To My Father…

They say that daughters are always daddy’s darlings. It wouldn’t be right to make such a broad generalization, though, because we know that, that isn’t always the way it is. Not to go off on a tangent pursuing that subject, I’ll just say, I was definitely Daddy’s pet. It’s been a hundred years since he died…allow me the hyperbole…I’m really missing him as I always do but especially on Father’s Day.

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In our day, way back in the 60s – 80’s, in my country, we never observed ‘Father’s Day’ or any of these now popularized and commercialized “Days.” So there was only his Birthday which was, in a way, Father’s Day for us. Now Daddy never made much of his birthday, he wouldn’t invite friends over or want much of a fuss. He wasn’t given to showing emotions. He was the stiff upper lip kind of man for most of his life. I only saw a chink in his armor a year or so before he died.

No, no, I’m not going to say he began hugging his kids or gave in to tears or anything like that. He just allowed himself to speak with more emotion; show regret, sadness, longing not only in his voice but in his eyes as well. These were the emotions he never permitted himself to show earlier…for the greater part of his life.

He had a commanding personality. “Tall, dark, and handsome” in his youth, he retained his handsomeness even with his shock of thick, white, wavy hair through to his early ’80s, when he passed away.

As a boy and through his youth, he had a fiery temper which could become volatile, depending on who did what or what was said or done or not said and not done, but that had simmered down to resignation with the growing years.

He was a man of contrasts.

He also had a happy disposition. He enjoyed a good joke and was a great storyteller. He could add humor to his tales without effort or addition, solely by altering his tone and bringing in nuances that made it funny. He loved to recite poetry, write couplets (in Farsi/Urdu).

He had a good singing voice but rarely sang. He used to play the harmonium and sing when the mood took over. He loved to play the ‘tabla’ on the table or any surface that provided a firm base when he heard some good songs or music.

He loved taking us on picnics. His picnics could also mean driving miles out of our city to some picturesque spot in another town or city. We’ve been on some ‘picnics’ to Agra from Delhi. Our picnic spot: in the gardens of the Taj! And at that time in the 60s, the roads weren’t as they might be today! It was a whole day program. We’d get back at night! Otherwise, we’d be picnicking at the numerous spots in Delhi. In later years, we’d be joining him on fishing-picnics! He and my brother would be fishing and we’d have a great time with our picnic by a river.

He was passionate about learning, teaching, preaching the Bible. He was an excellent orator and it was a pleasure to hear him preach at conventions or in the church. 

He had a flamboyant disregard for conventional things; social courtesies, customs, and such. But he was strict about table manners. It goes without saying, I, the youngest would invariably be checked for reaching across the next person’s plate for a dish or something.

“Ask for the dish to be given to you or ask Mummy to serve you.”  I’d quickly comply.

But then, I’d go again with – “Give me the dish of (whatever).” There’d be a super quick, gentle reprimand.

Please, pass me the dish of (whatever).”

I’d do as told. Take the dish, happy to finally be able to get food on my plate. But that joy and hunger would be put on hold for another minute!

“Thank you!”

“Oh, I forgot!” I’d say a quick ‘thank you’ and finally dig in. 

But that wasn’t my only ‘bad table manners’. It constituted much more… ‘don’t put your elbows on the table,’ ‘don’t talk with your mouth full,’ ‘don’t battle with your fork and spoon (or knife). Cut down the clatter!’ ‘don’t swing your legs under the table’ (this one was really bad because I’d be totally oblivious that I was either kicking someone’s knees on the other side or at the least, brushing them with my feet.

That paragraph may sound as if I had a bad time at the table… on the contrary, I had a great time at family meals. These corrections were taken well. I knew I was overlooking the rules. But I was so focussed on enjoying my food and sitting and talking, around the table, with the family, (sobremesa), I hopped-skipped-and-jumped over all the etiquette that was expected at the table.

Even today, when I look back, I love the memories. I also am glad someone took the pains to teach me. Day after day, very patiently, Daddy would check me gently about something I said or something I did that could have been done differently and properly. Most of these would be on how to respond to Mummy’s disciplinary actions! He’d repeat the same things, kindly and softly, to remind me. He knew me very well and he understood that I wasn’t flouting the rules in defiance or rebellion. He also knew that his gentle correction would imprint on my young mind lessons for life. He remained my guide, mentor, and confidante, even when I was a mom myself.

He wasn’t known to write letters to anyone unless necessary. But, I received his letters quite often when I married and moved to another state. I would be thrilled to see his almost illegible (but neat) handwriting on the familiar inland letter he used when he wrote letters. Mummy would use letter paper and envelopes!

There’s so much I’ve profited by having such a father. I would have failed miserably in the biggest test of strength and courage I faced in my life if I didn’t have his teaching to fall back on. I fell many times, but each time his words, lessons would pick me up, give me strength, build up my flagging faith in God, and set me on my way. His counsel to “trust in the Lord, and don’t despair, he is a Friend so true, no matter what your troubles are Jesus will see you through,” has brought me thus far safe and sound. I am blessed to have had him as my ‘Daddy!’

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On this Father’s Day, I celebrate my guide, my mentor, my strength… Daddy, you were the best dad, and I thank God you were mine!

 

 

We Ruled The Skies

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Daddy was a great kite flyer. His passion for kites was so strong that to tell him to fly a readymade kite was akin to blasphemy. So as soon as #kite-flying #season would come around, there would be rolls of ‘manjha’ string, a couple of ‘phirkis,’ supple bamboo sticks, which he’d cut finer to make the frame of the kite. There’d be sheets of glazed paper (or china paper as some would call it because Chinese lanterns were made out of it) lying around the house. He would ask Mummy to make a pot of ‘layee’ (an adhesive made by cooking refined flour). Daddy didn’t believe in using the prepared glue available in the markets!

There would also be pieces of glass, which he would very strictly forbid us from even looking at forget touching it! These had to be ground and powdered and then, the manjha would be coated with it, making it lethal, literally.

Now, the entire process of making kites for the season would begin. What made it so exciting was the involvement of imagination… no ordinary kites for us. 

“Aur phir, Chakotri,” he’d address me, smiling delightedly, “what kind of kite do you want?”

The question would go to my brother too.

But my brother was more thoughtful about the kind of flying object he desired. Obviously, he was taking in other “technical aspects.” I’d let my imagination fly. I think I must have made some very impossible demands, in fact, I’m sure I did, but none would be brushed aside with a flat, “NO.” Daddy would work around my original design, changing it a bit here a bit there, giving me reasons how it would be a better kite with a little this here and little that taken off there. So he’d keep me happy believing that the design was mine and also produce something that would take off. Something that was nothing like what I had asked for!

The manjha was the most difficult part. I can’t recall the exact process but I know the glass would be powdered very fine. A difficult task and the male domestic help would be requisitioned for this, much to Mummy’s annoyance, because the only male help was also her kitchen helping hand. To get back to the manjha, the string would be dipped in some sort of gooey stuff and drawn through the powdered glass. This needed space so it was done in the backyard which was very big.

But, I’m drawing out this narration too much. Let’s come to the day we became the rulers of the sky.

So it goes that one day, my brother and I decided that our ‘pecha’ wins were not very impressive. Our kite flying sorties weren’t notching up as many kills as we wanted. So I went to Daddy with our laments. He listened patiently. If I had his ears, initially, now I had his total commitment to helping us to win the ‘pecha’ war!

“Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hai. Arre, I’ll make you such a kite that they’ll run with their tail between their legs.”

Thus was fashioned a kite that was taller than I was, so it would’ve been over four feet. A lot of thought went into the dynamics of this monster. It looked like one to me. Then the question of manjha was raised by my brother and Daddy agreed that we needed string much stronger but not too heavy either.

Now don’t ask me what he did to get the right manjha, I don’t remember anything about that. I wasn’t included in the procuring or making of the string that would fly our champion kite. All I can recall with absolute detail and delight, even to this day, is the pride I felt as the kite soared majestically into the sky.

The first day we took it for its maiden launch, Daddy had in true ‘Daddy’ nature made it a picnic. He got Mummy to pack the picnic basket. In those days, I doubt if there was any home without the #wicker #picnic #basket. Our destination, a twelve-minute walk from home, was a small hillock. My job was to lug the picnic basket which, given my diminutive size, was big for me. Not one to complain, I managed to keep it an inch above the ground.

And then, I waited with bated breath for the take-off.

Smooth! 

It climbed against the wind like a dream.

As it made its way upward and onward, Daddy brought it into combat with every kite in ‘pechable’ distance. Annihilation was swift and sure. Our granddaddy of all kites dominated the blue expanse as it held steady, a tiny speck in the sky.

By the third day, word had spread and the regulars who flew their kites in this spot vanished, kite et al, as soon as they saw us coming up the hill with our giant. After the initial egoistic boost, I felt a bit deflated as we watched our kite do a drunken swoon as it sailed unchallenged and uninterrupted. It wasn’t fun.

We had taken away the fun from the entire activity. What should have been pure enjoyment and fun and games had turned into a battle of supremacy. Of course, I couldn’t elucidate all this, but I did comment on it.

“They’ve all gone away,” I said quietly. They’re scared of us,” I added with undisguised disappointment.

“Yes, daud gaye sare. Your kite is the king.”

Daddy had failed to notice that I wasn’t quite pleased with this dubious entitlement.

“But it’s not so nice without any other kites. It was so much fun on the first day,” I insisted in an effort to make my point. No one sensed how I was feeling. They were too elated with the momentary thrill of being the rulers of that small patch of blue. 

I had learned a lesson.

Later on, the realization would imprint on my mind that there is a fine line between healthy and unhealthy competition, and we must remember never to cross this boundary. Ever since then,  I have gauged the level of competition to set my standards and then I’ve competed with myself alone. In the bargain, if I outdid the others, it would be a bonus for me! If I didn’t, I knew I had to work on the weak areas and up my efforts. It was always a win-win situation. I either added to my wins and grew or I added to my learning experience and grew! I kept moving forward.

 

A bit of information about the practice of Kite Flying in India.

1. People fly kites on Makar Sankranti. This festival is dedicated to the Sun God, Surya and is celebrated by Hindus.

It is also celebrated to welcome Spring. Among many traditions and practices involved in the celebrations, flying kites is one of them. It is not clear why kite flying has become an integral part of the festivities.

2.Political…The first time kites were used in a protest was during the ‘GO BACK SIMON’ protest against the Simon Commission in 1927. The words ‘Go Back Simon’ were written on the kites which were then flown in the sky by the protestors. This could have possibly led to the practice of flying kites on 15th August, Independence Day, every year.

Kites are flown at Red Fort in old Delhi. This is where Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Indian national flag of Independent India, in 1947, and the tradition continues even today to commemorate it.

Lately, this tradition of kite flying on Independence Day, in India, has begun at India Gate too. Perhaps the activity has more to do with enjoying the holiday and adding fun to being outdoors. Many kites flown on the 15th of August, these days, do evoke the feeling of patriotism as they carry the tricolor of the national flag.

Since kite flying takes place as serious challenges too, apart from fun and frolic, PETA has been active in asking people to use safer string for their kites. I do agree with the use of a safe cotton string instead of the manjha.

PETA’s request: PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has put in a serious request for kite flyers to stop using manjha which has finely crushed glass over it. this is dangerous for birds when they get entangled in the bit of manjha that are scattered when a kite gets cut and falls out of range or reach of the retrievers. It could even injure people seriously, especially unwary especially children.

 

 

 Glossary:

Manjha…the twine used to fly the kite. In those days it was reinforced string.

Phirkia kind of spool on which the twine is wrapped. It has elongated handles on either side which rest between the thumbs and forefingers.

Aur phir ChakotriWhat now Chakotri (Chakotri was one of the nicknames he used for me)

Pechathe act of engaging and cutting free an opponent’s kite 

Abhi dikhate hain unko patang kya cheez hoti haiWe’ll show them right now what a kite really is.

Daud gaye sareThey’ve all run away.

Pechable…a combination of ‘pecha’ and ‘able’. Coined by me to mean within striking distance in kite combat!

 

He Is Risen!

“A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.” -Mahatma Gandhi

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“Here is the amazing thing about Easter; the Resurrection Sunday for Christians is this: that Christ in the dying moments on the cross gives us the greatest illustration of forgiveness possible.” – T.D. Jakes

To those who believe and revere the day: Have a blessed and joyous Resurrection/Easter Day!

 

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A Bit of Christmas Every Day

Yes, another ‘Christmas’ post! Why? You might ask. The day has come and gone.

Not for me. The so-called “Holiday Season” carries on for me through to New year, as calendar days go. I love this time of the year and loathe letting it go. So…

I wish I could bottle the spirit of Christmas in jars. Yes, and open each jar every month for a dose of ‘spirit’!

Actually, I do. I do store a bit of Christmas in my heart. Little pockets of the cheer, the joy, the hope and the love; the promise. Life for me is a celebration of all these things that culminate every year, in Christmas…a date; a day on the calendar, when everyone who believes joins in a common celebration and in gratitude for God’s love towards mankind.

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Unless you have carried Christmas in your heart, throughout the year, you’re not going to find it under a tree! Sure, there’ll be gifts, the kind you can buy off, of shelves in a store.

The gifts of true value, however, cannot be bought but they can be received because they were paid for a long time ago. All you have to do is open your heart to get them. And the best part is…they’re available throughout the year!

You don’t have to stand in long queues, wait for sales, scout for them in a hundred shops…you just have to ask and receive.

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The babe whose birth we welcome and worship, on Christmas, came to give us those gifts of love and salvation. He paid a high price. Now… It’s yours for the asking.

Just believe.

 

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A Glorious Mess!

No matter how hard I try to keep things neat – a place for everything and everything in its place – it is near impossible on Christmas day. I’m constantly picking up things that shouldn’t be where they’re lying, pushing furniture that has, supernaturally, turned around or shifted from their original places…and so on and so forth! But, on this one day, the mess speaks of so much more than disorderliness, neglect or lack of aesthetic sense.

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It speaks of a higher number of visitors; of close friends, of relatives…of family, of children…in other words, of the company that you love. People who don’t or can’t get together at one place throughout the year. It’s the telltale evidence of much fun, much bonhomie, a lot of laughing, joking, gormandising…in general, a lot of a whale of a time!

It’s not the everyday mess. It’ll happen again after twelve long months. And considering the vagaries of life, who knows when ‘you’ll be all together again’ so I think of it as a “glorious” mess. One that stands testament to being together; eating together, laughing, playing, singing, dancing…even praying and bonding in a spiritual way perhaps. It’s that one time in the year when we’re all in one place and sharing everything…apart from the tangible the intangible as well – material gifts and the gift of love. After all, it is love, the greatest kind ever, that we’re celebrating on this day…for God so loved us that He sent us His son, Jesus!

You don’t have to go bonkers over a messy living room, at least for this one day. Let it be for a while, if you can. The next day or the day after, you’ll have all the time in the world to get things shipshape. Allow yourself to enjoy this glorious mess!

(It’s not easy…but if you sit still and just remember the moments you’ve spent, then, provided you were with the company you love, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy a cup of tea in this ‘glorious’ mess!)

Keeping ‘CHRIST’ in Christmas

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” -Steve Maraboli

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From the start of December, my prayer breakfasts got a touch of the holiday season! The mugs became cheery!

 Christmas, perhaps, is one of the most commercialized festivals, anywhere in the world. I may be wrong. I’m speaking from my own experience in my country. When we say “everyone celebrates Christmas,” what we’re saying is, actually everyone has fun and ‘celebrates’ Santa Claus! Jesus is not mentioned, not prominent anywhere; in any store, or mall, in the decorations in hotels and restaurants…all one sees is Santas in all shapes and sizes, adorning show windows, stairways, everywhere…and even on cards! To bring the point home, I’d like to relate an incident that took place one Christmas, long ago, at my sister’s place.

She had this huge Santa Claus, and when I say huge, I mean life size…a tall Santa. He was prominently displayed, by the entrance, inside the house – not that he’d be unnoticed, placed anywhere else in the room! Anyway, to get back to my anecdote, there were many people invited to the Christmas party that my sis was hosting at her place. Among them were a large number of close family and relations as well as friends, both, Christian and non-Christian. Everyone, or well, almost everyone walked in, admired the huge guy in his red suit, some laughed, some cracked a joke and a few clicked a pic with him and walked on. However, one or perhaps two or three of my niece’s non-Christian friends made a short stop to admire him and pay obeisance. They folded their hands, bowed and said, “Jai Santa Baba!” And one even removed her shoes before she approached and touched the rotund guy’s feet! These people did feel silly, later, when it became the joke of the night.

But, seriously, how can one laugh at them or be surprised at their ignorance? (We laughed too and still do, whenever we recall the incident!) But in all honesty, we really can’t. The joke is on us, not them. The most famous song sung in even Christian schools’ Christmas celebrations, and everywhere else is…’Jingle bells, jingle bells….’ and the most visible character is Santa Claus! Except for the church services and in the homes of those who keep Christ in Christmas, the day has been hijacked by a plump guy in a ridiculous red, fur-lined suit.

I’m not against the idea or concept of Santa Clause. We sing Santa songs, we talk about Santa and the presents he gets for kids, about his reindeer, especially the popular red-nosed Rudolph, to maintain the excitement for our little kids;  We grew up writing letters to Santa, addressed to some place in the North Pole! And we soon outgrew that. But, never ever did we, even remotely, think that he was the reason we celebrated Christmas. Our home was Christ-centered. Anyway, in those days, Santa wasn’t a lucrative business proposition.

The commercialization of Christmas is totally a business-centered, money-centered concept in which Santa Claus sells like hotcakes. He doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable. But for some reason, I can’t comprehend, telling people about Jesus and his birth does. Why, even the usual prayers that we’d say and the carols and hymns that we’d sing before we started the party, has been dispensed with, these days, because we are embarrassed to do so in front of our non-believing guests. Or worried that we might offend them!

So, how can we laugh at someone who believes that Santa Claus is our ‘Babaji’ or god? When we ourselves speak more about him, think more about the social aspects surrounding the festival, and set aside an hour for church – and that too may not be on the agenda – to think about Jesus and what Christmas means to us and what the message of Christmas is. I find that in the USA one says ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of Merry or Happy Christmas!

I’m not judging anyone, just saying what I believe and feel about how we allow people, even in our small world of friends, to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas. It’s not them, it’s us. We don’t keep him in it.

Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy and celebrate the festival. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a Christmas tree, or hang up stockings, or even a Santa or two, or build a snowman. We can do all that and still keep Christ prominent in our thoughts, actions, and celebrations.

Keeping ‘Christ’ in Christmas isn’t for just a day or a month, it is a way of life; the Christian life. A guide on how we must conduct ourselves. How we maintain relationships. How we treat people known and unknown. It is our everyday faith and belief in action.

Let Santa ride his sleigh for a night and leave. Let Jesus stay on.

Note: These are my personal thoughts. Again, I’m not criticizing or judging anyone. If you don’t agree, please, don’t read the whole post and kindly refrain from posting any negative or rude comments. Thanks in advance.

Diwali…the festival of lights

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We celebrated Diwali on Sunday. Diwali, basically, is a Hindu festival, however, it is celebrated by many other people of other faiths as well. The Hindus have a religious connection and perform pujas (religious worship of goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth) while the others, celebrate the universal belief that good, ultimately, triumphs over evil. They celebrate the essence of the festival. It also signifies light…the internal light that dispels darkness (evil) in any form, hatred, avarice, bitterness, ignorance, and brings joy, peace, and prosperity. So, generally, everyone joins in the festivities of bursting crackers, eating special sweets and food made particularly on festivals. It is also holiday time in schools and offices. There are gaily lit and decorated malls, restaurants and other places where various activities are available that kids and family can take part in…fairs, exhibitions, new movie releases, you name it. So, everyone is in a joyful mood and enjoys the festival in different ways.

Traditionally, diyas (earthen lamps) are used to decorate the house. However, the modern way is to use tea lights and electric lights. The cities, especially in the northern and western areas, where it is celebrated most, look beautiful as every house is lit up, the Malls, the markets, and shops are all decorated and illuminated. It’s a bit like New York or any such city in the US, at Christmas time, I suppose.

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Rangolis decorated with flower petals and tea lights.

My daughter-in-law celebrates Diwali and so, we had the entrance of our home illuminated. We also had rangolis. Rangolis, again are a traditional thing. They’re made as wet or dry paintings/designs using a white material like chalk, sand, paint or flour. Even paints, colored rice-water, gypsum powder, colored sand or dry colored powders. Often materials like seeds, grains, spices, leaves or flower petals are also used either as the only element or in combination with other materials. Modern materials like crayons, dyes or dyed fabrics, acrylic paint are also becoming common, allowing for brilliant and vibrant color choices We couldn’t do any such thing here. So, I decided to make re-usable rangolis on hand-made paper sheets (that was last year) and having preserved them well we were able to use them again. The hand-made paper was the color of the floor, off-white, and once the flowers concealed its taped edges…it looked like the real deal! The tea lights added the rest.

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Re-usable rangolis painted on very fine hand-made paper.

She even cooked us a meal which is made customarily in her home at Diwali. Delicious! The traditional sweetmeats were also on the table. A party at a friend’s place, Diwali gifts for the kids…and we notched another Diwali on foreign shores.

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The Diwali centerpiece on the dining table

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Diwali mithai (sweets) Green: Pistachio barfi, Yellow: Besan ladoo (chickpea flour ladoo) and orange: Moti chur ladoo (also made from chickpea flour)