regularly. I started a work out schedule, and did not worry about sticking to it. I just enjoyed it. 


Photo Credit: Logan (Creative Commons)

It's been a month now. I don't know how much weight I've lost or how many inches. I don't care. All I know is that I can run up one flight of stairs without panting, and that's something. My clothes fit looser than they used to. I feel energetic and awesome. I'm waiting for the day I can turn those 10 push ups to 20 and 15 dips to 30. Fitness is exciting, when you don't pressure it with too many expectations.

There are a few guidelines that I actually do follow, but it's not that hard.

  1. I avoid eating out. God knows what trash they serve in the name of food. Very rarely, if required.
  2. I cook what I want to eat.  Home-cooked Indian food isn't actually all that bad for you.
  3. I stop eating when I'm not hungry. I don't stuff myself when the food is tasty. 
  4. I include a lot of variety - a lot. So I don't get bored. You can see me in the store grabbing packets of all kinds of pulses and grains.
  5. Remember the 5 food groups we learned in school - Carbs, Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, Fats and Water? I have all 5 with every meal.
  6. I take vitamin supplements. It helps a lot to stay energetic. (With doc's permission, of course).
  7. I don't eat junk. No chips, chocolates, ice cream, cakes, bread, butter, jams or any other kind of nonsense. I even gave up baking. And you know what, I don't even feel like, when I have so many options stocked up at home.

I think I'm finally doing something sensible. And I pride myself for it. No, I'm not thin. Yes, people still tell me to go on fruit diets. I smile at them politely. What else can I do? When I see magazines with super-thin models, I remind myself that there's something called Photoshop. 

Now excuse me, while I go eat. 



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Dec 16, 2011

Life || The Practices of the Highly Imaginative Indian Parent



I read somewhere that Indian parents of the 80s and 90s were an unimaginative breed of people. I politely beg to differ. I don’t know about you folks, but my parents were indeed, highly imaginative members of the human race. So much so, that they constantly indulged in the practices of the greatest minds of all time.


Photo Credit: Harlequeen (Creative Commons)


Writers, artists, leaders, great thinkers, I saw a glimpse of all such figures within my own home, in the very people who brought me into this world. I’ll share with you some of the performances that were commonly staged in my family, me being the victim, er… audience of them all.

Note: Translations to Italicized words are provided at the bottom of the post, in order of appearance.

Analogies

Long before I took the GRE exam, I was quite comfortably aware of and used to the concept of analogies. I did not even have to write down the frequently-asked examples of analogies on flash cards and memorize them. So well did they teach me, with real-life examples, such as:

Badam:Brillance, as Butter:Badam Halwa.

The more, the better! Needless to say, I was regularly fed with soaked and peeled badams (non-fat variety).

Logical Reasoning

Similarly, LR was taught to me at a very young age.

Najiba = III A
Sumitra = III A
Hence Najiba  = Sumitra

Najiba = 100/100 in Maths
Najiba = Sumitra
Hence, Sumitra = 100/100 in Maths!

Simple, yet profound. 

Lectures

Yes, my parents were quite accomplished when it came to delivering lectures. I would receive one whenever they felt their oration needed some practice.

One of the most popular lectures was titled, ‘Studying children will study anywhere’. This one was rendered particularly in the homes of relatives, family friends, etc. when I was expected to bring a book along to study, while the adults watched TV and chatted. A single complaint about the lack of amenties such as table and chair, lighting, mood, etc. would act as a trigger. 

Since my father is Telugu and mom Tamilian, I was subject to dual-language versions. So I was alternately told, “Padikere pasanga enga venalum padipaange,” by one parent and, “Chaduve pillalu ekkadaina chaduvutaru,” by the other. An inspired version would include examples of the likes of Abraham Lincoln who studied under street lights.

Guest-Lectures

For my benefit and the betterment of my general up-bringing, my parents routinely invited their own parents, siblings and closest friends to provide the much needed guest lectures. Some of the whackiest ones were given by my Grandma, whose words I still cannot forget.

My beloved Paati wasted no time in telling me that I would grow up to be like Kanthamma, our maid, if I did not study. “See Kantham, she cannot read or write. Unaku kooda ade gadi thaan, if you don’t study. You will have to wear torn sarees given by others and wash dishes for a living.”

Quotable Quotes

Russell Peters was not kidding when he quoted his dad, “Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad.” This was routinely chanted in my house too.

Again, I got multi-lingual versions of this. “Yaaro nalla adi vaanga poranage ippo” by mom, and “Evvaro baaga thannulu tintaaru ippiudu,” by dad. Unlike Russell, I always knew it was me. No siblings, you see. 

Another quote that got thrown around a lot was the one about the well. As in:

“Dad can I go to the sleep-over?”

“No”

“All my friends are going”

“If all your friends jump in the well, would you too?”

K

Memoirs

As all great personalities, my parents also narrated fond memories of their childhood experiences. Of course, these narratives always included a lesson, something for me to learn.

“What? Raise in pocket-money-aa? When I was a boy, I took the five annas my father gave me and saved it by walking five miles to the school in the next town. Children these days…” <Head bent and shaking>

Inda kaalathu pasangalukku bhayame illama pochu.  Naanga chinnapo we were so scared of our parents. Why, even now, at this age also I am scared of my mother.”

Inception

Ahh yes, the concept of planting an idea was discovered by my parents long before Christopher Nolan. In fact, multiple dream/idea planting sessions were conducted frequently, and I did not even have to be asleep for them. Example of a common post-lunch scenario:

Dad (Looking up from Newspaper): Sumi, what to you want to become when you grow up?

Me (Looking up from Hardy Boys): Umm…

Mom (Running in from the kitchen, Beaming): When she was born itself, I told Amma. Our daughter will become a doctor. First in the family.

Dad: You know, Mr. Verma’s son has gone to America to study his masters. One day…

Mom (Dreamy-eyed): I always wanted to learn the Veena when I was younger. Alas, my parents could not afford. But our Sumi…

Recitals

Yes, I was required to recite several things as a child. Multiplication tables were one of them. When I was in the second grade, my mother took it upon herself to permanently imprint my mind with tables. So she mysteriously procured audio tapes of ‘tables-songs’ that promplty replaced the Suprabhatam. Paavam,  M.S. never knew that ‘times-two tables’ were actually her greatest competitor.  Every morning, I had to listen and sing-along, accompanied with the correct taalam.

Rituals

Several rituals that mirrored the lifestyles of the accomplished were religiously followed in my household. The one I remember most vividly is the summer ritual of ‘Five Words’. This practice required me to read 2-3 articles in the editorial section of the newspaper every day of my summer vacation. I had to underline five difficult words, look up their meanings in the dictionary, and copy them down into my notebook.

 As my laziness grew with age, I was pardoned, and the ritual was reduced to ‘Two Words’.

Newtonianism

This was perhaps, the most brilliant of my parent’s accomplishments. They were firm believers in the third law of motion propsed and proved by Sir Isaac Newton.

Every action, indeed, had an equal and opposite reaction in my house. Like if I told a bad word, my face would immediately be plastered with a slap. If I did not come home from playing immediately when my mother called me, the front door would promptly be locked. If I behaved badly in public, a tiny, discreet, yet painful pinch would follow on the underside of my arm, when no one was looking.

If you grew up in the 80s and 90s and cannot relate to anything I’ve written, I am sorry to inform you that your parents were quite unimaginative, as my reading-source states.

Translations:

Badam - Almond
Badam Halwa - Gooey, Yummy, Almond sweet
Padikere pasanga enga venalum padipaange/Chaduve pillalu ekkadaina chaduvutaru - Studying children will study anywhere
Paati - Grandmother
Unaku kooda ade gadi thaan - You too will suffer the same fate
Yaaro nalla adi vaanga poranage ippo/Evvaro baaga thannulu tintaaru ippiudu - Somebody gonna get a hurt real bad
Annas - old Indian currency
Inda kaalathu pasangalukku bhayame illama pochu - These days kids have no fear
Naanga chinnapo - When we were kids
Amma - Mother
Suprabhatam - A religious chant to be heard at the crack of dawn.
Paavam - Poor thing
Taalam - Way of keeping track of rhythm in Indian Classical Music



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Dec 14, 2011

The Blog is Ready, and so is the Surprise (Free Calvin&Hobbes Giveaway!)


A while ago, I announced on my blog that I was going to give it a makeover. And now it’s ready! I love the way it’s turned out, I hope you do too! Let me know what you think of it.

 I’d also said that a there would be a surprise announcement at the end of the makeover project. And now, the time has finally arrived. I’m honestly very excited about this. I’ve thought and thought about the right words to use while announcing the surprise, but I guess I’ll just go ahead and say it.

Keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, and also the fact that I love giving gifts, I’ve decided to do my very first GIVEAWAY!!

After much deliberation, I’ve decided on giving away something that I think most people would want to have. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s the best gift that anyone could ever give me!

And the gift is....







Drumroll…







THE COMPLETE CALVIN AND HOBBES 3 VOLUME BOXED SET!!!!!!!!






I love Calvin and Hobbes! Who doesn’t, right? Hmm, a small voice is now telling me to cancel the Giveaway and buy the set for myself. So before I change my mind, let me provide you with all the information.

I want to win! How do I participate?

You need to do two simple things to be eligible for this Giveaway:
  1. Follow this blog in any one of these ways:
    • Follow on Facebook, here
    • Follow on Twitter, here
    • Follow on Google Plus, here
    • Follow via Blogger
    • Subscribe via RSS, here or Email, here.
  2. Leave a comment on this post, stating:
    • In one line, what you like best about reading blogs.
    • Your profile ID, using which you followed or subscribed to this blog (for ease of verification and to keep things fair).
That's it! As simple as that.

Can I get a Bonus Entry?

Yes, you can! To improve your chances of winning the Calvin and Hobbes Boxed Set, all you need to do is promote this giveaway. Blog about it, tweet it or share it on FB, or any other way that works for you. Leave me a second comment with the link and your entry will be counted twice!

How will the winners be selected?

The selection process will be completely random and based on a lucky-draw, using Random.org. Please note that I will not be replying to any comments on this post, to keep the number of comments intact.

When does the Giveaway close?

The Giveaway is open until midnight, 21st of December, Indian Standard Time. The winner will be announced on the 22nd of December. 

Are there any additional rules?

Yes. Here they are:
  1. Only one entry per person. Multiple entries will be discarded, unless you are eligible for the bonus entry.
  2. The giveaway is open  to residents of India. I will be purchasing the boxed set through Flipkart and have it shipped to the address of the winner. People living outside can participate too, if you know a friend or relative in India to receive the prize for you.
  3. Members of my family are not eligible to participate.
So, that's my very first giveaway. Hopefully there will be more to follow. Keep reading! All the best to all the participants. 


Dec 12, 2011

Books || What I Talk About When I Talk About Running ~ Haruki Murakami



If you are a runner, or hope to take up running sometime in your life, you must read this book. If you are a writer, or hope to become one, you must read this book. If you plan to do neither, you must still, read this book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a memoir, by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer.

Photo Credit: Upton (Creative Commons)

Humble.

This is the word that best describes Murakami. The manner in which he describes how he sold his jazz bar to take up writing, and eventually running, makes you feel like he did nothing big or great, and yet he did. The book made me feel thankful and hopeful that there are still such people in this world.

The man is in his 60s now, he was in his late 50s when he wrote the book. He took up marathon running in the later part of his life, middle-age. The way he’s trained his body to adapt to such a rigourous lifestyle is simply amazing. 

The book could inspire you to run. Write too, perhaps. But more importantly, it opens you to a certain way of life, a certain attitude towards it. Like this, for instance:

My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance - all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what's really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson. (It's got to be concrete, no matter how small it is.) And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I'll reach a place I'm content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it. (Yes, that's a more appropriate way of putting it.)

He talks at length about his experiences with running, participating in different marathons, losing the passion to run, and then gaining it all back again. Of his reasons for taking up running, he writes:

People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life - and for me, for writing as a whole. I believe many runners would agree. 

He also talks a lot about his writing.

Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn't involve heavy lifting, running fast or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a coffee cup, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn't as peaceful a job as it seems.

Murakami says that he writes one word at a time. Like he runs, one step at a time. And that’s all it takes.
The beauty of the book is that there is something quotable in almost every page. But this is the one that stuck with me the most:

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Try it!

Purchase from Flipkart: here
Purchase from Amazon: here




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Dec 9, 2011

Life || The Lake Where No One Lives



Have you ever wished to get away to a place where there is not a living soul, miles and miles around you? Have you wished for silence so profound, that it engulfs your entire being like a black hole?

If you haven’t then you must. Consider it, at least. It’s a life-healing experience. I’ll talk about mine today.

I was around 16 when I first thought of visiting Kailash. The mountain in Tibet, in case you are hearing of it for the first time. I used to sit with my eyes closed every now and then, to get away from the stresses of preparing for exams. One day, I saw snow, some peaks. I imagined it was Kailash. I knew I had to go there someday.


Img Credit: Isha Foundation

That ‘someday’ came sooner than I expected. I thought I would go when I was much older. But when the opportunity presented itself, I decided it had to be taken. I convinced M, everything fell into place. We went last year.

All the time I was thinking of Kailash. Lake Manasarovar was on the itinerary, but I never paid much attention to it. A woman on the flight to Nepal asked me if I was going to take a dip in the lake. I told her that I had no idea. Kailash, and the moment I would lay my eyes on that peak was all I could think of. My dream was coming true.

The lake is on the way to the mountain. The drive was tiring. I was all weary, dozing off, sick from the high altitude. When someone said the word Manasarovar, I opened my eyes. What met them was something that I will try, but find it very hard to explain.


Img Credit: Isha Foundation

Untouched. This was the first word that came to my mind. And then all words stopped. The camera was forgotten. Everything was forgotten. There was a silence like silence was never felt before. It felt like I was at the very top of the world, at the highest point possible, although this is geographically untrue. It was a place that humans had not yet managed to encroach, to conquer, to spoil. A place where man was still at nature’s mercy, having to defecate in the open, camp out in tents, helpless when the rain water flooded in.

There was a Sathsang that evening. Stories were told, of the significance of the Lake. Of the supernatural beings that inhabited the place, beings from a different world. The beings that accompanied Lord Shiva. They might have been true, or not, but I wasn’t interested in them. This was not a time for speculation, not for me at least. It was a time to look around in wonder, absorbing like a sponge, at everything the place had to offer.

 
Img Credit: Isha Foundation

We were asked not to approach the lake at all until the following morning, after a meditation process would enable us to withstand the cold waters. We were asked to stay away especially after dark, for our own safety. The obedient people that we are, M and I complied with the instructions. We stayed in the tent all night. Rain was beating down heavily, steadily. Wild dogs started to howl at around 3 AM. I thought I heard a several female voices at once, but I couldn’t tell with the sound of the rain. It was not a comfortable night.

We were up the next morning at 6. The process started at the lake shore, where everyone gathered at around 7. It was still pitch dark. A light, persistent drizzle continued. We were offered a sort of liquid that we needed to apply on the very top of our heads. When I did, I felt an instant heat course through my body, a sudden surge of energy. A few pranayam exercises and chants later, we were ready to get into the lake.


Img Credit: Isha Foundation

It is said that dipping in the waters of Lake Manasarovar will cleanse you of all your sins. But this was not on my mind. Again, oddly, nothing was on my mind. Before I got into the lake, all the layers had to come off, the thermals, the jackets, socks, hats, gloves, everything. All I had on finally were a flimsy kurta and pyjama. By the time I was ready, almost everyone was done bathing. It was just me and another girl. We approached the lake holding hands. I did not know what the temperature was, nor what to expect.

When I first set foot in the waters, I did not feel the cold. I felt pain. From no pain, to pain. Just like that. And it only increased as we went further in. When the water reached our knees, it was as deep as we could go. It was time to take a dip.

My heart was pounding, in a way that told me I might not come out if I went in. My courage was faltering. The other girl went in first. Inspired, I did too. As I dunked and came out, the coldest I have ever been in my life, I began to cry. No, not from the pain. It was from the devotion that coursed through my entire being. I was broken, defeated. Nature had showed me where my place was, what it could do to me. I had no choice but to bow down. Internally and externally. To what, I don’t know. But I had to bow down, I felt nothing but reverence.

Perhaps that is what it feels like to be washed away of all sins. I dunked twice more.

The walk back to the tent was even more excruciating. I could barely walk, I thought my feet would be dead forever. Invisible teeth were biting away at them, there was no way I could ever recover from this state, I felt.
It took M and me over an hour inside the tent to get back to normal. As the countless layers went back on, in silence, the only sound that of clattering teeth, we sat it out, finally regaining the proper use of our limbs.

The meals tent was buzzing with activity when we went in for breakfast. Several small groups were formed, people recounting their experiences animatedly. M hung back, always the silent one, and I wandered from group to group, listening to different tales.

One particular group of people were talking softly, barely in a whisper. When I approached them, contrary to my expectations, they included me in their conversation. I learned from them of something that had taken place the night before.

A few people had apparently decided to disregard the rules and go to the lake at midnight. They had heard stories back home that this was the time when the supernatural beings came out in the open, so they wanted a glimpse at any cost. Perhaps to be able to have some interesting stories to tell.

Full of excitement, they ventured out, spotting nothing for a while. (Solving the mystery of the female voices for me). And then, one of the ladies told me, they saw something far away that was shaped like a star, zip out of the sky and into the water. That’s all they saw. As if on cue, one of the men in the group fainted. They had to drag him back to the tent.

This guy was still feeling faint in the morning and couldn’t make it to the process and the dip in the lake. Needless to say, their little expedition was found out and they had received a reprimand of sorts.


Img Credit: Isha Foundation

Later that day the sun was shining and people were hanging their clothes to dry over the tents. M went to take a nap. My lake-dip companion and I headed for the shore once more and sat there for a long time. Maybe an hour, maybe more. There was no one to disturb us, literally.

I stared and stared. At the lake, at the mountains, at the lake some more. Then I closed my eyes for a while. I felt like something was changing, shifting inside of me. Like I was letting go of things, healing. I experienced a clarity like never before. Rejuvenation is a small word, compared to what was happening to me.

The journey to Kailash continued the next day. But that’s another story.

The experience has touched me in more ways than one. The most significant change in me is that the hankering after material wellbeing has reduced. Wealth and comforts are a little less important than they used to be, there are other things that matter more.

A journey of this nature, to any place in the world, is perhaps what is known as a pilgrimage. It is a necessity for every human being.

Do you have any similar experiences to share? Is there a place like this you dream of visiting someday?



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Dec 3, 2011

Fiction || "She" ~ A Short Story


My second short story :-)

She’s falling in love with him. Everything about him. His hair, his face, the sound of his voice, the way he looks at her. As they speak, she begins to realize that he looks familiar. She’s met him before, spoken to him. A sense of guilt, of betrayal lingers at the back of her mind as they converse. She’s cheating on someone. Who? Her lover. And then it hits her. She’s been in love with another man… the same man. They are two different people, but also the same. She’s leaving him for him. It doesn’t make sense. Yet, it does.

She wonders how she’s going to explain it to him, when a song starts to play in the background. Kahin door jab din dhal jaye… an evening song. Situations melt, like she’s coming out of water. She opens her eyes slowly, pushing back heavy eyelids with some effort. The song is now playing from her mobile, it’s her alarm. She checks the time. It’s the crack of dawn.

She moves her body over to the unslept parts of the bed, as she does every morning. She loves the feeling of the cool sheets under her skin. They relax her, help her sleep a little more before she needs to be up. She stretches out her hand, again out of habit, searching for human contact. Oddly, she finds none. She opens her eyes once more, he is absent. She looks around carefully. It’s a different bed, in a different room.

Pots are clanging far away. Someone has put on a tape of Suprabhatam. It’s only now that she’s fully awake, as the realization sinks in. As it all comes back to her. The dream. And reality. She wasn’t the one who cheated, the one who left…

She gets out of bed, tired, oddly blank. A shower ought to get things going, she thinks. The water is tepid. It irritates her. She needs her showers steaming hot or freezing cold. She needs the water to jolt her senses, shock her awake. Lukewarm water hardly amounts to anything. She is unable to adjust the valves the right way, the way he always did for her.

She’s all dressed now, ready to go. Except, she has nowhere to go. She follows her routine out of habit, although it’s been a month since she’s been to work. She couldn’t face them any more, the questions, the humiliation. She had to quit. She’s at the table, her mom serves her breakfast. They eat in silence. They don’t bother her at home, and she’s thankful for that.

She gets into her old car, bangs the door shut. It takes her a minute to figure out what to do. It’s been long since she’s driven this car. She thinks of it as an old friend. From a time before she knew him, before he even existed for her. She catches a glimpse of the back seat through the rear view. There’s a flash of memories, of old times, happy times.

She drives around aimlessly. It calms her, being on the go. Just going, somewhere, anywhere. It doesn’t matter where. She doesn’t want to stop. Stillness is bitter, too bitter. She must keep going.

She drives past his house. His new home, where he now lives with her. The proverbial other woman. The vamp. She burns with silent embarassment. Yet, she can’t help it. That he had the audacity to live so close by, that she had to pass by where he lived every single day, that she had been so devastatingly wrong in her judgement of him, she just couldn’t get her head around these things.

And so, she drives on. And on. It isn't until late in the afternoon that she returns. She gets out of the car and walks toward the gate. Her mother is speaking to a woman in the neighbourhood. She stops for a second in her tracks, unsure of what to do. Taking a deep breath, she braces herself and continues to move forward. “Just to the gate,” she tells herself. “Just make it to the gate. One step at a time.”

The lady looks at her and smiles kindly, widely. “Hello beta, how are you? How is your husband doing?”

Her breath is caught in her throat. A brief look of panic flashes in her mother’s eyes. She knows what she has to say, it was rehearsed several times before. And yet, each time, the question caught them off guard. A few seconds pass. The lady looks confused. Her mother starts to offer an explanation.

“I’m divorced,” she blurts out.

Her mother gasps loudly. The lady stares.

“It’s okay mom,” she tells her mother, holding hands. “I’m divorced aunty. My husband left me for another woman. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a shower. Nice to see you. Bye.”

She turns around and goes straight up the stairs without a single backward glance. She sits on her bed, wide-eyed, un-moving. It shocks her too, what she has done. And yet, it is oddly liberating.

“I’m divorced,” she repeats. “My husband left me for another woman.”

“I’m divorced, and my husband left me for another woman. Hi, there! I’m divorced. My husband left me for another woman.”

She says it, over and over, and over again. She says it with a smile, she says it with a frown. Each time she says it, it sounds more real, she is able to believe it. And then she throws her head back and laughs. Loud and long. Like she used to.

She picks up her mobile, calls her best girlfriends. She asks them out to dinner and plans are quickly made. Yes, it feels like old times, all right. She would dress up again. For her girls, for herself.

She steps into the shower. This time the water is just right.


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