Tiny bits of stardust

You and me, we are all just tiny bits of stardust. A thousand million years ago, a bunch of stars exploded across the Milky Way into a gazillion little specks. You and me are one of them.

It is easy to forget that sometimes. It is easy to forget how insignificant yet priceless we are as we go through the daily grind of making a living and eking out the bills. And yet sometimes when you stop to listen to the birds chirping in the morning, or to stare at the stars at night, sometimes you feel like you’re part of a grand orchestra playing out in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes you remember that they put you on earth for a reason: to create something of value that will outlast your tiny insignificant lifespan. It could be anything – maybe you successfully defended a PhD and added a tiny speck to the world’s repository of knowledge. Maybe you taught a raggle taggle bunch of kids to reach for the stars, or you built or drew or envisioned something that people could use and admire. Maybe you raised honest and strong-willed boys and girls who will someday do their own great things. Maybe you wrote a song or a book or a poem, and changed someone’s life forever through it.

And what if you didn’t do any of that? What if you passed through the performance sitting tightly on stage, never lifting your trombone to your lips, never playing a note? No one would notice, of course, the orchestra is too loud and magnificent and everyone is doing pretty much what they damn please. No one would notice but you.

Tiny bits of stardust exploding across the Milky Way, you came from great places. It took a million little iterations in time and a thousand million chance occurrences for you to exist in this moment as a sentient being. Make it count.

(In picture: Infrared view of star formation region Messier 8, often called the Lagoon Nebula, captured by the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Source: ESO/VVV)

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To imperfection

In the ideal world there are no 2 a.m. dinners.

In the ideal world you eat three meals a day which magically appear at the table, before you set off to your awesome six-figure paying job.  Of course, life being what it is, you probably had to cook them yourself, but by now you’re an expert at this game and can dish out a biriyani or a fish moilee at the drop of a hat.

In the ideal world you fall in love at 21, get married by 27, have your first kid before 30. You probably own a car and your in-laws think you are the epitome of perfection.

Back in the real world, your bed still looks like it was hit by a tornado. Food is coffee and a sandwich and uppittu at the office canteen. But you have people who love you, and some days you do manage to get most of the things on your checklist done. And even if you fall asleep on the couch and wake up at midnight craving hot food, you can roll up your sleeves and make yourself a mean dinner.

And some days you get to do work that you feel proud of, or to make someone happy through a simple word or action, and it seems like all this is temporary: one day, all the loose ends will tie up to form a gorgeous ball of sunshine.

Meanwhile, the mother of two whose settledness you envy stays up till 2 until everybody sleeps, to savour the only moment of solitude she can get in a long day.

She hears in the morning azaan the same calming voice you do – memories of a simpler time.

Under Bengaluru’s trees

Did you know the tamarind tree came from Ethiopia two thousand years ago? Or that the vast majority of Bengaluru’s avenue trees are native to South America? In fact, so many commonly-used plants have come from that continent, the famous botanist and Kannada writer B.G.L. Swamy wrote a book called Namme Hotteyalli South America (South America in our stomach).

If you’ve ever stopped tree.jpgin the middle of the road to admire a gorgeous Pink Shower tree in bloom, a tree walk is right up your alley. The tree walk I dropped in for took place at Rest
House Park on Museum Road. We were led by our guide Arun, who, while not tree hugging or bird watching, runs a restaurant near Brigade Road. As for the tree walkers, they were an eclectic bunch, ranging from an editor of an e-magazine on sustainable living, an architect with a keen interest in permaculture farming, and a Ph.D. researcher from Los Angeles.

The walk nearly did not happen, because just as our guide began with a brief history on Bengaluru’s gardens, a security guard took umbrage to our “meeting”. After we convinced him of our harmless intentions, he reluctantly agreed. And then we set off.

“This here is the rain tree,” our guide began airily. The rain tree is a native of South America, its name possibly a shortened form of rainforest tree. It was once a popular avenue tree due to its leafy canopy, but of late municipal authorities have stopped planting it as its branches fall during heavy rains. It is a fast growing tree, says Arun, its soft timber a perfect choice for nesting barbets.

All the way from Madagascar

Next in line is the Gulmohar, a native of Madagascar; the mast tree (also called the False Ashoka!) with its tall, skinny frame and drooping leaves, and the Cassia Javanica or the Pink Shower Tree.

There are old favourites, the east India almond tree, the soap nut tree, the cannon ball tree. Fruit trees: mango, jackfruit, avocado and fig. Thin reed-like golden bamboo and stately silver oaks and mahogany trees. There are gorgeous flowering specimens like the flaming-red African tulip and the purple Jacaranda, waiting for spring to burst out in colour. It is astonishing that a space so concise can host more than 22 different species of trees.

Arun also identified a staggering variety of birds in the area, sometimes by just their call. Green enclaves are like magnets that draw the birds in, he stresses. The talk veers to current conservation methods, and how for various reasons, trees the city was known for are no longer being planted. Fast-growing trees are often adopted in sapling drives as they make for “good figures.”

We come to the end of our walk, each lingering in their own thoughts. There is a deep satisfaction in learning the names of trees and birds, it’s almost a feeling of groundedness. We talk about the altercation with the guard, about how ‘public’ our public spaces truly are. Someone fondly recalls the trees from their childhood, and reminisce how their beloved city is fast losing something that defined it for decades.

“It’s easy to learn about trees,” says our guide, before parting. “They aren’t going anywhere soon.”

Now that’s definitely a thought to take home.

(This piece first appeared in The Hindu Metroplus)

Of starry nights and summer skies

Starry skies croppedAnd this too is precious. Friends dozing off at your place, after a day of eating too much and walking way too much. There’s a quiet humdrumness in the air, the sort that comes when you’re comfortable enough to sleep in someone’s presence.

We have met so many times since parting; in different cities, over different seasons. We are different people each time, and yet in fifteen minutes we find our common ground. Continue reading “Of starry nights and summer skies”

The forgotten gift

You have a gift. Use it well.

​Many years ago, when you were young and green and the world was your oyster, someone said those words to you. Oh, the innocence of youth! You believed it then. You had a gift, you thought. You had something special to give the world, something only you could create. You were a very, very special being.​​Those were the days, of heady first loves and limitless possibilities, when every plot idea you conjured had the makings of a potential bestseller. Today those storyboards sound so ridiculous. Today you couldn’t think of a novel-worthy story idea if someone put a gun to your head. That super-confident self has disappeared, buried and defeated among a pile of rejection letters and not-too-polite brush-offs.
 
You take to the internet to write, because on the blogosphere the rules are relaxed and everyone’s hair is down. You can be anyone you fancy, manic-pixie-dream-girl one day, activist-with-a-cause the next. The anonymity, the freedom, are intoxicating. But even here, you find minor celebrities, people who are loud and forceful with their opinions, people you will never be. Are you not good enough, you wonder. A small quiet voice tells you, but you have a gift, child. 
 
Each passing day, you believe it less and less.

You stop attempting poetry, because someone once thought it wasn’t worth commenting on. They were probably right, you think. Poetry calls for a kind of sensitivity and empathy you sorely lack, anyhow.
 
You still write, of course. Not as much as in your halcyon days, but a little bit. In the middle of a tawdry job and the daily humdrum of life, you try to do something about that little promise you held out as a child.
 
One day, spurred by gushing reviews from a few well-meaning friends, you enter a writing contest. You wait, days, weeks, months, thinking that somehow this could be it.  Your breakthrough. You imagine telling your friends about the victory. Guess who won the xyz award this year? 🙂 🙂 🙂 Classy was never really your forte.
 
And then the day dawns, and you look up the results eagerly, thinking that maybe, just maybe, you might have won something; perhaps a consolation prize or an honourable mention, and you see your name is not up there. And you labour down the list, because hey, lots of dimwitted fools like you wanted to know if they at least made it to the top 10, and the magazine obliged by publishing a list. And you slowly make your way down the list, rereading each bio carefully, because what if you miss yours? But it isn’t there. A tight squeezing feeling constricts your chest, and you struggle to look nonchalant.
 
You have a gift.
 
​Some day, you will stop believing those words, and something will die inside you. ​

Random musings on a Monday morning

So here I am, lazing in bed, writing nonsense because I have 200 things on my to-do-list and don’t know where to start. Some random observations at this moment:

1. I’ve just realised I’m not a very nice person. Now if you knew me in person you might disagree, but believe me, it’s all an act. In my head I call you the vilest of names and wish unspeakable things to you.

2. I hate my job at the moment. It sucks! Mostly it has to do with stuff I can’t elaborate on, because though it’s getting on my nerves right now, on good days I like what I do and saying anything more is a sure shot way to not get to do it anymore.

3. So I was skimming through the education supplement in the newspaper and feeling envious of all the young ducks studying hornbills in Ecuador and doing their Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, when I realised: this envy is never going to end. At some point or the other I’ve wanted to do practically everything under the sun, and the wisdom (!!) of passing years tells me that unless I can somehow turn back time and live three lifetimes in one, that isn’t happening. The other thing I’ve come to accept is that this crushing restlessness is going to last me my whole life. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s good to never settle, to always be searching for greener pastures. The whole idea of knowing your goal in life is a scam sold by puerile aunts and columnists in aforesaid education supplements, methinks.

4. These to-do lists will never end. No point stressing over them. This isn’t really something I get most of the time. Mostly I’m either frantically rushing from one place to another, or so bugged by everything I end up doing nothing. Mostly it’s the latter.

5. After staring at the screen for a good half hour, it strikes me: I’m not good at long pieces. Woe betide if I have to write something longer than 350 words. At the stroke of 350, realisation dawns about what balderdash I write and how terrible I’m at it, and how I’ll never be the writer I dream of being and how much I suck at ‘ideating’. (By the way, this is a fancy new word I learnt in office recently.) On a more positive note, I am definitely a copy-editor’s dream. I always put in less then the amount of words asked for. The moment I reach the golden number, I’m dying to hit the send button and run away.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ciao!

A little whimsy

I sat there, forcing myself into that uncomfortable space.  Putting my phone away, feeling that “incredible loneliness”, as Louis put it. Listening, really listening, to my despair.

That Crillon cake was perfect. And the tea too. It’s good to be able to feel it; that aloneness. You can almost hear them, those unhappy thoughts, wailing as they crawl inside. And all those shiny happy faces… are they looking at you, wondering what you’re doing? No, they’re living out their lives, just as you are. You’re the stranger in the window they see for a fleeting second.

A moment of sonder strikes you. You leave a note for the stranger who will take your seat. “To the person who sits here next: have a wonderful day.”

Continue reading “A little whimsy”

A cup of tea, all nice and buttery

Somehow salty tea always reminds me of that saccharine sweet, a-tad-too-sentimental (and definitely not my kind :P) SMS forward: A guy takes a pretty girl on a date and he is so nervous he asks the waiter for salt in his coffee. She asks why, he says it reminds him of the saltiness in the sea he grew up nearby. The girl, obviously, (insert eye-roll here) is quite touched. They fall in love, get married, and he never musters the courage to tell her that he really doesn’t like salt in his coffee. And then one day, he dies, and she finds a letter from him:  (copied verbatim from just about everywhere on the internet)

“My dearest, please forgive me, forgive my whole life’s lie. This was the only lie I said to you — the salty coffee. Remember the first time we dated? I was so nervous at that time, actually I wanted some sugar, but I said salt. I never thought that could be the start of our communication!”

Long story short, he drank that horrible, horrible coffee for forty years out of his undying love for her. And whenever someone asked her how salty coffee tasted, she would say, “It tastes sweet.” (Aww…) Okay! If you’re still around, and haven’t sworn to never come back here again, salty tea isn’t as uncommon  as salty coffee. No one has (yet) written a sugary-sweet love story about it though, which is kind of sad. Drinking butter tea is a much-loved ritual among Tibetans and Kashmiris (who prefer to call it nun chai) . In monasteries dotting the Himalayas, Buddhist lamas down several cups a day through the winters. I remember having a delightful cup of the beverage on a chilly morning years ago, at a monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim. While I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone (it’s a bit of an acquired taste); the warm buttery flavour melting on your tongue, coupled with the startling realisation that tea doesn’t have to be sweet, makes it worth a try.

So today morning (er, do not ask when my mornings begin… ) I had milk and tea leaves boiling away to high glory when I realised I was clean out of sugar. Hmm, why not try some butter tea? My recipe (makes one cup): ¾ cup water, ¼ cup milk, 1 tsp tea leaves,  ¼ tsp salt, a few shavings of butter, and a small chunk of Toblerone. (The last item because I thought the tea would need a bit of sweetener, and besides, doesn’t chocolate tea sound awesome?) Boil tea like you usually do, and when it’s the right shade of golden brown, add the butter, salt and chocolate. (Traditional recipes call for churning the tea with yak butter in a churner/blender.) Give it a swirl, take out your fancy cups, and there you have it, delicious butter tea!

A morning at the terrace

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(Wrote this quite some time ago. Still love mornings. 🙂 )

“What makes you truly happy?”

Somebody posed this question to me once. It’s a question we should all have an answer to, a Happy Place where life seems a little easier. Eventually I decided on this: “The smell of earth after the first showers… and watching the sunrise from the terrace.” Well, there are months for the rains to arrive, but the sun comes out every day!

I love my mornings on the terrace. Since the sun peeps out at five o’ clock in this part of the world; it’s like putting aside an extra hour just for yourself, that would otherwise have slipped by under the blanket cover. And so I traipse up two flights of stairs to greet the dawn. The air is chilly, the silence so stark you can hear your heart’s whisper. Some sounds come alive at the crack of dawn; crickets chirping, a hundred different bird songs. The birds are always there… mynahs, sparrows, pigeons and parakeets. On lucky days, you can spot leaf-birds and blue kingfishers in the trees.

The enchantment starts from the moment the night sky pales. You wait, and just as the chill seeps into your bones, the first rays of dawn spray over the horizon, spreading a tingling of warmth through your blood. Before your unsuspecting eyes, the grey pallor of the night sky melts away into an azure blue. The sun jostles through the clouds in a subdued shade of crimson. The chirping starts, first timidly, then louder; till it’s a cacophony of sounds. A new day has arrived.

You can see the lake from up here, it’s still waters reflecting the morning’s calm. Of course, the lake looks prettiest when the sun dips into the waters. It’s a sight so beautiful that it can take your breath away. But I’ll leave the sunset for another day. Today, let’s celebrate the morning. A time to mull over the day ahead; a time to ponder over the purpose of life. Because you’ve just been given another day to do something glorious, something so satisfying it could be worth all your yesteryears put together.

The magical moment of dawn break is over. The sun is astride and getting in my eyes, in fact it’s so hot that drops of sweat have begun to trickle down my forehead. Too soon a journey from the bliss of dawn to the fierce sunlight telling you, “Off to work!” Like my childhood days that are now up, leaving only the glare of youth upon me, urging me to do my part, before my sunrises are up and gone forever…

Things are just things

So this is what comes of having too much stuff. We had a rat in our house some weeks ago, and got rid of it only after discovering it had destroyed much of my roommate’s luggage, which had been kept in the store room. I did a cursory check of my bags, decided they looked ok, and left it at that.

But today I found that a lot of stuff had gone: the sari I wore for my convocation. Shirts for my brother and Dad. A salwar kameez that was a birthday gift from college friends. Everything had holes nibbled in them, and newspaper scraps and tea leaves (!!) strewn among the lot. (Lesson learnt: never keep extra Lipton tea bags among clothes.)  Somehow the rat had figured out everything that was new/gifted/meant-as-a-gift, and ripped it to pieces.

Mom says rats are Ganapathi’s vaahanam and I should go pray at a temple. No clue how that’s going to help, but yeah.. mothers are like that.

I’m not really sad. Things are just things. And at least I didn’t lose anything extremely valuable, like documents or marksheets. I couldn’t do much, except wonder how to salvage what was left. The sari looks like it might be fixed with some cutting and darning and trips to the tailor. As for the shirts, maybe I should try this:

Either that, or I could make lots and lots of handkerchiefs. Hmm… any cute kids to dress up in the vicinity? 🙂