The Absence Of Presence

Sometimes, it’s your presence and not your company that matters more to someone! That does not mean they don’t appreciate or need your company, it’s just that your presence means a lot more. I realized this very late in life.

Normally, one thought that if you asked someone to stay: be around, it meant you wanted their company. You wanted to chat or perhaps wanted them to help out with something, unless you had given a specific reason. And if you didn’t engage in chitchat or gossip, didn’t give them a big chunk of your undivided attention, they’d feel redundant, dejected, disappointed and would want to leave. You’d be labeled boring, thoughtless, crazy or any such epithet that really didn’t apply. They couldn’t understand why someone would want them to hang around for nothing.

Through all my childhood years and youth, I never did want anyone’s “presence” to that extent. I was happy if I had a sibling or parent around, not to keep me “company,” but because I was scared to be alone. If I wasn’t afraid, it wouldn’t matter whether they were home or not as long as their absence was brief.

But just wanting to see them or know they were around because their absence created a vacuum; that was never a reason.

After I married, my husband would be out on tours twice or thrice a month, and each trip would be between 3-4 days. So I was by myself a lot. I welcomed the alone time. That might sound strange to some. The thing is I was a bookworm. I loved to bury myself in a book whenever I found the time. TV and the gadgets we engage with these days didn’t exist until the early 1980s in our part of the world. So, with the hubs away, I’d have uninterrupted reading sessions. No guests dropping in. No visits to anyone’s place (he was the more social one)! No need to cook three times a day either!

Then, along came the kids. Schedules changed and I took up a job when the younger started preschool. My day’s agenda was jampacked and I had little or no time to indulge in reading. As the boys grew and would be out for games at school or with their friends, and their father on his tours, I relished their absence!! I felt light and reveled in the sense of ‘freedom’ I had to put my legs up and just be – quiet and still. Listen to the sound of silence and allow it to seep into the pores of my skin. I’d relax as I couldn’t with the presence of the three men. I didn’t feel the weight of their expectations on my shoulders.

Not that they were demanding. Far from that. It was my own expectations from myself for them – does that make sense? I had set the bar way too high for myself as a wife and a mom. I’d be constantly on my toes, except for my scheduled short breaks, doing something or the other so they wouldn’t be bothered by little things.

Even though I had a maid to see to the cleaning, laundry, dishes; the dhobi to see to the washing of linen and thick or heavy garments as well as ironing, and a gardener who came in weekly or bi-weekly, as required, I still had a lot on my hands. I had to do a little of all the hired helps’ work too! That was me. And I kept the cooking – three meals a day – entirely as my domain.

As a teacher, in those days, we had anything from 38-45 kids in a class and there were times when I’ve had a bit more students than that. So, I had a lot of checking work coming home with me: notebooks with homework! Classwork notebooks I’d check during free periods in school. Our system back then was demanding. We had to give HW on a regular basis and check the work in time with corrections and remarks/notes where necessary. There was classwork too. All written work in class had to be checked in time. Both classwork and homework notebooks had to be kept up-to-date with corrections.

Add to that the class tests, quarterly exams, half-yearly exams, and then, the big one – Finals. If you were a language teacher, you’d have a bigger load to check. Two exams so two big bundles of papers to go through: Language and Literature. Each was a separate exam. Now add to that, that I was teaching language & literature to three classes. All at different levels – 8-10. Saying that I had my hands full is an understatement. Add to that the extra work if you were a Class Teacher as well! And I was both. There were the marksheets to be made. Shown to the Principal to decide if any child deserved some ‘grace’ marks to pass. Then the report cards to be filled in. Remarks for each child.

Did I mention that these were all handwritten? We weren’t digital then.

All this to say, I had a lot on my plate jobwise, and I raised the bar of my own performance level at home too because – well, because that’s who I was then. None of my wonderful men at home thrust that on me. So, I never missed anyone’s presence. I enjoyed their absence. But with time, I realized, while I relished the alone, quiet time I got with them gone, the boys found it difficult if I were to go for a meeting or something during a holiday. They missed my presence!

I’d have done all that I had to do so they wouldn’t have to do anything. Everything would be the same as usual, except, my presence. And that’s what they missed. They wanted to know that I was around in the house. They wanted to see me there even if I was busy with domestic chores or sitting and and drinking my tea in the garden, or just sitting around. And if they had to go out for whatever reason, even to meet a friend in the neighborhood, they wanted to be assured that I’d be at home when they returned. They wanted that reassurance whether they hung around at home or not. They missed my ‘presence’.

I couldn’t understand this, and sometimes, when the hubs would grumble about a teachers’ meeting on a Saturday or, if necessary, on a school holiday, I’d counter with the argument that his tours also kept him away most times during my holidays or offs.

“It’s different,” he’d respond.

“How is it different?”

“You don’t miss us the way we miss you,” he shot back.

“Nice argument! Haha! I’m flattered but not convinced. It stinks of bias and disguised male chauvinism.”

“Whatever. The home is not the same when you’re not in. You are the Queen of this Queendom.”

This word he’d coined, queendom, always made me smile. I’d smile, flattered mightily. But not fully comprehending what they missed.

And then, his time ran out. Was 39 yrs any age to go? The angels came and he travelled on a one-way ticket into the blue.

In the years that followed, I finally learned what it was to ‘miss someone’s presence.’ Not what they did for you. Not how they helped you personally. Not the tangibles and physical help – what I missed was his presence. There was a huge vacuum in my life.

His presence, even when he was on tour, had always remained with me in spirit. It was this physical and spiritual connection that created the presence for me. The connection of two souls. With his physical presence gone, there was an empty space. It was saudade – a permanent absence of physical presence.

I realized that earlier, the temporary absence of one person, for a few days in the month, did not manifest in any kind of longing or the feeling of absence because I knew, at the back of my mind, he was very present in my life: in flesh and blood. But, I needed more space to just be. Quiet. Silent. Be with me. Me needs my exclusive presence too. In fact, the wait, on the day he’d be back, was a delicious anticipation that would reach the heights of joy when I’d see him enter the gate.

It only hit me much later that, for me, his physical presence was huge, but it was also one I took for granted. The support I got from him through his love, actions, strength, and consideration, filled in the vacuum of his physical absence. It remained a spiritual presence… emotional presence… one so strong in thoughts that it didn’t leave an empty space. Besides, the few days would pass off so soon and he would be back well before that sort of longing and missing happened.

The finality of death is awful. Heavy. Painful. Debilitating. Crippling. And for the first time I understood what saudade meant in the true sense.

What missing the “presence” physical, and of the spirit and soul meant: an eternity of absence. Knowing there was no returning ever. I could stare at the gate, waiting for his tour taxi, and the clang of the gate all in vain. That’s when I felt the tremendous weight of loss – in body and spirit.

That’s when I realized that actually, the relief I looked forward to, when I was alone, was my own need to fulfil some of my own desires (of quietude and solitude) and time to pursue my personal hobbies. It overshadowed the absence that I might have felt and helped me keep my equilibrium in an overcrowded daily agenda. And also, in an unobtrusive way, helped me to do things independently without expecting help in domestic chores, and kept me organized, disciplined, and emotionally strong.

Now, I’m living with SAUDADE – the constant feeling of the ABSENCE of PRESENCE. A particular presence in my life. An empty space that nothing and no one can ever fill.

I can be surrounded by family: my dear sons and grandkids or even extended family. I could enjoy their company to the hilt, but it only heightens the longing for that one presence that can never be replaced. I’d wish he were there. Of how much he’d enjoy it.

It is immense love and great grief. Love that cannot be shown or expressed. And grief that has no shoulder to lay its head on. No place to go. No person. No presence.

Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

– Jamie Anderson

It is SAUDADE!

The Original Blueprint – Part 11

My younger son and his wife were working, from India, for a company in Canada when they got to know the company was hiring more people for vacancies in Canada. So two others, who were also working with them from India, decided to apply for these posts. The company agreed to give them the jobs and that’s how the first step was laid. I was glad for them but still, at the time, I had no inclination to travel here. Not even for a holiday! Life carried on for me the way it was and I was settled in sailing on even keel. I never expected things were going to be stirred up, disturbing the calm. A big, unpleasant surprise was coming up.

My elder son came to me one day, excited. “I’ve been transferred to the Chile office,” he said.

“Wow,” I responded equally excited. Then my brow furrowed in ignorance and the worry that comes with it for a mother. He had pronounced the name the right way, Cheelay, and I hadn’t heard of this country.

“Where’s Cheelay?” I enunciated laying emphasis on each syllable.

“In South America.”

“Oh! That’s not quite like North America, right?”

“No. It’s more Latino. The language is Spanish. It’s a small country. And even smaller if you compare it with ours!”

“How are you going to manage with Spanish?”

We only knew a few words one picked up from songs and movies… words like – gracias, adios, amigo, hasta mañana, muchacho, hacienda, vaya con dios… and such. Now, I wasn’t too thrilled with the foreign posting.

“I don’t have to bother about it at the workplace ma. It’s English at work. And I’ll learn the local language.”

I nodded in agreement. It was similar to a posting anywhere inside India, apart from the spoken language at home (for us it was English) one had to learn a smattering of the local lingo to carry on with daily life. I recalled how we, as kids, living in Cochin (now known as Kochi) knew a bit of Malayalam. My mother knew Malayalam and Tamil because she was born and brought up in the south, in a city called Madras (now known as Chennai) and she had studied in a boarding school in Bangalore (now known as Bengaluru). She picked up some Marathi and “Bombaiya” Hindi when we were in Bombay (Mumbai) and Punjabi and Hindi when we moved North. I learned Hindi and Punjabi in Delhi and Punjab. And later, in Rajasthan, I picked up a bit of Marwari to get along with the maids and vegetable shopping. So this wouldn’t be any different apart from the vast distance.

I had no intention or desire to go to Chile either. Apart from the vast distance one had to travel… hours and hours in the plane and hours at airports on stopovers, if one took a cheaper option that took you on a circuitous route… I was in no mood to learn another language to get by.

But the original blueprint of my life was already set into motion. In fact, now when I look back, I see how the events in my life were taking me according to the plan.

My elder son was engaged at the time of this transfer and we preponed the wedding date as he wouldn’t be able to get back so soon for the wedding which was scheduled four months later. His fiancée worked in the same company as him. He left in August 2009 after they got married. Now both my sons had left. However, this time I had my daughter-in-law staying with me.

If I thought my son would come back in a year’s time because his wife was here, once again, I was reminded that life doesn’t always go even keel, for long, it has more twists and turns and adventure. Within months of his working there a vacancy for a job, ideally suited to his wife’s work profile, came up at Chile. She applied, online interviews were conducted. She bagged the post.

She left to join her husband and her new job in Chile.

My son was worried about me living alone. Apart from the security concerns, he was also worried about my physical limitations due to osteoarthritis and some troublesome discs that restricted movements and could also lay me down, bedridden.

About six months later, I was in Chile too! A place I knew vaguely existed at the back of my mind. A country about which I had zero curiosity and didn’t Google to learn more about it.

The company booked my ticket too, so I could join my family in Vina. The route was a circuitous one – Delhi-Mumbai-Johannesburg SA – Sao Paulo Brazil – Santiago, Chile – a longer route because it was cheaper! I bore my aching back, lumber disc and cervical disc acting up, and my knees hurting so much, whenever I had to walk, as in through the security check or down the aisle to my seat, or to use the facilities. I was in pain and on wobbly legs. But thankfully, I had wheelchair assistance and didn’t have to walk through those huge airports; five in all. That doesn’t mean I had no problems. The biggest one was when I had to visit the washroom. I would be stuck in my wheelchair without an assistant. The assistant would park me in the waiting area, put my bags near the wheelchair and disappear. There was no way I could walk to the facilities. which were no where near the waiting area. And even if it were near, I couldn’t leave my bags unattended. Dragging my luggage along would have created a medical emergency. It was torturous mentally and physically. Mentally, because I was so worried there would be an incident. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but there were close calls… I would get saved by a couple of minutes!

The layovers, in chronological order – at Mumbai [about 3 hrs. layover]. At Johannesburg [about 4 1/2 -5 hrs. layover]. At Sao Paulo, Brazil [between 2-3 hrs. I think]. Now came the last flight – Sao Paulo to Santiago! It was just the last flight not the last leg of my journey.

From Santiago would begin a road trip to Vina Del Mar. If there was no heavy traffic, we’d be lucky and reach Vina in 1 1/2 hrs. But thoughtfully, my son had booked rooms at a hotel so I could rest. The last segment of my journey would be completed the next day.

After he and his wife had settled me into my room, my son sat me down in the armchair and said that he had to tell me something. When people do this I get the jitters. “Now what?” my mind screamed.

“Ma, we have a lot of quakes and tremors here. So, if you feel your bed rocking don’t panic.”

“Don’t panic! Tremors and quakes are normal everyday routine here! An earthquake happens and I don’t panic? I’m not that brave! I’ve experienced a few in India. And they are scary” I said already feeling quite scared and unsafe.

“Well yes, earthquakes happen in India off and on, not often and not all are very strong. What you might have experienced were like 3.somsthing or 4.something…” I interrupted, “And all were scary as hell! The whole building felt it would collapse.”

“That’s India ma,” he said patiently. “Here the buildings are built to withstand stronger quakes. Even 9.7!”

“How strong are we talking about,” I said with a sense of foreboding.

“Well, over here, a temblor, which is a tremor, would be something that’s less than 5.something. Anything above would be a terremoto, which is an earthquake.”

“You mean, what I experienced in India and almost died of fear were just tremors?! Things they aren’t scared of here? They have quakes that go beyond 7 on the Richter scale? And all of this is an often recurring nightmare and I’m not allowed to panic?”

“Yes.”

“So what exactly are you telling me when you say I shouldn’t panic?”

“I mean don’t run out of your room. Stay here. I’ll come to you if any such thing happens. You might feel slight tremors more than once or twice. No one bothers about these.”

“O Lord! What have I got into? Where have I come?”

“I can understand your anxiety and fear but Ma, honestly, don’t be scared. It is unsettling for someone who isn’t used to it but given some time you will get accustomed to it. The buildings won’t collapse they way they do in India. These can withstand strong quakes.”

Now that I was in the middle of a soup, there was nothing I could do but put on a brave front, while my heart palpitated, my mind conjured up images of fallen buildings and me under a rubble. So I assured him that I would not get out of the room and run down the corridors screaming. But I wasn’t sure if I would keep my word.

Sure enough, the tremors came rolling in. My bed was rattled more than twice. Twice I jumped out of bed. Twice I ran to the door and held it half open. And the third time, I ran down the corridor to their room and knocked on the door. They were sound asleep and didn’t hear the frantic knocks nor feel the building shaking or trembling. Thankfully, I had remembered to take the key card of my room with me. I crept back to my room shaken and scared to death. I didn’t come here to die, I thought miserably. If I don’t die in a building collapse, I’ll die of fright!

Thank god for tiredness. I fell asleep against my will and woke up to the kids knocking on my door. It was time to go down for breakfast.

I had survived the night, the temblors, and I was feeling very hungry. I would tell them about how I disregarded their advice and how I ran down the corridor and knocked on their door real loud, later on. When they’d eaten and would be in a better frame of mind with a great brekkie tucked in, I’d be safe from some admonishing and reminding that I could injure myself too just by running helter-skelter.

We had till noon to check out so they took me out for some retail therapy. That always works. I forgot the tremors until one came up while we were in the mall. Being in a huge building that’s shaking and seeing the escalator sway, even though not too much, triggered the fear again. And trust me, it’s hard to control the panic and keep oneself standing quietly and wait for the tremor to subside. I watched people go about their business calmly. I wondered if I’d ever be able to build that sort of insouciance towards tremors.

You can read more about all the interesting and funny things that happened, in detail, here: Chile Diary – 1

If you haven’t read Part -1 here’s the link: The Original Blueprint – Part -1 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)

The third and final part of The Original Blueprint will follow soon.

An Old Journal and a Prayer

You must be wondering what an old journal has to do with a prayer or vice versa: What does a prayer have to do with an old journal? Memories. Yes, that’s the answer. I picked up one of mine and as I flipped through the pages of notes, passages, and some long ponderings scribbled in a chicken scrawl, I came across an entry that read: Faith – My Prayer for August 2015.

As I read it, I realized that it was a prayer I needed for myself right now, right here in April 2021! With all that’s been going on, around the world, my routines and organized, daily normal life has taken one change after another and thrown me out of gear. If that were all, perhaps, I would have managed better, but that isn’t all, is it?

Along with the changes come fear, anxiety, and social distancing, which isolate you. The lockdowns lock you in. And because you are at a certain age, you are in greater danger of contracting the deadly virus. Glad for the warning, but now I have one more thing to contend with that’s ‘scary’ as well. There are many seniors the world over who might relate to this situation.

But that’s just half the story!

All’s not down in the dumps.

I am ever so grateful that I live in a city that’s been safer than many others. I am thankful that our family, here and in other places, have come through a year of these troubling times safe and in good health. Praise the Lord! But while I am on my knees in utter gratefulness for the Lord’s goodness and mercy and grace upon us, I cannot ignore that changes in my daily life have impacted me. I do have emotional issues. I am affected emotionally, mentally, and physically.

And here’s the thing: It doesn’t mean because I am weighed down that my faith is weakened. Or that I do not trust that God is with me. If anything, both have grown stronger. And that is why this prayer is what I need to speak out today. During these days, I have been feeling the way I felt when I wrote this prayer six years ago. If it brought me comfort and peace then, it brings me comfort and peace now too. I needed this booster dose of, ‘this too shall pass,’ as we walk with the SHEPHERD through virus-ridden paths and an unknown future.

So here it is. I share it in the hope that it will help someone reading it here.

The entry in my journal in a chicken scrawl! Sometimes I wonder why I write so untidily when my thoughts are racing! Guess, I’m trying to keep up.

My Prayer for the Year 2021

Help me, Lord, to stay still just where I am, at a time when I do not know which way to turn, what to do, nor what my destiny is.

I trust, O, Lord the hand that works the looms of my destiny. But often, Father, I rush to set things right, put things straight, doing MY part as you want me to but stepping over the line and doing YOUR part too. Strengthen me in my faith Lord and grant me wisdom to know that the wiser way is to wait upon you with steadfast faith.

Help me with my patience levels which, at times, run low and that I may be passive and wait. There is a purpose in all things that occur and a season for each thing; a seed to be planted; the time to sprout, and a season to bear fruit.

Help me to wait for your timing Lord.

For as I have seen in my life, time will prove that my prayers were heard. Time will prove that you want the best for me. Time will prove that prayer is powerful. Time will prove that prayer moves mountains. And when I least expect it – the mountain will move! Amen.

Cutting Down

I was going through a blogger’s post on how she was getting rid of the ‘unnecessary’ clutter in her closets and store. She was recounting how, over the years, her pain and sadness at giving away or discarding things that she was very fond of, attached to and couldn’t give away had died down with each declutter situation. If any pain or regret was left, it was but a mere twinge.

Her post brought back my not-so-dead feelings connected to this. I told her, “I get what you’re saying. I’ve had to give up many things with each move I made.”

My mind went back to our shifts within the country… it wasn’t so bad. The most important things I cherished didn’t get left behind. With movers and packers to move things, the only precious things that got left behind were my friends.

But the biggest “cutting” I had to do was when I moved to another country! That’s when some things I was loath to part with were either given away or left behind in (supposedly) safe keeping… the family albums and hundreds of loose photographs stored carefully, some personal items I loved and didn’t want to lose. But the albums and pictures…These were the memories of my entire life. I couldn’t take them with me. It hurt like mad. I consoled myself with the thought that I’d return and take them with me.

Little did I know that I wouldn’t see them again. Not because I didn’t return but because the people who had taken it in safe-keeping didn’t have them anymore. They weren’t even kind enough to tell me where or what had become of those things.

When I had just begun to accept the loss and look at it pragmatically rather than emotionally, I had to move again from Chile…

…to another country.

Now, more of the little I had, needed to be cut down further. It didn’t hurt so bad this time. Though, I admit, I was sad. Today, I think about it with a tinge of sadness, when my grand kids ask me about things I could have shown them. I sense an emptiness, but nothing that weighs too heavy on me. I’m still to get to that place where I don’t even feel that little twinge of regret or pain. I’ll get there!

Right now, I am at a place where I am numb inside. I have come to see myself as a gypsy…traveler… literally. While I think my situation of wheels- on-my-feet is ended and I will stay put, I have a nagging fear that whispers, “What if…?” My heart skips a beat. No, no more. I want to put up my caravan and stay. I can not take any more of cutting down.

It’s not about the material things so much now as it is about the intangibles… the memories, the places that hold significance in my life… the peace I might have found reading, writing, or just sipping my tea as I gazed out the window in a particular cafe. The familiar faces and the familiarity of surroundings. The daily walk routes, and the smiles or ‘hellos’ of fellow walkers I pass by more often. The sounds, sights and the flora and fauna that surround my dwelling and that I’ve got used to now.

I’m at a point where I am like a pendulum; swinging at the behest of time. I am slowly resigning myself to God’s will and my destiny which he holds in his hands.

In cutting down and clearing out the material things I had attached myself to, I have learned (not so painlessly) that I was also clearing out unnecessary attachment and value to a lot of replaceable stuff. Except for my photographs, now, I don’t think much of the other things. I am grateful for that freedom from attachment to replaceable material goods.

In retrospect, while I might have lost many material things… some of material value too… I have gathered experiences, insights, memories, connections that are of more value to me and my wellbeing. I have not just gone through it, I have grown through it.

It will take a bit more time for me to say, in all honesty, that the cutting down through the years doesn’t hurt me or sadden me at all any more. There are a few more itty-bitty cobwebs stuck in the corners of my mind! I’m getting there, that’s all I can say.

Money Bags Year 2020

I had met a girl, a long time back, in India. It was the year 2011. She had this ‘spiritual’ group. She said it was about Reiki. I had no idea that Reiki involved prayer groups. They had prayer circles all over the country, according to her, and her group in G’gaon, connected with one in Mumbai.

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These prayer warriors would be online and you could request them to say prayers for you or anyone or any situation you wanted prayers for. I had no idea who they worshipped. According to them, it was all Reiki! And I was left with that vague explanation.

What I learned, after asking around, Reiki wasn’t this. I attended a few of her group meetings but stopped when I found it didn’t mean anything; there was nothing to learn. No knowledge being imparted either. If all one had to do was sit in a circle on the carpet, offload something bothering you by speaking out, write whatever problem or anxiety you were burdened with, and crumple the paper and throw it in the bin placed in the center, and finally hold hands and meditate, I was fine with meditating and praying on my own! I dropped out of the group.

But, I kept up the social connection with her. We didn’t meet often except for visits on festival days. I don’t communicate with her anymore.

Here’s one email she’d sent me in 2011.

The year 2011 – is called as Money bags Year

In the Year 2011 July has

….5 Fridays,
….5 Saturdays
….5 Sundays.
And this happens once every 823 years.

This is called money bags.

This year we’re going to experience four unusual dates.

1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11

And that’s not all…

AMAZING ACTIVITY

Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born –
Now add it to the age you will be/are this year…….

The results will be 111 for everyone in the whole world.

This is the year of the Money!!!

Do you see any connection with money? And this was supposed to be sent to 8 people or face bad luck!

I didn’t realize, I had written about this Money Bags Year thingy in my journal! I happened to find it as I was rifling through some of my old notes, journals, and notebooks. I found it so silly that people would actually believe such things! Well, it certainly wasn’t a Money bags year for me that year, or any other year, for that matter! But I guess I can’t complain because I didn’t send it on to anyone else. I’m not an idiot!

So I said different things to different people in the group to see how they’d respond.

To those I said I never sent it to eight people, they would pull down the corners of their mouth, shrug their shoulders and say…

“Well, you should have! How can you say it’s BS if you didn’t send it?”

To those, I said I did, there would be a blank stare and another rejoinder with a shrug…

“I don’t know. Maybe you didn’t believe it!

How convenient 🙂

Anyway, since this was the first time I had got anything like this in the mail, it was a funny thing. And by the way, not even one of those who believed in this had any specific reason to support their belief. It’s funny how someone can believe that a year with a particular number of Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays could become a magnet for money.

The explanation is so much nonsense. And the group that was sharing it, and telling me to believe it, consisted of educated folk working in good positions in big companies. How could they be so silly! 

It’s so easy to verify these things, and yet, there are people blindly believing anything and everything without trying to verify it. 

As for me, I was having an out-of-money experience! That was the only (dis)connection I found to money… I had more pictures in the pockets of my wallet where the money used to be. And trust me, I found it easy to meet expenses, I found them everywhere I went.

Methinks, if they received this message with some mumbo jumbo, they’d have believed it too and sent it to 8 people!: “The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.”

I heard that even now there’s a similar one doing the rounds for May 2020! I’ve attached an excerpt from the article and you can read more about it. The link is below.

The 823 Years Myth

If you have an email or a social media account, chances are that you have come across a viral post that claims an upcoming month has a rare combination of weekdays. Share it, the message states, or beware of some bad luck.

A recent version goes something like this:

May 2020 will have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays. This happens only once every 823 years. The Chinese call it “silver pockets full” or “money bags.”

The email is partially right. May 2020 does have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays, and so does May 2848. But this is neither special nor unusual. You won’t need to wait for another 823 years to see this weekday combination to occur in the month of May. Just 6 more years, because in 2026, May also has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays.

A calendar month that contains 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays actually occurs nearly every year— October 2021, July 2022, and December 2023 all have the same weekday pattern. https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/823-years.html

And that’s a wrap for the day!

When Normal Changes

My notes on Good Friday!

A lot has changed since Good Friday 2019 and today.

The kind of change we have never experienced before.

No church services, and it’s been that way for a long time.

No Holy Communion,

no church community gatherings for coffee after the service on Sundays!

A big part of our weekend routine and custom has been changed by a virus.

A virus that has descended on us out of the blue and struck us with fear, anxiety, and dread.

But, it has also opened our eyes to many things and set us thinking.

Introspecting on our past, our deeds, and greed as a human race;

our failings and our disregard for better sense and judgment. 

We turned away from God, and now we return to His mercy seat and beg for His grace and mercy.

My prayer for all – May God’s blessings be upon us and save us.

TTSP (this too shall pass).

May we come out of this wiser, humbler, kinder, more generous, and more considerate of others, and the earth.

Life is a gift. We cannot take it for granted.

The only similarity that day was… snow!

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The only similarity, of sorts, between Good Friday last year and this year:

We were heavily snowed under last year.  And this year, it snowed too, but unlike the previous year, it was a light snowfall. 

Thursday night, I was surprised to see it snowing when I peeked out the window.

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It didn’t appear heavy and I expected it to end before morning.

But it didn’t.

It was snowing in the morning too!

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The feeling of Spring; the grass beginning to turn green again, the weather warming up, has taken a step back.

It looked more like winter than Spring. 

I felt the cold, dark gloom of a Good Friday, ages ago.

The lockdown and social distancing irked more than it does daily and exacerbated the pall of gloom that had descended on me.

But hope springs, ever renewed.

Holy Saturday brought out the sun.

And then…

Easter dawned! Bright and beautiful.

Hallelujah!

The churches are empty, but so is the tomb!

I rest my hopes and prayers on Him,

who defeated death.

The Passing Years

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“As the Wheel of Time turns, places wear many names. Men wear many names, many faces. Different faces but always the same man. Yet no one knows the Great Pattern the Wheel weaves or even the Pattern of an Age. We can only watch, and study, and hope.”~Robert Jordan

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Christmas and New Year are the only two major events that spell #festivity to me, besides birthdays, of course. I await these two with great anticipation and joy. As the old year gives way to the new, I record my feelings and experiences of the past year and my #hopes and #aspirations for the new. They were almost the same; the same vein with a bit of variation or degrees of reactions or responses to life’s vagaries. The incoming new ‘decade’, however, brought in an absolutely unexpected, strange feeling.

The build-up to Christmas was like to any weekend – a holiday, yea! And it remained so through the run-up to New year and the start of a new decade. In fact, I went to bed at 10.30 p.m on New Year’s eve. That’s something I’d never do earlier. I’d be waiting excitedly to ring out the old and ring in the new. Then I’d wish everyone a wonderful year before falling into bed an hour or two later!

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“The lives of all people flow through time, and, regardless of how brutal one moment might be, how filled with grief or pain or fear, time flows through all lives equally.”~Orson Scott Card

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Not this time. I was drowsy and had to fight to keep my eyes open. So I flopped into bed. 

I was surprised by my lack of enthusiasm for Christmas too. I had to manufacture my happiness as an actor would slip into character or a called for emotion on stage. #Christmas is my most loved time of the year, and I was sad that I was numb to it inside of me. I went through the motions as required on cue.

I was numb to the celebrations, not in my spirit and worship. My prayer life remained steadfast and strong. My hope and trust in the Lord were firm. I was numb to social festivities. The shopping lacked the usual festive fever, something very not me. I am super elated when I shop on any day; it could be for anything and any time of the year.

I wondered if the changes in my situation were the reason. But I’ve had a major tragedy strike, faced major issues and changes in life, and still not lost the spirit of Christmas celebration. Why now? I found an old post from New Year Eve 2012 when I was uprooted from where I had lived since my birth. And I found the true ‘me’ still kicking and strong.

“Have I died?” I asked myself. 

No. not yet! I’m just tired. Very tired. I’m down but not dead.

#immovingon

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“She knew that this day, this feeling couldn’t last forever. Everything passed; that was partly why it was so beautiful. Things would get difficult again. But that was okay too.

The bravery was in moving forward, no matter what.”~Lauren Oliver

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Here’s a part of the post which gives a glimpse of a New Year past before life as I knew it was about to change.

“Unlike previous years, this year did not see me with regrets or longings for what could have been but wasn’t; where I could have gone but didn’t; what I should have done or could have done but gave up a step too soon. I surprised myself a bit, honestly, by the new perspective and the calmness I had as the year softly and silently slipped into my grateful, content, and not-so-perfect life. I was in a place of imperfection with peace, acceptance, happiness, and faith; and this made things good.

No one but God is perfect and in our journey towards that perfect love and light, we learn to appreciate more, to find peace in tumultuous times, to develop better attitudes toward ourselves, and the people we come in contact with. We begin to accept whatever comes our way… the good and the bad… with forbearance and hope.

It all sounds like a dreamer’s utopian musings, doesn’t it? I assure you, it isn’t. This is a seeker’s account of her experience. There is pain, there are disappointments; tears; loneliness; anger; frustration; regrets and all the lows that are a part of life. But once you begin to look through the eyes of steadfast faith, hope, and trust that “this too shall pass,” the cross is lighter. I believe that God is watching out for me and mine. And as we make progress toward our goals, slipping, sliding, falling, He walks along – lifting, carrying, prodding us. I cast my cares on Him and He takes the burden off. So, though my cross is heavy sometimes, the burden is light. My heart is lighter. My mind is less prone to worry, and I can be grateful and enjoy my life even when the chips are down. That’s how I walk into 2013!

The New year is a harbinger of new beginnings. Beginnings in new places; new faces; changed climate and weather patterns; with Christmas in Summer and a Winter birthday in the month of May! New language, different food, and flavors, with new inclusions in my diet. Making new friends. Building a new social circle at this stage, learning conversion of a new currency against a rupee (though I know it is not advisable to compare rates of another currency against the rupee, it’s depressing!), but old habits die hard, and that’s the truth in this respect at least!!

But I raise a toast to new beginnings, to life and its vagaries. Cheers!”

With this, I send out good wishes to all my blog members and hope you have a good year! #2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief Meeting – Harry & I

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between two people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily… and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”~Thomas Mann

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Harry…93 yrs old, is a long time retired lawyer. He walks with the help of a walking stick (no wheelchair or other assistance) doesn’t wear glasses (he can see quite well, short distances) and is as chatty as ever. According to his wife, “He loves to talk!”

I’d seen him many times before, but I met #Harry because he chose to meet me. I’d seen him and his wife with their regular group of friends sitting at the same coffee shop that is my haunt. It’s been over two years since I’ve been going there and that long since I’ve shared public space with them in a very congenial environment.

We’d never even exchanged the general acknowledgment smile one gives a #familiar face at the cafe. This day was different. Harry walked in alone; I didn’t see his wife following him. Nor was there anyone from their group seated at their usual place. I went back to reading my Jack Reacher novel on Kindle.

Instead of turning towards their usual space, he walked straight where I was seated and took the empty seat on the couch at the four-seater table in front of mine. I sensed rather than saw him looking at me over the back of his couch. I looked up and met the #friendliest #smile that beamed through his crinkled eyes too. I was surprised. I smiled back, both pleased and puzzled.

It became obvious that he had wanted to meet me; that he had noticed me here as I had noticed their group and was interested to know more about this non-local woman who, unlike others, comes here and sits reading or then writing and if not these, then she’s playing #tabletop #games with her granddaughter/s! And unlike others of her kind and race, sits here for hours and hours even when she’s alone. My #curiosity was piqued too. I wanted to know a bit more about this group of men and women. But I didn’t start a conversation beyond returning a warm smile.

A minute or so later, I heard a chuckle and a voice saying, “I’ve been abandoned!”

I looked up to see that he had turned sideways to be more comfortable. He had stretched out one leg on the couch and the other hung down giving him a more comfortable position to turn his head, look at me, and talk.

“You mean your group has #abandoned you?” I asked.

“No, they’re not here yet. We’re early. My wife’s left me.” He said laughing. Then he saw my face and raised eyebrows and added quickly… “She’s out there,” he pointed to their car that was parked outside our window.

I looked out and saw her sitting in the car. Her head was bowed.

“Squabble?”

“No, no,” he answered and his body shook with #laughter as his head moved from side to side emphasizing that a fight could not be the reason for abandonment.

“It’s the phone! She’s #addicted to it like everybody. She’s chatting with someone! I don’t count as much as that!” 

“Ah! No, you don’t,” and I laughed with him.

I went back to reading my book eager to know more about the situation Jack was in and what would happen next.

But Harry hadn’t come to sit within talking distance just like that. He had an agenda. He was curious and wanted to know who I was. So the conversation began with him telling me all about himself without me asking him anything. I guessed he thought that a woman who was apparently non-western would be reluctant to start divulging personal information to a total stranger. He wasn’t wrong in his surmise, generally speaking.

The account of his life, the stories of his youth; the shenanigans he and his friend, who was his partner in crime, had had were very amusing and interesting. I asked questions and got to know more about his family. Why he never left this city where he has lived since he was a boy. How others, even his best friend, moved out to bigger places or a different country. 

Seeing my interest, he felt he could ask me something about myself. After a brief lull in our conversation, he turned back to me and said, “What about you? Where are you from?”

“Where do you think I’m from?”

“China,” came his quick reply.

“Hmm…China?”

“I’d say Shanghai. Am I right?”

“Um, no. Try again,” I coaxed. 

“Oh, yes, I got it. Hong Kong!” He was as pleased as punch because he thought he was right this time.

I burst his balloon.

“Then, where are you from?”

“Well, you’ve got the continent right, just the wrong country. I’m from India.”

He looked surprised, “I should have guessed, but you are quite different from the Indians I’ve seen.”

“You haven’t seen all the Indians from every region. You’ll be surprised,” I said gently. “We come in all skin colors and tones, different color of eyes, hair, features, ” I added, “so you couldn’t have known.” He nodded his sage head.

“Do you know Bhopal?”

“Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

“Bhopal,” he repeated. I still couldn’t get the name. So I asked him what he was asking about… a person or place?

“It’s a place in India.”

Comprehension dawned!

“Oh, you mean Bhopal,” I said enunciating the word slowly and with the right phonetic sounds. “Yes, I do know of it though I’ve never been there. How do you know Bhopal?” 

He answered with another question.

“Is the name Warren Anderson familiar?”

“No. Can’t recollect any name like that. Why? What’s it got to do with Bhopal?”

“He was the Head of Union Carbide.”

It all came back. “You’re referring to the Gas tragedy in Bhopal!” 

“Yes,” he replied.

“He was the friend I was talking about. We’ve been friends for years…close friends. He was a Canadian before he moved to the States. He died five years back.” (this conversation took place in November 2019)

I didn’t know how to respond. The shocking news of the gas leak, the deaths, and the effects of that gas leak came to mind. It had caused children to be born with deformities and other abnormalities; it all came back. I kept quiet. He was quiet too.

I turned to my kindle and tried to catch up with the action, but my mind wasn’t in it any longer. 

He broke the silence.

“It was a terrible #tragedy.”

“Yes. Horrifying.

“It’s cold comfort, but I’d like you to know, he was burdened with the grief of this tragedy. He was genuinely grieved. He never forgot and it was a #heavy #burden on his heart.”

“Do you think he was at fault?” I asked.

“I can’t say. The Plant was being operated by the people there. He wasn’t directly responsible for any error in the functioning. He wasn’t at the plant nor supervising it. Those who were there are responsible. But he did take the responsibility to heart because he was the head of the company.”

“He was wanted in India,” I said.

“I know. Do you hold him responsible for the tragedy?”

“Not directly. No. It’s not like he was negligent or irresponsible in operating the plant. But as the head of the company, he should be concerned about what happened.”

“Trust me he was,” said Harry. “He was always carrying that burden with him. He suffered a great feeling of loss and helplessness. You know what he would say? He’d say that he’d have to struggle with this always. And he did go to Bhopal because he felt responsible.”

“I guess, it would be a very big burden to carry. A big punishment in its own way…” I was moved. To hear about something like this from a friend had a different impact than what one reads in the news.  “I can’t see why they wanted to arrest him? You know they wanted to arrest him?” I continued. “There are planes that go down due to malfunctioning, there are cars that burst into flames while one is driving… People die. It’s very sad…tragic. But the car company Head or the designers of these machines can’t be hauled into prison. He could be penalized in some way but not incarcerated unless he was directly responsible. He’s not responsible directly”

“That’s what we told him but it wouldn’t help,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy on both sides. Someone was responsible, directly, for some negligence that occurred… I forget what it was now. There was a sabotage theory going around too. Whatever it was, it was the fault of those who were right there, directly in charge of the operations. It’s a heart-rending accident.”

I didn’t want to discuss this any further.

I thought it was time to change the subject. It was getting heavy. So I veered it away to him. I asked him questions about how he managed to keep himself going even at the age of 93.

He beamed and gave all the credit to his wife who was a nurse. Her expert care and company! His group had long since come and settled in. They had even gestured to him to come over but he had refused. Said he liked it where he was.

I was eager to get back to my book. So I thought I should give a hint. Just as I was going to tell him it was nice talking to him, he turned and looked at me.

I zipped my lip and waited for him to speak.

“You know I’m glad I’ve lived so long, thanks to my wife, but it’s very sad for me sometimes.”

“How so?”

“I’ve outlived everyone. My friends and many family members younger than I. It’s not really nice when I see them go.”

He looked crestfallen and the glint in his eye had faded a bit, and his smile was sad on his lips. I waited a while and let him have a quiet moment.

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Then I said, “Your wife and your friend have been signaling you to join them. I think you should. It’s been very nice talking to you but I don’t want to steal all your attention and time. Save some for them too.” 

He gave a broad grin and said, “Yes, I think I better. I love to talk and can go on and on!”

With that, he moved to where his group was and I went back to Jack Reacher, a little wiser, and with a bit more knowledge. And I stress the “bit” part because only when I got home, I realized I hadn’t asked his name nor he mine. But, since then, when his wife sees me she waves a ‘Hi’. Harry does so only when he’s close enough to see me clearly 🙂

Later, much later, a month or more, my granddaughter who had heard me relating this meeting to my son, overheard his friends call him, “Harry.” Excitedly, she informed me that the “93-year-old” stranger’s name is Harry!

He’s now on my list of Tim Hortons’ friends. These are my ‘stranger’ friends. We smile at each other and maybe exchange a word or two about the weather or a titbit about their health or any such everyday occurrences. I don’t sit with them, we don’t go out together, nor do we know where the other lives. We don’t even know each other’s names. And, in a rare instance, if I get a name, it promptly goes out of my mind leaving just the face behind. So it’s their faces I remember more than their names.

“I am a free soul, singing my heart out by myself no matter where I go and I call strangers my friends because I learn things and find ways to fit them into my own world. I hear what people say, rearrange it, take away and tear apart until it finds value in my reality and there I make it work. I find spaces in between the cracks and cuts where it feels empty, and there I make it work.”~ Charlotte Eriksson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running Away

After all, it’s one thing to be running away when someone’s chasing you. It’s entirely another to be running alone.”~Jennifer E. Smith

Daddy was a restless boy. He had an overactive #imagination and was forever up to some prank or making an endeavor to live out his dreams. This was one side of the dreamer, poet, artist, and fun-loving boy. However, buried, not far beneath, in his soul, smoldered a terrible #temper; perhaps an accumulation of all the unspent energy and also the frustrations he had. He was impetuous and reacted, often, very irrationally when in a rage. Usually, it meant beating up someone or being destructive in some way. Though, to him, it wasn’t destructive at all; it was justice. Either righting a wrong or defending one who’d been wronged.

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One day, when he couldn’t get his way with his mother and couldn’t convince her to see things his way, he decided to run away from home. He must have been about thirteen or fourteen then. They lived in a small town where my grandfather was a teacher in the Government School. Daddy didn’t have any money nor did he have a plan in mind. So when his temper cooled down and he realized that running away from home wasn’t the wisest thing to do, he was already quite far away from home.

“Running away was easy; not knowing what to do next was the hard part.”~Glenda Millard

#Hunger and #fear weren’t making things any better. He kept walking and sat down only when his legs couldn’t hold up any longer. He was sitting near a watermelon rehri (cart) and one can only imagine how much his mouth must have watered and his tummy growled for a bite. He was #miserable and wanted to go home, but being #arrogant, he did not know how he’d face not only the beating he was bound to get but also the humiliation of defeat. He found it harder to say, “Sorry,” and accept his fault than sit out his hunger and fatigue.

At one point, he did come close to giving up and going back. It was Summer and the Punjab summers are extremely harsh. Perhaps he would have swallowed his pride and turned homewards but someone approached him. It was a eunuch.

On any other day, he wouldn’t have responded nor entertained conversation with this person. This day wasn’t any other day. Daddy didn’t bother to dwell on the social stigmas that surrounded eunuchs; it was a relief to have someone #sympathetic talk to him. He spilled out his story and didn’t feel ashamed to cry. The eunuch consoled him and gave him slices of watermelon which he walloped down.

With his hunger and thirst satiated, he expressed his desire to return home, worried now that his mother who loved him very much would be sick with worry and crying. But the eunuch talked him out of it. Daddy reluctantly acquiesced to what he said more from a sense of #gratitude than #conviction. So he quietly went along and they reached Karnal, a town very far from Daddy’s home. Here he was made comfortable in the eunuch’s shack and told to rest as it had been a tiring journey. The eunuch went off to earn his living singing and dancing dressed as a woman.

Back in Daddy’s hometown, his parents were stirring up search parties. Everyone known to anyone in the family was out looking for him. The news of Daddy’s disappearance reached Melzhar Gilani, who later went on to become a Judge, and he swung into action. Fortunately, his contacts proved to be excellent detectives and Daddy’s whereabouts were traced to Karnal. Before the day was through Uncle Melzhar went down to Karnal himself and rescued Daddy from the eunuch. Uncle Melzhar Gilani belonged to an influential and rich family, and it was enough to warn the eunuch not to try and come anywhere near Daddy again.

Contrary to Daddy’s fears, he was received with tears of joy and relief. 

“Questions from earlier circle like buzzards. Am I running away or moving forward?”~Doug Cooper

One would think he had learned his lesson; he had in a way, but it wasn’t that running away wasn’t the solution. About four years later, he ran away again. This time, however, he knew where he was going and what the purpose of his mission was, and he carried some money with him. It seems that the lesson he had learned was that running away was fine if one had a destination, plan, and a constructive purpose for it.

I fancied the #adventure and thrill attached to such stories, but I could never be fully convinced that this was the right way to achieve one’s goals. There are other ways, which perhaps might mean #confrontation, but they serve to guide you and also provide you with other viewpoints and better #options.

Maybe, that’s why, though I dreamed of running away as a 6-7-year-old, and even kept a few of my valuables bundled in a handkerchief, tied to a stick a la vagabond, I never did want to ever leave home that way! This is the humorous side of my take away as a child.

Very early in life, I learned where to draw the line and also to distinguish which fantasies could be realities and which only made for good play-acting and dreaming.

Daddy didn’t advocate running away as a means to an end. His mistakes were youthful ones, made in haste and perhaps regretted bitterly in quiet moments. He never admitted it openly, but I can safely draw this conclusion from the way he guided me with lessons on #perseverance, #determination and going through rather than around. His main stress always lay on getting a sound education as the way to achieve one’s goals.

In the final analysis, Daddy had learned some valuable lessons from his #shenanigans and he passed these on to me. What I marvel at is the way he taught me; by recounting tales of his successes and mistakes. He never hid his escapades and neither did he conceal the negative outcomes. He blamed no one for the adverse consequences of his actions and gave credit, where due, for his achievements.

He neither denounced his actions nor praised them. He left it for me to work out. I had questions which he never fended, answering each honestly. I had to seek my own ‘Truth,’ he only showed me the way to the ultimate truth. From him, I have learned to live my life with courage and a firm belief in God. 

 

 

 

Superstitions, Myths, Black Magic

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India is a land of many superstitions. Today, we do not hear much about them, as education and science have played their part in a large way. Having said that, I must mention that all don’t come under this education of the mind. India lives in the villages and in these villages superstitions thrive. 

Grandma was a storehouse of strange stories, superstitions, and myths. She was a strange mixture of cynicism and credulity. She was a firm believer in God, yet, she had a few beliefs that had nothing to do with Him.

At times, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to believe her or not. However, what I saw convinced me she was right about developing a strong conviction, but not about the superstitions per se. What I saw was not superstition…it was extreme calm in the face of danger.

This courage was born of unshakable faith. When one has an implicit belief in anything, it transfers immense strength to the inner self. This is what I saw and learned. But her stories and actions based on her belief in certain superstitions were, indeed, very interesting; and for that moment, I allowed myself to go with it. It gave me the thrill that scary movies give… goosebumps and white-in-the-face breath-stopping moments!

One of her firmest beliefs was that a snake got hypnotized or, as she put it, got “blinded” if the firstborn child of a family stood in front of it. Since she was the firstborn child in her family, she believed that snakes couldn’t move if they encountered her.

We lived in the country and had a big fruit garden and a vegetable garden so our home was host to many snakes; permanent residents as well as visitors. Many of these unfortunate ones met their end at her hand.

Now, killing a snake isn’t such a great feat as killing a snake that stayed rooted to the spot while she picked a lathi or stood quietly watching the snake while a stick was brought to her! Now that’s something I have never seen or heard of before.

The snakes were quick and agile when any other member of the family tried to nail them. Quite often, they’d make their escape. To explain it further, I’ll recount an incident that left me flummoxed.

Grandma retained the rural identity of her kitchen to the core. It was spacious with an inbuilt Chula occupying the right corner in the north. A chimney over the Chula released the fumes and smoke of this typical earthen cooking place. They used coal and wood to light it.

This corner Chula stayed burning or smoldering throughout the day and half the night. There would always be a kettle of tea on the embers. This was also a constant feeder for their hookah fire.

The Chula was on ground level, so cooking was done seated on pidhis. These are very low stools made of wood with woven jute ropes forming the seat. There were four or five of these around the place. In the left corner, there was a table and a comfortable armchair. The other two corners in the south were occupied by a big grain bin and a hand pump. Grandma would sit between the Chula and the table, with a kerosene stove or an angithi, whichever suited her, on the floor. Her choice depended on what she was cooking. All the meals would be cooked this way. 

One day, I was sitting in the armchair and happily chatting while I ate a hot, crisp cheeni paratha straight off the tava. Suddenly, Grandma put her finger to her lips; signaling for me to keep quiet. I looked at her quizzically but refrained from any verbal query.

She stretched out her arm and got hold of the iron phukni which was lying near the Chula. Then she gestured that I should lift my feet off the ground. By now, I knew it had something to do with a snake, but where was the creepy crawly?

She got up, phukni in hand, and bending down lifted her pidhi and kept it to one side. There coiled up and petrified lay a cobra. I gaped and the next second I felt a scream coming up. Thankfully, it got frozen into silence. Grandma lifted the iron phukni and smashed it down on the snake. She hit it some more to make sure it was dead then called Grandpa to take it out and burn it. Burn it? Why? I wondered. There is another myth attached to that!

I asked her how she knew the snake was there and when had it slipped in. She admitted that she did not know when it had come in but had sensed that there was one under her! She felt sorry that she had to kill a cobra. She had another belief connected to that!

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When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible, for that mind, in its maturity to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I can do it myself.”-Mark Twain

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She repeated her firstborn theory again and frankly, I couldn’t but believe her then. But till date, I often wonder at the power of conviction for that is what it was all about, it had nothing to do with her being a firstborn.

There were many similar instances when we saw her take her time dealing with snakes (poisonous ones too!) that lay quietly like lambs for the slaughter. However, none of these were burned.

There was another weird belief in the villages that cobras carried a picture of their slayer in their eyes; like a negative and not like a positive print. So, if it wasn’t burned, its mate would see the image and then seek revenge on the killer. In the bargain, it would attack many humans until it found the actual murderer!

This was why any cobra that was killed had to be burned! Even as a child, I found this a pretty far-fetched belief or notion. I wonder how people could so whole-heartedly digest this absurd story. We even had quite a few Bollywood movies, in those days, propagating this myth.

Grandma also believed that people used black magic to get even with their enemies or to get something they wanted real bad. I loved to hear her stories. They were spooky and gave me chills down my spine. However, what actually spooked me was an incident that convinced me that people did resort to some practices that could only be termed as ‘Black Magic’ because they had evil intent. Whether these practices had the desired result is anyone’s guess.

We had a teacher living down the road. She had married rather late in life and desperately wanted to have a baby. I am talking about the year 1965. India was a young nation then, and very under-developed. We had no advanced medical facilities and rural women who wanted to have babies and could not conceive visited sadhus and medicine men who would perform rituals to help them while others went to tantriks; the people who perform black magic.

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You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion… Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly.”-Aldous Huxley

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One evening, Grandma told us kids and my mother not to allow the teacher to carry my baby brother the next day. We found this odd as the teacher showed no interest in my brother. She was only on ‘hello’, ‘hi’ terms with us. Besides, Grandma was cautioning us about the next day! This was even more unusual.

I asked her what made her expect the teacher and why we shouldn’t allow her to carry my brother. She told me that sometimes it was best not to ask too many questions.

Early, the next morning, I was with my baby brother in Grandma’s garden when the teacher leaned over the low boundary wall of Grandma’s house. The alarm bells went off in my head! She asked me to bring my brother to her.

The sight of her put me on guard. This was bizarre!

Grandma was right, as usual, she did appear and she did show an interest in the baby. I refused to give her my baby brother. Then she asked me to bring him closer so she could play with him. I saw no harm in that, as she wasn’t going to carry him. I was just ten years old then and quite naïve! Not like the ten-year-olds of today.

No sooner had I reached the wall than she leaned over and grabbed him from my arms. I yelled at her and called out to Grandma. She came running and took in the scene at a glance. She snatched my brother from the teacher and for the first time, I heard her talk to someone in such a harsh manner!

The teacher almost ran back the way she had come. My grandparent’s vehemence terrified her. And truth be told, right then, I was terrified of her too! She looked awesome; like an avenging angel…eyes blazing and wrathful face wreathed by her crown of snow-white hair.    

I was next in the line of fire. I explained that I had not let the teacher carry the baby; she snatched him from my arms. This was when she sat me down and told me that the day was particularly auspicious and used for magical rites. I don’t recall what day it was. She explained that the teacher had displayed all the signs of black magic rituals. It had something to do with her freshly washed hair; wet, left open and uncombed. There were a few other things she mentioned, but I can’t remember what they were.

Anyway, she called my mother and told her to keep a check on the little fellow; to monitor any change in him. By then we were all highly perturbed and worried. We did not believe in these things but Grandma was so serious about it and that affected us.

Within the hour, my brother developed a high fever. He was taken to the doctor but I don’t think that was of any help because the fever wouldn’t subside. Soon he was throwing up. Grandma came up with all her home remedies and prayers. She prayed and prayed.

Finally, the fever broke; it began to lower and he got well. I can recall, without exaggeration, that my plump little brother became a twig in those four days.

Coincidence? Black magic? I still don’t know what it was. But Grandma had predicted that the teacher would come and had warned us about it. My hale and hearty brother developed a strange fever suddenly, after being carried by the woman… again something Grandma had feared would happen.

No, I don’t know what to make of it even after so many years. You can draw whatever conclusion you want.

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What we don’t understand, we can make mean anything.”-Chuck Palahniuk

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Glossary
Chula…..it means oven. Coal and wood are used to light it. It is made of clay (soil)
Phukni…. a bamboo or metal blowing-tube (for a fire). 
Cheeni Paratha…..cheeni  means sugar and parathas an unleavened Indian flat-bread. It is made of layered whole wheat (atta) dough. And fried on a tava (griddle) There are many kinds of parathas. Cheeni paratha means sugar stuffed in the paratha.