Random musings of a wandering soul


Gayathri and Myshkin. Mother and son. Freedom and love. Letting go and lingering on. I am no longer surprised at how certain books happen to jump right out of the library shelf and land into my soul. Anuradha Roy’s ‘All the Lives We Never Lived’ was the latest. At a time when memoirs and thoughts of vulnerable women holds a  coveted place at my bedside, why a piece of fiction, I’d wondered. I should have known better by now.

Myshkin, a sixty something old man, reminisces about life before and after his mother. Nothing romantic or heartening as the death of a young mother that orphaned a nine year old boy. She ran away With a white man as people around him would never let him forget. The fact that the man was German never mattered, all that was important was the colour of his skin and that a young wife had the audacity to leave her ‘progressive’ husband and a small child go fend for themselves.

Gayathri was a young girl pampered by her doting father. He wanted the best for her, wanted her to be the best, in art, dance whatever she chose to do. He had taken her on a trip abroad, crossing the seas, meeting none other than the great Rabindranath  Tagore. Years in Shanti Niketan is what she had dreamed of. And in the manner of a typical Indian movie, the father dies on her, leaving her at the mercy of her elder brother and mother who had fixed notions  on what a girl’s life should be. A learned professor, years older than her is infatuated with her and offers to marry her.

She feels stifled in her marital home. Her husband ‘grants her the freedom’ to pursue her passions, as a hobby. Her spontaneous dance in their courtyard was talked of by the family for years. It is to this joyless existence that the German guy Walter Spies and his friend makes an appearance. She had met him years ago on her trip to Bali along with her father. Their bohemian life, with no apparent restrictions, the freedom to do whatever they felt like, whenever and wherever they wanted to, reawakenes Gayathri’s spirits and aspirations that finally leads to her leaving her home.

Myshkin lives his life in the eternal hope of his mother’s return until a bunch of letters finds its way to him, telling him stories that he longed to know. How he missed leaving with his mother by just a few hours, and her life after that. Maybe, if those letters had reached him a few years earlier, his life might have turned out different.

More than the main story or the exquisite manner of writing ( though the details made me skip more than a few lines), it was the underlying questions that disturbed me. I don’t know whether disturbed  is the right word. I was reminded of the Malayalam actor Manju Warrier’s so called come back movie ‘How Old Are You?’ and the question that the movie was centered around,

”Who decides the expiry date of a woman’s dreams?”

For argument’s sake you may counter it’s not just for the woman. Maybe. But the fact remains that more often than not, the moment the knot is tied around her neck, she is expected to instantly reincarnate herself into a capable, efficient and obedient home maker. You may argue times have changes, however the norm remains more often than not. There are modern minded men, of course. Most of them are like Gayatri’s husband, though. He, who takes pride in moving with the times realizes late that

‘her freedom was always with his acquiescence.’

Looking at many a woman who have passionately gone after their dreams, their journey seem to have been a lone path. There are some who have spread their wings after years of keeping them tied down, some willingly, most with a seething defiance within. And the ones who break free, their journeys were never smooth. Life was tougher by all practical means, much different from the ‘protected’ life they were used to. But if you ever get to ask any of them whether they would have gone back to what was, I’m sure the answer would be a resounding no. For they know the past would have been far worse than anything that came after.

I guess that is what this story was finally about. What could be, and what could have been. Jumping down a precipice with your eyes open, all sense keenly aware. Who knows, there might be a parachute on your back that you never knew about. But then, you would have to make that leap of faith to really know, wouldn’t you?


‘An Always Within Never’


You get a chance or take a conscious decision to unwind, go slow. Truly. Taking each moment as it comes, not rushing anything, even your thoughts. Dishes stay the sink, dust settles on the carpet, family gets leftovers to eat, office calls get ignored, “hello, I’m on vacation, didn’t you know?” 

“Are you going anywhere?” people ask.

“Yes,” I smile and withdraw, into myself. 

A few cakes baked, without the customary frenzy of yesteryears. Christmas lunch, simple, done and dusted. There is this unusual pull to go silent, curl myself into a warm cocoon and breathe. “Peace unto you,”the soul says. “Yes, I need it,” says the brain. The heart, it just smiles, beatifically. “Just what I’ve been telling you both,” she says.

The book falls into my lap, no surprises there. As always. The right one, at the right moment. ‘Love, Henri: Letter on the Spiritual Life’ reminding me why I’ve been feeling listless. This was an year that had taken a toll on me, drained me out almost totally. 

“you need a lot of time for yourself to read, to write, to study, to meditate, to pray, to just be alone. If you do not claim that for yourself, you are not hospitable enough because you do not create the quiet restful place where people can find healing.”

Yes, a healer. That’s what a dear friend called me, and I believe her. 

Then I shut myself up in a room. With Shahabaz Aman and his ‘Songs of Love’.  The next few hours are in ‘jannat’. There is no other word for the experience. The night I found the true meaning of the phrase ‘music heals.’ How it soothes you to the very depths of your soul, whispers to you softly that everything is as it should be, that in spite of everything, life is still yours. To live. To love. How beautiful it is, how blessed you are. 

I go back, as I do from time to time. Whenever something touches me deeply and a sigh escapes my lips as though my soul is being lifted up to the stars. To that sweet child Paloma from ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’

“Thinking back on it, this evening, with my heart and my stomach all like jelly, I have finally concluded, maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.

Yes, that’s it, an always within never.”

An always within never. 

May each of you find your very own ‘always within never’ in the coming year!

A joyous, peaceful 2019 to you and yours!

How they find me

Reminiscing the Reads


The name of the movie came up time and again as I flipped through Netflix. A lazy Sunday evening seemed the perfect time to watch it, finally. I had found the book quite underwhelming, so did not expect much from the movie. It was a pleasant surprise to have been absolutely delighted. Meryl Streep, as phenomenal as always. The movie, you ask? Well, ‘Julia & Julie’ 🙂

The reminiscing mode switched on afterwards. If I had to take up a project for a year, what would it be? Not ready to kill myself by experimenting with a new recipe everyday when these days cooking is done in between the short intervals from work, what would be the next best option, I wondered. Maybe a recipe a week, from books I’ve read or that I will? Patting my back, I told myself, “brilliant idea!” Try it out, it’s easy. Patting yourself…

View original post 288 more words

Reminiscing the Reads


An 18 year old Australian girl goes to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange program, hears of an execution which incidentally is the last one there, then spends ten years in research and converts it into a spellbinding story – that is Hannah Kent and her debut novel ‘Burial Rites’ for you.

Agnes Magnusdottir is awaiting execution for the murder of her former employer and his friend. The story is set in early 19th century. The execution is to happen in the area where it happened, but there are no prisons there. Jon Jonson, a regional official is forced to take her into his household for safekeeping until the deed is done. His wife Margaret and their two daughters have mixed reactions to Agnes being with them. The story unfolds mostly through Agnes narrating it to Toti, the young priest who is assigned to make her repent before her death.


View original post 434 more words



You look up to her in your childhood, hate her in your teens, promise yourself never to bring up your kids like she did hers, slowly start understanding her in your youth, start loving her again after you get married, look at her with awe when you start bringing up your own kids and ultimately turn out to be her. Whether you like it or not 😉

Cutlets are a staple on Syrian Christian dining tables. And for a young mother who had to pack five lunch boxes every morning, it was a life saver. The accompanying concoction of sliced onions, tomatoes and green chilies mixed with vigor in the ‘naadan kallu’ vinegar was to die for. The very memory of that rice that had been blessed with the essence of this combo can still make my mouth filled with water that is enough to launch at least one of those proverbial ships. No wonder, Beef cutlets are a staple on all our tables too. And if that was not enough, she had made my son eat enough of her kickass combo of ‘kanji,’ ‘payar’ and cutlet to make him a slave to these for life. My mother, who must be chuckling away to glory in her heavenly abode. Blessed be her soul as were the cutlets that she fed us all her life long.

Believe it or not, for the first time in my life, I’ve started packing lunch boxes. May the soul of their old school be blessed, them that served nutritious lunch to scores of children over the years. And may the unearthly amount that we had to dish out as fees may lay forgotten. Anyway, coming back to the point of lunch, for the first two days I was all excited like a kid on the first day of her school enjoying the rains, grilling chicken and making steaks out of Beef. Then started the longing, for those maid-en days. When kitchen was a place I visited, maybe to get a glass of water, once in a long while. By the time it is Sunday noon, realization hits. No amount of sweet nostalgia is going stop me from being hit by bouts of reality. Better earlier than at five o’clock on a Monday morning.

So I turn into my mother. Churning out cutlet after cutlet on a Sunday afternoon. And I know this is the beginning of a weekly ritual.

p.s. Now, I am worried. What if my daughter turns out into me ? 🤔🤔🤔

Life On The Other Side


My left hand still searches for the gear lever and hits the car door instead of my son’s bony knees. I’ve learned bed is not a mere bed, but is made up of bits and pieces that you can chose to bring together or not. That a bathroom could very well be the biggest room in your house, or that the sheer variety of it could even make you stop drinking milk. I’ve also realized the vast difference between American Chinese, Indian Chinese and mere Chinese. And I’m thankful for the sheer beauty of this place that I now live in.

I’ve always seen brilliant women take it slow in their career as they reach middle age and their kids turn teens and start the exams of their lives. Even before that, in many cases. In the fresh or should I say naive and maybe foolish days of my youth, I would never have thought that one day that is what I would do as well. Not that I was so brilliant anyway, but that’s besides the point. When I got married, the only thing I wanted was for us to be together. A soaring career was not in my dreams anyway. To cut a long story short, I got back , not to be a rat in a race, I was missing having people around and thought my brain was rotting, not to mention the phase of being a pest to the husband as well.

Now, are you wondering what has the two got to do with each other – the move and being career woman? Well, I’d never lived the life of a man, if I may say so. Or at least as I see it. The change in routine and what you are familiar with is taken for granted when you move even from one house to another in the same city, not to mention across continents.

The biggest change I’ve been noticing is in my work. Or, the way I work. It’s total abandon. Priorities shifted. The wake up thoughts moved from how to wake the kids up to how to tackle that client meeting today. Not that it was not a focus earlier. It was the only focus now. Forget about cooking, no thoughts of what to eat today, not to mention what to make for the family or even what the maid has to cook. Kids’ illness, doctor’s appointments, school projects, milk man, electricity bills, booking gas, every domestic thing flew out of the window. Dust gathered, bed was not made, but who cared? Yes, I was informed. Daughter sprained her leg, son had to have a root canal done a few days prior to his board exams, maid didn’t turn up for a day, there was no milk in the fridge. I listened. And that was it. In the RACI of life, I had moved from the extreme left of being Responsible to the extreme right of being Informed of.

Isn’t this how it is for most men? Yes, they do take care, they care for their families. I am not denying that even for a moment. But how much of their mental space is occupied by the nitty gritties, the realities of day to day living? And what occupies that space instead? In most cases, the instant answer would be work, or even their passion.

I’ve had colleagues who have taken breaks during their kids’ board exams. And they were not the paranoid ones who breathes down their son’s neck for 24 hours. They are the no nonsense, head firmly on their shoulders ones who know their value very clearly as well as the value of what they were giving up. What prompted them to take that break, I’ve wondered. Was it guilt, a sense of possibly misplaces responsibility, or sheer frustration of handling it all together?

Yes, it is a choice as some of you might say. And yes, I did make that choice years ago, and there is not even an ounce of regret as I reminisce over all the years past. I’ve had plenty of time for going over many things in the last two months of solitude. Just that being away has made me realize the enormity of that space in our minds and what occupies it at each phase of our lives and according to the roles we play.

Space has a new meaning now, and I hope each of us women get the luxury of that space in our lives, at least now and then. A place for being away from everything, where our minds and bodies are able to wander freely, we walk or run or jump or somersault in the air, at our own pace, in our own rhythm.

Saying that every day is a woman’s day is a cliche now. Instead, can the men who really care, help their women find their special space, let them be on their own, for a few days? Now, that would be a real Woman’s Day gift.

Meanwhile stay blessed, all the special women in my life!

(p.s. no envy, please. Life will be back to normal in two weeks :D)

Kanhaiya ki Bansuri


The costumes befitted their personalities. The quintessential FabIndia kurta for the erudite professor from JNU, khadi jacket over a thick cotton kurta for the chief editor, plain pants and blue checks for the earnest journalist turned novelist, made to order, impeccable designer pants, linen shirt and polished to perfection brown shoes for the serious man, designer silk kurta and salwar for the TV personality and well fitting semi formals for the moderator. Along with them, in a crumpled off white shirt and an ordinary pants,worn chappals on his feet, his hair in total disarray, appeared the boy. The darling of the masses, or so it seemed from the thundering applause that accompanied him.

The discussion started off quite amicably, with each one making their points without much fan fare. The professor expressing his angst, the editor opining that one shouldn’t expect everything to come from within, certain things like nationalism has to be forced down our throats, irrespective of who or what we are. The author seemed to be the only one with no agenda, his words were pure angst. The serious man spoke in measured tones, about North Indian nationalism vs. South Indian. Then came the boy. He was obviously not used to sitting on a plush white sofa and discussing life in impeccable English. With the moderator’s permission, he stood up, apologized in English of his inability to speak the language and moved on to Hindi. That his words were hitting its mark was evident from the applause that followed many a statement of his. He spoke spontaneously, for these were sentiments that were repeated by him time and again. The moderator in his opening session had mentioned that the boy and his professor had started the arguments on nationalism. The boy refuted it, referring to the Constitution. He sounded like a seasoned politician. The TV lady just kept on screaming, I hardly remember anything she said.

It was in the second round that reality jumped out of the perfect attires. The professor’s was a lecture. How it is a question of integrity, rather than of left or right, nationalist or populist. The editor chose his words carefully, but his true feelings jumped out in the end. ‘Triumph of the deplorables,’ he was heard quoting. The author put it in beautiful words, “populism is a false story told very well.’ It was the serious man who took derision to another level altogether. Sitting ramrod straight, his head held high and his upper lips stiff, the words that came out of his mouth was as condescending as those that come from his pen. It was so evident that he hated the boy and his ilk, he did not even have the courtesy to look at the boy on his face. And the boy gave it back, word by word, to each of them. To the insinuations hurled at him for being left, he answered, “yes sir, I’m left because I was left behind.”

I am not from JNU, I have not even visited the place. But, here was proof of what an educational institution could do. The confidence to question his teacher in a public forum, to tell him on his face, “sir, I want to be better than you,” could have come only from there. I am not denying the fact that all the mutual respect that was shown between the two would have been forced. In a different place and time, the situation could very well have been different.

The boy spoke to the audience, while three of the panelists spoke of the boy and to him. The topic of the discussion was by the way. Their body language showed how rattled they were by his popularity. The professor couldn’t hide it, he lost his cool in between. The editor seemed to accept the reality. And the serious man tried to hide his fear behind a veneer of disdain. The attack even turned personal at times. The boy appeared nonchalant throughout. When the discussion turned to how the elite owns the discourse on liberalism these days, he retorted, “sir, why should the elite own this? They are already liberated.”

“Isn’t he creepy?” a friend of mine had asked. “Have we created a monster?” asked another. The second question was foremost in mind. His words were inspiring, he was asking the right questions, I thought while listened to him. I was reminded of the ideal days of youth, where we questioned every seeming inequality. Wisdom may not come with age, but with enough practice, one learns to distance one’s self now and then and listen to the voice of reason. Yes, I was excited to listen to a powerful voice, one who asks the same questions as us. But there was this nagging feeling of having heard similar diatribes, the same tone elsewhere. Of a litany of ills of the then government, of a tone rising up and down in tune with the response, of the sentiments of the audience. Of almost an entire nation, turning blind and dumb. And that very voice seem to have created a clone. Only the words are different. And he is young.

In the previous day’s discussion on her book ‘Indira’ the moderator had asked Sagarika Ghose, “how would you compare Modi to Indira?” Her answer was classic, “I think Modi is the true heir to Indira.” That the boy reminded me of this response was not coincidental. He could very well turn out to be the next pied piper.

It was only the author that seemed genuinely concerned about what is happening in our country. The rest just played their part. Ironical that it was one of them that clearly called out the real problem we have today.

“It is not a matter of ideology, it is a matter of integrity.”

Jai Hind!

(My thoughts on the closing session of BLF 2017 – ‘Nationalism, Populism and the threat to the Global Liberal Order’.
The panelists (in the order they were seated) – Makarand Paranjape, R. Jagannathan, Suketu Mehta, Manu Jospeh, Harish Bijoor (moderator), Kanhaiya Kumar and Sagarika Ghose)