Memories – Saudade

The best part of journaling is in the re-reading; it takes you on a wonderful walk down memory lane. I find it fascinating, amazing, surprising, poignant… I experience a whole gamut of emotions as I recall those parts of my journey. Things I had forgotten (not wiped from memory), tucked away in the recesses of my mind, revive.

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I like walking beneath the boughs of these memories. I’m reminded of many things, like this one – sharing silences. If you don’t understand my silences how will you understand my words was how I felt.

For me, an ideal partner and friend is someone with whom I can communicate with silences too. Someone who completes my silences. Someone who shares their silence with me.

This entry on Jan. 30, 2010 establishes that silences are intrinsic to my nature. And some more 😉

Someone to share my silences

I’m missing Nanan (David) more than ever before. I have no one to share my joy of becoming a grandmother for the first time. It’s an indescribable joy, wonderment, and thrill as well as anxiety for the mother and the child and hard to believe at some level; an ecstatic uplifting of mind, body, and soul. So difficult to put into words.

That’s why I miss him more. He would have been the only one who could have understood how I felt and shared every awesome moment with me, and there’d be no need for words as we waited to experience this miracle that’s waiting to happen.

How lonely it becomes at times like these.

It’s strange is it not, how not being able to share one’s silences brings on this emptiness in the soul. I can mail a thousand emails… okay that’s far-fetched… let’s say twenty emails to people and broadcast my joy. I can shout from the top of the roof… yes, they’re out there somewhere, the people I know. Those who will be polite and kind and smile and bob their heads. I look into their eyes and see the gleam that says…”you know nothing yet. Wait till you hear my story…”

I try to fill the gaps and pauses so they don’t get in edge-wise as I breathlessly rush through what I have to share but, as I take a short breath, my ears are swamped as they regale me with histories and accounts of their grandchildren. I find their stories not as exciting as mine… they’re histories… the ‘been there done that’. Why can’t they share my excitement… it’s new… not yet happened… sigh!

I listen and smile and bob my head.

Then there are the ones who are not even near being grandparents because their kids are unmarried or then, they are unmarried. So, they paste a grin on their faces which hurts me more than it does them. Their eyes hold the ‘what am I supposed to say and feel’ panic, as they launch into stories about their grandparents!

What! I almost scream, “Your grandparents are ancient, no parallel here. I’m on the threshold of becoming one.” But I smile and nod my head wondering why I shouldn’t truncate the conversation and end the ordeal on both sides!

Oh yes, I can get many ears to hear me… and all I want is someone who can listen with the heart; feel with the soul; communicate with my silences.

Yearnings!

So life goes on, and this world will keep on turning. Time for a cup of green tea. They say it’s good because of the antioxidants.

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I hung on the word “antioxidants.” 

So many years later, I wonder, “Now, what did you mean? what are you saying here?”

Here’s what I think I was doing subconsciously; detoxing my mind of its melancholic longings. But…

Five grandkids later, the saudade remains!

 

 

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Tiny Conversations – Stork or God?

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The twins, Amu & Mia, joined a Montessori School and Day Care. It’s been a few days, actually. I was glad to hear they had settled in well and have already made friends. In fact, going by the latest conversation that drifted down, they’re doing pretty well in the socializing department 🙂

They are in lower kindergarten but at break time both higher kindergarten and lower KG kids play together. So they chat with the older children too. One fine day, the conversation veered to the twins’ class teacher Mrs. N. She is expecting and the topic under discussion was her tummy!

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“I am expecting and my 5-year-old asked how babies are made. I told him, ‘God took a piece of me and a piece of Daddy and he put them together to make a new baby.’ My 2-year-old studied me carefully and said, ‘I don’t see any bites out of you! What piece did God take?'” -Emily Clark

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What I gathered was that the twins and some others were wondering about her protruding tummy and some of the older kids informed them that there was a baby inside. Amu and Mia found that very interesting but weren’t convinced. So they decided to confirm it.

Twins: “What’s inside your tummy? Is it a baby?” they asked Mrs. N.

“Yes, it is,” she replied, amused.

“Oh!”

It was confirmed! There was a baby inside. That was sorted out but now another thought popped into their heads.

“Who put it there?” was the next question.

Mrs. N. wasn’t ready for that. She thought she had dealt with their curiosity. But they were eagerly waiting for more information. If there was a baby inside how did it get there?

I can imagine Mrs. N’s position. What should she say to these 4-yr-old, curious kids? And as the story proceeds, I realize that a lot hasn’t changed with the typical Indian mom/grandmom’s answers to this question.

“I prayed for a baby and God gave me a baby,” she said. (I imagine she must have prayed that they wouldn’t ask the “how” question!) 

“Ok,” they chimed. Thus ended that tiny conversation!

And like everything that you can’t comprehend about God but believe, they assumed it was something beyond explanation and went home satisfied. 🙂 They got their answers.

It amused me more because it reminded me of the time my younger brother was born. I was ten, these girls are just four, and I believed the “God gave the baby” story! I also believed He put the baby in a cradle in the hospital LOL. Talk about unaware, silly, dumbo… I was all that and more. OMGosh!

The part that tickles me more is; I hadn’t even noticed my mother’s tummy. Nothing appeared different or rather, I wasn’t the kind to notice such things. I spoke to her a lot and nothing about her face had changed!

So when I came home from school one day and couldn’t find mummy because she was in the hospital, I fell for the: “God dropped off your baby brother at the hospital and mummy has gone to pick him up” story hook, line, and sinker. I never noticed a big tummy, so it was the only way the baby could have come.

Besides, I was brought up with Bible stories and there are so many miraculous things there; I counted this as just one more. What’s funnier is that fifty-three years later, someone is repeating the same “God gave the baby” story. 

In my mother’s days, it was the stork. But that didn’t hold for long. Most kids weren’t familiar with this long-legged bird so soon God replaced the stork. Every child in India knew about God and his power to perform great miracles. It made him greater than Superman and Batman put together in their eyes. He could drop off babies anywhere; homes, hospitals. At least I believed that.

PS: For a long time I wondered if I was really picked up from a rubbish heap LOL. That’s what my elder sister often told me when we were at loggerheads. My doubts dissipated only because Daddy assured me that God wouldn’t be so unkind as to drop me in a garbage dump when I had a nice home and family waiting for me!

I’m sure the twins will not have such ‘tiny conversations’ when they are ten. Theirs will be a few notches above this. Our time was the time of radio, transistor, spool tape recorders, record players, and the ubiquitous big, black telephone! Knowledge was not a click away; at our fingertips, and no one spoke about the birds and the bees or sex education, not during our days.

So, where my granddaughters are at four, I was at ten! Now, things are different but only in certain sections of society. It’s still a taboo thing in most conventional homes. And that means a majority.

Did I say Losing It?

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When you pick up the clothes you’ve just changed, with every intention of putting them into the laundry bag, but walk to the kitchen and throw them in the dustbin… you’ve got a problem, baby! 

When you can’t remember if you had your morning dose of vitamins & meds, an hour or two after breakfast… honey you’ve got a problem!

When you sit to play Solitaire or Scrabble (on the computer) for a little while to pass the evening and realize your arm hurts, your vision blurs, and it’s 1.30 a.m or sometimes even 2.30 a.m…. it is a problem!

When you find telltale signs of social withdrawal… you talk to yourself and the walls listen… sweetie, go to the doctor!

When you find it hard to remember which regiment your brother is in… you worry and ask yourself… am I losing it?

When you grope for simple words but can’t get them past the tip of your tongue or because your mind goes blank and the inner panic makes it worse… it’s bad, it is trouble!

When you pause in mid-speech because you said something that wasn’t what you meant like “wheels” instead of wind and many such disassociations, it’s upsetting. You want to talk to someone about it. Someone who will understand, listen with a sympathetic ear and above all, is knowledgeable.

So you go to the only medical person you know and trust… your orthopedic surgeon. You tell him what’s happening and ask in a whisper, “Is it Alzheimer’s?”

You aren’t prepared for the loud burst of laughter. You did not crack a joke… or did you, your brow crinkles as you try to go over what you said just in case…

“I’m serious, doc,” you say louder, this time.

“Maam, you are still young for that (I was in my mid-fifties), besides, few Indians are afflicted with the disease. Don’t worry no one dies of Alzheimer’s, the people who look after them die,” he ends with another burst of mirth.

Then he notices the look in your eyes. It is telling him you don’t find it funny. It is saying that the statistics for Indians with Alzheimer’s is questionable. Your eyes want to know at what age the first signs of the ailment are detectable. Yes, you want to know if you could, at some future date, be a host to Mr. Alzheimer.

“You are stressed. It’s nothing else, take a break, go for a holiday; meet more people,” he says gently.

“You mean I’m not losing it?” you ask and there’s hope brimming in your voice.

“No, not at all,” he says in his rich baritone, “you’re not losing it, it’s just that you are not using it.”

He had a point. I smiled. Then my eyes met his and we both laughed.

I thanked him for his time and for listening, even though my problem had nothing to do with his area of orthopedics.

I moved to Chile, a few years later, met more people, involved myself with activities other than domestic ones and used my brain for more than just a game on the computer!

I’m just an absent-minded person at this point in time! I’ve learned to ‘live into’ the being alone status; to do exactly what the doctor told me to… and I’ve found a lot that helps me to “use it” rather than “lose it.”

Miriam James

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Miriam was born in 1900, in a small town in Punjab. Her mother, a widow, had converted to Christianity before her birth. I do not recall her mother’s name, but since Miriam went as Miriam Shaw, I guess I’ll just call her mother Mrs. Shaw!

Mrs. Shaw must have been a forward-thinking woman, an exception in that era when girls, in India, in most cases, were not allowed a formal education. Although she was illiterate, she was intelligent. She had a family to support and while she wasn’t poor; she was not a lady of ample means either.

To augment her income, she lent out money; loaning money at a fixed interest. She kept meticulous accounts although she had never been to school. Miriam was fortunate to be born to such a woman.

Mrs. Shaw decided that her daughter would have a good education. She sent her to study at a boarding school in Andrew’s Ganj in Delhi. Miriam completed her Matriculation there. Having studied in Delhi, she learned English too. This was an asset as her children learned the language even though they studied in small town Government Schools in Punjab.

Miriam’s education also served in getting her an educated husband. She married Bernard James, a teacher in a government school. Teachers, in those days, were highly respected members of society, especially in small towns. (And Bernard went on to become a senior teacher).

Their position as teachers also ensured that their larders always overflowed with the offerings and gifts of grateful parents and students. It would have been very rude to refuse the gifts of grain, ghee (clarified butter), fruit, farm-fresh vegetables which they brought to the home of the teacher. This was “Guru Dakshina,” a gift of gratitude from a student to a teacher and not a bribe for favors of any kind. It was unthinkable to attribute any such base motive to these gifts.

Miriam and Bernard had ten children; five boys and five girls. Owing to her mother’s precedent of not discriminating against the girl child, all of Miriam’s daughters had a sound education too along with their brothers. The eldest daughter joined the Army; Women’s Auxiliary Corps – India (WACI) in the forties. Two younger ones became teachers, and both retired as Headmistresses. One died young, and the fifth didn’t work opting to marry a Naval officer and be a housewife.

After Bernard became a senior teacher in the Government High School, he moved to Mission Schools. He rose to the post of Inspector of Schools (mission schools). Their second child, Jason, was my father.

Miriam was a woman of substance. She had grit, determination, strength, perseverance, and all this coupled with her pragmatism made her one formidable force. To understand how progressive she was and how adept at adapting, I will have to recount this story I would make her tell me over and over again when I was a little girl.

Grandpa would be out of town often when he was on an inspection tour. This left Grandma alone with the children, and not safe and secure as their house stood by an orchard on one side and fields on the other. Times were a-changing and petty crimes like thefts were on the rise. Grandpa had already dealt with a few attempts of thieves to scale the boundary wall on the orchard side. But Grandma didn’t scare easy. She didn’t fret and rose to the occasion.

To protect the home and family, she devised a plan to have Grandpa always at home! Since keeping him back physically was not possible, it had to be a ruse. Whenever he went on a tour, that night, Grandma would wear his “pagri” (turban), light the “hookah” (hubble-bubble) and sit up through the night until daybreak, smoking the hookah.

She hoped that the glow of the embers and the silhouette of a turbaned person would mislead anyone peering over the wall into believing it was a man. However, one day, some daring men decided to take on the ‘lone man’. Bad idea!

Grandma, ever alert, heard the sounds of furtive movement and whispered voices behind the wall. Thieves! Before they could get a hold on the top of the wall and heave themselves up, she was waiting and ready, armed with a big, thick “lathi.” The moment the first head appeared over the edge of the wall, she struck with all her strength and let out a full-throttled war cry! This sudden, ferocious attack not only took the men by surprise but also woke up my father and his elder brother.

Although they were in their early teens, both were tall and had robust physiques. They were quick to gauge the scene. Both were on top of the wall in a jiffy with lathis (stout sticks used for self-defence in India) hurling warnings and threats of dire consequences at the retreating backs of the thieves.

There were two outcomes from this strategy: There were no more attempts at theft and, Grandma became a regular hookah smoker!

 

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This is an Arabic hookah and not the kind my grandparents smoked. Theirs had a clay cup for tobacco and a brass water compartment at the bottom to hold the water. I couldn’t find a pic of the ones that were in Punjab at the time.

 

From then on, it became a common sight to see her puffing away at her hubble-bubble, not only in the night but in broad daylight too. She and Grandpa always had their lighted hookah between them and would take puffs alternately while they chit-chatted or shared their silences. I had the privilege to see them like this when we moved from the city and returned to our town. I was just a girl, but it impacted me.

It was such a wonderful sight to see. So much of togetherness oozed out of these moments. That grandma never felt the need to smoke the hookah in hiding and indulged in her newly formed habit with undisguised enjoyment, speaks volumes about her zest for life.

In pre-independence, rural India, Miriam was a rare gem in her class.

“To all those who care, You can’t forever. 
Time steals the years, And your reflection in the mirror.
But I can still see the story in your eyes, And your timeless passion that’s never died.
While your skin became tired, Your heart became strong,
The present became the past, And your memories like a song.
And though the moment at hand is all that we have, 
You’ve taught me to live it like it is our last.
Since two words don’t say ‘thank you’ the way they are meant to,
I’ll try all my life to be something like you.” -Crystal Woods

 

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Siblings – Friends we can’t get rid of!

“No one knows better than a sister how we grew up…she’s your mirror shining back at you…she is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were the only child! Do you have a sister? If you do, you’ll know what I mean.”Barbara Alpert

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We were four siblings. Three sisters and a brother. I was the fourth and the youngest for the first ten years of my life. I enjoyed being the youngest… my father’s pet and my mother’s unruly filly. But life had something better in store – a younger sibling! 

The announcement that I was going to get another brother thrilled me no end. My elder brother was my friend and partner in crime. I enjoyed playing with the boys more than the girls who I found to be “sissies” and forever crying, throwing tantrums, and more interested in who was wearing what and only liked playing ‘house, house’. {That’s a true confession of a 6 yr old!)

I wanted to play ‘Cowboys & Red Indians’, ‘Robbers & Police’, gymnastics and rougher sports and games than most girls my age cared to play. So, another brother was more than welcome.

What I didn’t realize was that a ten-year age difference wouldn’t work out as I had envisaged…our interests would be worlds apart by the time he grew up!

I never got to develop a really close relationship with my sisters. They went to boarding school when I was five or six. We’d meet only when they came home for their annual holidays. I would be in awe of them.

The eldest was seven years older than me and the other was my senior by five. When they passed out of school, they left home to pursue whatever professional training/jobs they had applied for in the city. We were living in the country then. My elder brother remained my pal-at-home a few more years and left too.

The younger one was too young to take his place. A three-year-old isn’t much company for a thirteen-year-old! I grew up through my teenage years of schooling, practically, as an only child. And because the school was very far from home, I didn’t have friends to hang out with on the weekends or holidays.

Books became my friends and I became an avid reader. Thanks to my elder sisters’ fondness for reading, there was never a dearth of books. They kept a steady supply. And thanks to an American friend in the American Peace Corps, and stationed in our town, we had more than enough books of all genres.

I traveled with my book friends and experienced different cultures and traditions; their emotions, their actions, reactions, responses and values as I lived with them. This worked against me as my schoolmates couldn’t relate to the books I read and so I couldn’t discuss them either. It created a chasm.

The distances were constant between us siblings. Rarely were we all together, and even then, it was never for long. But, whenever we got together, we would pick up from where we left off as if we had never left… never been absent from home.

We’d talk one to the dozen, laugh our guts out – almost literally – because we’d be doubled up in laughter, our arms folded across our bellies, tears flooding our eyes!

With the years passing on, we got married and home meant another place.

I and my eldest sister lived in regions far from the rest and each other as well. The youngest who joined the Army moved from the north in the Himalayas to the southern lush green regions and the western arid zone… what I’m saying is, we hardly met.

Those were not the days of internet and wi-fi; no mobile phones, no face time, no emails and chats. The occasional snail mail and cards made their slow way to keep everyone updated. Though, by the time people were updated, the information was already outdated.

Yet, when we gathered at one place to attend a wedding or a funeral… or I’d make an annual trip with the hubby and kids in tow to meet the family, it would always be like we met just some days ago! It was always comfortable, always fun. We’d be howling with laughter at the silliest things, we’d be singing the same old songs… and we gossiped about the same old people. We bonded like only siblings can.

At the time of writing this, we’re in the same situation of vast distances between us… in miles. I’m the farthest from my siblings, yet, when I think about it, it is just the oceans, seas, and continents that separate us.

Although I value physical nearness (nothing can replace that; no internet – Whatsapp, Facetime either), but I am also grateful for all of these modern technologies that bridge the gap. I’ve been in places, in another country, without leaving my chair! 

I have driven through the streets in Canada with my son as I sat comfortably in my room in South America! I’ve been a part of a baptism service for my grandchildren (virtually), making the vows I had to make… as if I were there in the Canadian church myself. Facetime is the closest to personal and physical nearness.

But, it is not these hi-tech facilities that keep me close to my family.

The bonds of birth and a shared childhood; same roots, same family ties, many shared experiences… survive over and beyond the distances.

Is it because we are siblings born of the same parents? No, what keeps siblings together is a relationship. And like all relationships, it takes a lot of working at, to grow strong. It takes a lot of love, forgiveness; patience and tolerance, understanding and respect for siblings to grow as sisters and brothers. This is best explained by Maya Angelou in this short quote: 

“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters and brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them the mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” –Maya Angelou

Yes, siblings – sisters and brothers, as defined by Maya Angelou, are the friends we not only “can’t get rid of” but whom we never want to get rid of.

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A Midnight Watch in Viña del Mar

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She stood there, about two feet away from the curb, right on the road. I stood a few inches away from the window, partially hidden behind the curtain, and watched.
It was past midnight; half an hour past the witching hour. I had dozed through the serial I had running on my laptop, waking up in fits and starts, to reconnect with my longtime favorite character, DCI Tom Barnaby. He’s losing his hold on me it seems! I wouldn’t have dozed on a Barnaby serial two years back. Anyway, the murderer was found and another murder case solved in Midsomer by Barnaby, and it was time I dropped off to sleep.
As usual, I switched off the lights and went to draw the curtains a wee bit apart to allow light from the street to filter in. And as usual, I peeked into the street below my window.
It was a weekday, and I expected the street to be deserted, only this time I saw this young girl standing almost in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, trying to keep warm. It was a cold and windy night.
“Prostitute,” I pronounced.
I wondered why she was at this intersection. It wasn’t a section of the city frequented by streetwalkers. Besides, I didn’t think there would be much traffic down these roads so late into the night, in the middle of the week. But then I guess she knew better, and soon I did too, as the cars whizzed past.
On any other day, I would have forgotten about her before I reached my bed. But that night, sleepy as I was, I continued to stand and keep watch. There was something about her face and general appearance which caught my attention.
Our home stands at the corner of an intersection, so I had a good view of the four roads that diverged from there. And the streets are so brightly lit, I could see the girl clearly. She stood facing me and I noticed she did not dress the way a woman in her profession does, neither was her face done up with heavy make-up; in fact, she wore almost no make-up: a light pinkish lipstick (no dark eyeshadow) and light make-up around her eyes. Her hair wasn’t curled, permed, frizzled or done up. It fell around her face, up to her shoulders. No unusual coloring; ordinary, everyday hair.
Her jewelry comprised a pair of modest danglers. Nothing about her: clothes, footwear, or hair was loud or garish. Her clothes were those of an office executive. She looked like one of the many smart, office executives who passed beneath my window every day. Her body language and posture did not support the stereotypical street-walker.
I do not know if it is politically right to say this, but then I’m not a politically right person most times. I had felt disgusted at the first fleeting sight of her. However, the initial revulsion I had felt when I first noticed her, dissipated. There was something about her that was so vulnerable. She seemed out of place in this scenario. Even when she stood and watched the cars whizzing past, and called out and waved to some who slowed down, she didn’t sound like the person I assumed she was.
She was neither brash nor bold and didn’t look like a hooker; she didn’t sound like one either. This intrigued me because she was the antithesis of what I had read, heard, and seen of women who were streetwalkers.
Fifteen minutes passed. And then another five dragged by. I told myself I was being utterly stupid. At my age one doesn’t stand at a window, well past one’s bedtime, to surveil an unknown woman who knew what she was about. No amount of cajoling could coax my feet to walk away from my vantage point of observation to a decent night’s sleep. I had to watch, I wanted to know more.
I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders, leaned against the glass pane, still hidden behind the curtains with a clear view of the girl.
I could tell that the night was getting colder. She stamped her feet; rubbed her hands to keep warm. Then she took out a packet of cigarettes from her coat pocket and lit up. She stood in one place, almost in the pathway of oncoming traffic. If it were daytime, she’d not be able to stand on the road without being run down or hauled away by the police.
Cars whizzed by. She stood and watched, turning to see if any stopped ahead. There were the cars with youngsters who shouted derogatory remarks and guffawed as they sped past her. She didn’t react. Her expression didn’t change. She maintained her emotionless demeanor. The only time a flicker of a smile played on her lips and her face lit up was when some cars slowed down as they approached her, some out of curiosity I suppose, most to avoid hitting her.
Then a car drove up right under my window. It stopped at the pedestrian crossing and I guess the driver gestured for her to come to him. She was like a child who’d been promised an ice-cream or chocolates or a day at the beach.
She ran across and this time she had a broad smile on her face. She was pretty, and young too. I could see her better where she stood, below my window, facing me, with the streetlight on the opposite side lighting up her face. 
Ah! Finally, she gets a customer; I thought and didn’t like the way I thought that. Don’t ask me why. I felt sad and sorry for her. There were many things going through my mind and it had all to do with how young and bright she appeared, and how sad that she was on the streets like this.
Anyway, I saw her talking to the person in the driving seat. Some words floated up through the quiet night. Negotiations, I announced to no one in particular. However, something wasn’t right. Her expressions and the way she spoke didn’t look like she was talking business. If I hadn’t been observing her, I’d have thought she was talking to someone she knew and exchanging small talk.
Then she made gestures and expressions that showed contriteness, helplessness, and if I’m not mistaken, she appeared ashamed… no, regretful! I realized the man in the car was in no mood to be a customer. He seemed to be talking to her about what she was doing and why. She wrung her hands, raised her shoulders in a sign of helplessness and slumped them in resignation. And I heard a lot of, “No Señor. Si Señor.”
It was a long, slow conversation of about five minutes, and she smiled a lot and nodded in agreement to whatever was being said. Then she stretched out her hand to take something from the man, and I saw a packet. I thought, (awful of me) that’s a lot of money. “She’s a great negotiator!” I whispered with something like respect.
Then instead of getting into the vehicle, as I expected, she slipped something which looked more like money from under the packet and put it into her pocket. As she thanked the man, she took something from the packet and popped it into her mouth. She went chomp, chomp like a squirrel with a stuffed mouth.
The man drove off.
He had counseled her, in my over-positive opinion, handed her some money and a tit-bit to munch on. What! Can this be happening! I was totally awestruck. What a man! 
The girl finished what she was eating and stood for a while. Then she saw headlights approaching and sprinted right into the middle of the road, in front of the approaching car, waving both her arms wildly. What now, I thought, with bated breath.
This was so unlike her… since I had been observing her for some time, it surprised me. This was like a serial unfolding before my eyes. The car slowed, swerved but didn’t stop. She ran alongside a few paces, saying something to the driver. Then gave up as the driver sped up. She stood looking after it.
A few yards up, the car stopped. She ran down the road. I couldn’t see much of what was going on, I couldn’t make out her expressions or words. But I saw the door opening and the girl getting in. And then she was gone. “She’s taking a lift home,” I said with relief. I wanted a good ending. I wanted a hopeful ending. Whatever my mind said to the contrary, my heart said: she went home.
I like to think the sudden, wild burst of energy and emotion had something to do with her encounter with the previous gentleman. I also like to think that she hadn’t been putting on an act for the kind man. I want to believe that one act of compassion had taken a young girl off the street for one night at least. I want to believe that goodness, kindness, and compassion still roam around the streets and linger around the corner, waiting to help someone.

And then we Laughed!

I was listless and well, yes, bored and also aching to write something but of all the million topics that buzzed in my head, not even one appealed to me in this mood.

So I went through my cache of photographs and illustrated quotes. One jumped at me and made me smile…a broad smile that raised my cheek muscles and my spirits.

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It’s one I designed a long, long time ago with pictures of my family – their broad grins held their mirth over the years and kindled my sagging spirits. I come from a family that laughs a lot…jokes…and teases. And I have this gift of being able to laugh even in the face of my biggest challenges and pains. I’m not saying I don’t feel the pressure; the stress, disappointments, pain or even anger. I do.

“I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.”Viktor Frankl

However, through it all, I find the little moments of humor. Small things: the way I said, did or reacted to something or someone. The manner in which something occurred. Mostly, it’s in my situation and my responses. I see the brighter side, I see the worst that did not happen. I laugh and make others laugh with me.

When I feel immense pain… emotional or physical, I find something funny about something {even in the situation!} and lighten the burden.

I recall how many years back we, as a family, had gathered at my eldest sister’s place for the funeral of her elder son. He was a young Captain in the Army and had been killed fighting insurgents in a trouble-torn area of the country. We were weighed down with immense grief. Each one had their own pain and was trying hard to lend moral support to the parents and the brother of our hero.

He was given a martyr’s funeral with full military honor. Flag-draped coffin, gun salute… a funeral service conducted by the bishop and a large turn out of people {we didn’t even know}, journalists from newspapers and TV channels. Afterwards, we returned exhausted; emotionally and physically spent. The shock of his unexpected death had not worn off.

“As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.”A Jewish Proverb

As we sat in the living room sobbing quietly, unable to look too long at each other as it sent us into fresh bouts of crying, my sis mentioned how much he loved life and how active and enthusiastic he had been – a live wire even as the leader of his commando unit. A true leader who inspired his men!

Soon each one added their memories of him as a child, teenager, young man. Before we knew it, unknowingly, we were all recounting the most hilarious incidents, and there were many. And then we laughed! Our tears of sorrow mingled with our tears of laughter as we shared our memories, and our sorrow too. It lightened each one’s agony and changed the atmosphere of gloom in the room. Read here

The sound of our laughter was heard by the neighbors who were appalled.

We had just returned from a funeral.

We had lost our precious loved one.

Had we all gone off our rockers with the grief?

Sometimes laughing or crying are the only options you have and laughing felt better at the time.

In our country, this was not only an unusual response to grief but also an unacceptable one. My sister had to explain to the neighbor (who knocked at the door to ask if all was well) why we were laughing and about what. How we were honoring him through our memories and also the way it made us deal better with our immense pain and shock.

“Laughter lets me relax. It’s the equivalent of taking a deep breath, letting it out and saying, ‘This, too, will pass’.”Odette Pollar

Needless to say, it helped and we were able to think about what we had to do next. With the whole family there and all from different parts of the country, there was a lot that had to be seen to.

Laughter is more than a bridge between people. It does more than just connect, it improves health. How does this work?

According to research, laughing doesn’t just lighten your mental load, it induces physical changes in your body.

Laughter stimulates organs. Activates and relieves stress response. Soothes tension.

When you laugh your pulse and heart rate increases and you breath faster. It enhances your intake of oxygen.

Stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles.

Reduces stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and DOPAC (from a study in 2008)

Laughter produces positive thoughts and feelings and together they soothe tension.

Reduces Pain

Laughing causes an increase in endorphins, natural painkillers. Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system and pituitary glands. Endorphins inhibit the transmission of pain signals and could produce a feeling of euphoria.

According to Dr. Dunbar of Oxford University, laughing reduces pain, and laughing with other people than alone is better at relieving pain.

Boosts Immune System

Some studies have shown that stress has a negative impact on health. It decreases natural killer cell levels, these are the white blood cells which attack cancer cells. Laughter helps to reduce stress and increase the white blood cells that fight infections.

This is why Patch Adams advocated laughter and humor in hospitals. Laughter clubs are becoming more popular in countries like Japan and scientists are conducting clinical trials to see if there are any changes in physical well-being or psychologically as a result of mirthful laughter.

So don’t ever let a day go without a smile, a laugh; without humor! Laughter may not solve the problem but it dissolves the stress and tension and helps in boosting your health.

“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.” 
― George Gordon Byron