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It is another Sunday afternoon. My father and I have just returned from the gym. I can barely feel my legs as I lower myself onto the floor, by the sofa where my mother is seated. She is perusing the newspapers for the day- her morning ritual, reading out parts of articles that amuse her.

It is the 8th of May 2016.

This time last year, my mother was fighting for her life in the CCU Unit in a derelict hospital in Varanasi. I was away at that time, traveling through the less explored parts of China. I only knew about her condition when I landed in Singapore several days later. I still remember receiving the call from my father, telling me to make the necessary arrangements to come down as soon as possible because he didn’t know if my mother was going to make it.

I was 24 years old, and my mother was dying in a hospital very far away from me.

There are some moments in your existence where life makes sure that you are aware of your priorities very, very quickly. It is like a shock to your system – a violent, tumultuous shift of tectonic plates somewhere deep inside your soul that forces you to remember exactly what is important in life, exactly what matters most.

My life has been filled with those moments, and most of them have to do with my mother. To cut a long story short, I made it to India in time, my mother eventually made it out alive, and here we are today, her methodically reading her papers, and me sitting on the floor after a hectic morning workout.

My mother mispronounces a word and I quickly correct her, my voice laced with irritation. This is not an unusual occurence.

I wrote several days ago that I am very unforgiving of home. What I really meant to say was, I am very unforgiving of my mother. I expect perfection from her, in her deeds and in her thoughts, because to me, my mother is the pinnacle. She’s it. If she falters, then what more can one expect from mere mortals, random strangers, friends?

(A deeper fear is, if she falters, then what more can I expect from myself, her daughter, who is so far removed from all that she is?)

I don’t know how to rationalise these expectations. So instead, I unleash my derision on her. Picking on her for little things. Getting angry when there is no reason to be. Etc. Etc.

You would think that as someone who has nearly lost her mother several times in her life, I would have more perspective (what happened last year is just the tip of the iceberg that is my mother’s fantastical, almost miraculous life). But, I forget. It is easy to take for granted someone who gives unconditionally. It is easy to take for granted someone who is so good at what she does, and who she is – be it keeping the house clean, managing the finances, having excellent aesthetic sense, giving advice, etc – that it is easy to forget that she too is human, with her mood swings, her good and bad days, her insecurities, her infinite human complexes.

It is easy to let the little things cloud the bigger picture.

This period since I’ve been back home has been an exciting, sometimes turbulent, mostly joyful experience of getting to know my mother as the woman she is. It has been a journey of rediscovery, and a renewal of a relationship that has seen its fair share of wear and tear. It has been a journey of detaching enough to understand that my mother is her own woman, as much as I am my own woman. Our personalities are very similar, and yet, so different. Acknowledging the similarities and taking pride in that has been my journey. Acknowledging the differences and accepting that her daughter is her own person, has been her journey.

On most days, we meet in the middle, and laugh at each other. On other days, we yell at each other, our quick tempers rising to the fore and abating, with one of us eventually conceding and raising the peace flag.

And so life goes on, my mother and I walking our paths together, yet separate.

And today, there is only gratitude, that we have both arrived at this together, and that we will both continue together.

What more can any daughter ask for?

Happy Mother’s Day, dearie. For everything that you are, and for everything you’ve taught me to be.

 

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When a city makes you reminisce…

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(timcarterphoto.com)

Watch the way a city wakes up, sometimes ever so quickly, when there is no light, only the errant coughs of an early riser, the quick footfalls of someone rushing to work, the mad rush for early morning transport, the loud whistles of a steamer setting off, the creaking of old beds and older hearts, the silence of subway stations and the slight noise of just-open breakfast joints, the smells of fresh bagels and something slightly sweet,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the light falls on a building sometime just past 9am, watch the way the windows of a brownstone catch this light just so, watch the way it illuminates the railings along the fire-escape, watch the way the building receives and settles into being,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the traffic in a city builds up, watch the driver honk at the pedestrian who flips him a finger and tosses her hair, watch the lunch crowds settle in squares, watch the people rushing from store-front to store-front, watch the Big Apple come to life mid-day amidst the flurry of snow, watch another driver curse at a pedestrian,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the sun sets right over the park, watch the way the barren trees laden with snow glisten, bejewelled during the witching hour, watch the way he clasps her hand just a little tighter and the way she leans into him just a little closer, watch the park hold the families and the couples and the animals firmly in its embrace as it too, watches the setting sun,

and then, and then, you decide.

Watch the way the buildings so tall, so tall, glimmer and shake and shimmy in the night-time, watch her with the reddened cheeks and redder lips pose before the Broadway sign, watch the way the lights seem to get brighter as the night gets darker, and the buildings, so tall, so tall, watch the music grow louder and louder as the performers wow a crowd, and then two,

and then, and then, you decide.

If someone tells you that cities do not have souls, don’t believe them. At least, not immediately.

How do you feel when you write, he asks me. 

I tell him that it is a form of meditation for me. To sit in a space, with myself, to bring to the now things that have been promptly brushed aside, swept away, buried deep under the needs of the daily. I tell him it is my best way of expressing.

When was the last time you wrote, he asks me.

I tell him, not that long ago. He asks me again, more quietly this time.

I tell him, longer than it should have been. 

That afternoon, I sit with a cup of banana and oatmeal parfait, and a cup of unsweetened cappuccino, an orange notebook with blue pages, and a forest green pen, and write to myself about all the things that are and aren’t. 

I pen the conversation that happened earlier in the day, carefully, onto crisp blue. 

I think about how I am more partial to orange now, so partial that when I look at the sky dipped in citrusy glory, there is a budding in my heart that I have learnt to recognise as gratitude over the years. 

I stare at the forest green in between my fingers, and think of all the trees I have seen this year, all the rolling hills, all the beauty that is so generously given, day in and day out, beauty that I take for granted because of my 9-5, because of all my material comforts, because, because, because.

I stare at the the scrawl of words on that crisp blue, and look at the way my voice appears in this world, and remember, with gratitude, that I have a heart, and that it both rejoices and bleeds, and does its job well so that the other parts of my body can move with ease, can feel with ease.

It is only in the evening, that I realise, that he had not just been asking about how I feel when I wrote; he had been asking me how I felt when I truly lived with myself. 

The sun disappears into inky black, leaving orange whirlpools in the sky. There is a budding in my heart. 

I didn’t even realise it was Father’s Day until I woke up and my mother reminded me about it. Time does these things to people. We get so caught up in the quicksand of everyday that we forget important things, important dates, important people. Etc. 

So. It is Father’s Day today. In my opinion, it should be Father’s Day everyday, as it should be Mother’s Day and Poetry Day and Siblings Day and what have you will, every day. But we live in a world that sets aside times and dates to accrue importance to relationships we should be thankful for daily, so, yes, it is Father’s Day today.

These days, whenever I talk about life, I inadvertently talk about death. Or maybe, it’s the other way around. Whenever I talk about death, I find myself talking about life. 

In the last few months, as a family, we’ve seen a lot of death. I nearly lost my mother in May this year. I nearly lost my father in 2012. It has been a roller coaster of a ride, these last few years. In May, strangely enough, I found myself in a place where I had to sit down and think about incidents where I would have to deal with the death of my loved ones. Inadvertently, the first person I thought of was my father. 

(Anyone who knows me, knows that my father is my best friend. He was my first friend, first confidante, first playmate, first guide, first teacher, first partner-in-crime, first buddy. You know what they say about firsts. Your firsts usually set the standard for the type of people you invite into your life. But. I digress)

So there I am, sitting with a pen and paper, and thinking about how I would feel if my father died. The explosiveness of my own reactions over this hypothetical incident completely stunned me. I was writing, and wailing, mouth wide open, tears streaming down my face, feeling bereft and lost and lonely, going through every single emotion I would feel if it were to really happen. It was explosive. It was terribly shocking.

My father found me later during the day, nursing a cup of tea, eyes swollen and squinty, and asked if I was all right. I told him curtly that I had cried because I’d had to go through the death of my loved ones, and his was the first one I had thought about. He had a look of immense surprise on his face. 

“You mean you will really miss me that much when I’m gone?”

It took me aback, this question. It also gave me a much needed slap in the face about the kind of communicator I was (those of you who know me personally will sense the irony in this statement). 

I had always presumed that my father knew how much I loved him. I have always been terrible at telling my family how much they mean to me, but over the last few years, I had begun to make concerted efforts to speak to them more, be more physically affectionate, show my emotions more, etc. 

Clearly, I hadn’t been doing as much of as it as I thought I had. 

I don’t think I answered my father that day.

Only because, well, I’ve always been much better at writing about how I feel than talking about it.

The truth is, I’m the biggest groupie my father can ever have. It’s not because he buys me chocolates when I’m lonely and miserable (milk chocolates with almonds in them, no eggs); it’s not because he used to give me money on the sly when I wanted to buy books which my mother had strictly forbidden  because “too many books in the house, Arathi!”; it’s not because he takes care of my mother (and me) day and night when we aren’t well; it’s not because he always lets me play the music I want when we’re in the car together; it’s not because he follows me to watch my favourite actor’s films even though he hates said actor (not telling you who that is); it’s not because he makes fun of me at every chance he gets….

I’m my father’s biggest groupie because he is the only man I know who lives a life by example; something that I aspire to attain so ardently. He’s the man who first taught me that above and beyond every other principle in life, kindness was what I had to hold true to myself. He didn’t just tell me that, he lived by it. Everything I’ve learnt about treating other people, I’ve learnt from my father. Everything I’ve learnt about being a listener, I’ve learnt from my father. Everything I’ve learnt about discipline, good lord, I’ve learnt from my father. Everything I’ve learnt about breaking rules and following my heart, I’ve learnt from my father.

I mean, how could I ever not love him when he’s given me the most important things in life to live with? 

I know you’ll eventually read this, Dad, not because you actually check my blog conscientiously like I wish you would *cough*, but because I’m going to send this to you the moment I’m done.

You’re an inspiration to me because you’re an everyday hero. You make people’s lives better by being just who you are, nothing more, nothing less. You have a wicked sense of humour, which has taught me that nothing in life should be taken too seriously, that nothing in life is beyond laughter. You have taught me the best medicine to anything, and everything, is love, love, love, and that when you treat people right, the world aligns itself to you in the rightest of ways.

Thank you for being my inspiration, but more than anything else, for being my best friend, even if you’re a little weird sometimes, and even if we have arguments about the most inane of things. 

Your life will always be a celebration for me, Dad. Thank you for teaching me that, as well. 

Happy Father’s Day. 

Love, 

Your daughter.

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Of tattoos, memories, and a lifetime of stories. 

I saw the birds on my back woven on the pallu of my mother’s sari, and realised with startling clarity that I was trying to wind freedom around me , without realizing how stifling that could be.

I slip off my sari blouse and the air settles onto the wings of my birds; slowly, slowly, my back flexes into life.


There is something to be said about a woman whose shoulders can comfortably hold the weight of the world and her own freedom. Head held high, spine curving gently, dip of the hip, another tattoo, skin settled so gently over bones, tight muscle.

There is something to be said about this woman, who has birds on her back and blood in between her eyebrows. When she opens her mouth, something like love, escapes.

He watches the curve of her shoulder as her blouse slips down; the moonlight catches the slight shape of bone.