Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Hard Gulp

 A hard gulp
I bend over the dishes
And my spine cries out
Why you bending over woman?

A hard blink
My son's warm hand
Cupping my cheek
Smile at me mommy
He says with a kiss

A hard thought
Lodged between my teeth
Can't spit... bad manners
Can't swallow...bad health
Words crowding behind
Craning their neck
Peering at the rim
Caught suddenly
In a sudden downpour
Slipping and sliding
Bobbing and hiding
Weaving through salt
To flow away forever...
Into silence...

Liquid death
Gulp, hard, swallow, steady....

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Is It My Window?

Is It My Window?

It's 11 PM
It must be cold, it must be dark
My house is warm, soft and safe
My children asleep
I’m turning in
When all at once
I hear the sound
A small, soft tap
Again and again
My heart starts to pound
Is it my window?

It’s 11:05 PM
It’s turned cold, it’s very very dark
My house feels frail, the windows look stark
I am a mother with little children
So I must be brave
I creep outside and find you there
Sitting in your car
A few yards away
With a thread to the coin,
coin taped to my window
Laughing at my terror
It’s just a prank do you say?
Oh yes! I can see you
But do you see me?
My confusion?
My fear?
To tape that coin, would any window have worked tonight?

Or is there more to your laugh than I am able to hear?
Do you know I visit temples or mosques or churches?
Have you watched me and know I have sun splashed arms?
Or have you heard my voice lilt with accented charm?
Did you notice my name on the plate out front?

It’s 11:10 PM
I’m scared tonight
Not for your silly pranks and smiles
But for the thoughts that ricochet in my mind
All I need to know as I stand barefoot on my porch
Would any window have worked to tape your coin, young one?
Or is it only my window that beckons you tonight?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

                             One Billion Rising- By Advait D. Ranganthan (9 yrs.)

Women have courage. People don't understand this.

People dislike women because of what they are; not who they are. Which is wrong.

When women get angry, they sound like a billion gongs.

Men think women are weak, don't have anything; that they are useless.

But they lack knowing one thing: WITHOUT WOMEN, there will be no people!

If you killed all the women in the world, in a few days you would probably be the last person on Earth.

Remember one thing, Without women, this very Earth you are living on, is useless.


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sharma jee Sharam Karo!

Duniya ne hahakaar machaai
Auraton ki kari badhaai
Chid rahi ik nayee ladayee
Sharma jee ko sharam na aaii

Draupadi shastra utha kar aaii
Sita ne bhi kamar kasaai
Gandhaari ki bhi aankh khul aaii
Sharma jee ko sharam na aaii

Bhayaanak maut naachti aaii
Kaanp rahe sab, raam duhaii
Duniya ne hahakaar machaai
Sharma jee ko sharam na aaii

In response to the lawyer's comments on the Delhi rape case:

Friday, January 04, 2013

An Affair to Remeber

Let's have a quiet affair they said
Some prayers, a candle, a march and a vigil
Come, have a quiet affair they said
An evening of mourning, a night of remembrance
A quiet, quiet affair they said....

 WELL! Yes!
I'm up for an affair!
A raucous, romping affair instead
An affair with freedom, a reckless affair for my rights
A blistering affair with a smoldering revolution

 And oh!
I have some affairs
 Some affairs I must settle with people
Small, secret people with small, secret thoughts
I have some affairs to settle with mothers
Who chain me at home and stifle my sigh
I have some affairs to settle with fathers
Who touch me at night and stifle my cry
I have some affairs to settle with brothers
Who hack off my head with a righteous knife
I have some affairs to settle with sisters
 Who pluck off my wings before I take flight
I have some affairs to settle with husbands
Who draw me a line and tell me stay safe inside
I have some affairs to settle with wives
Who tell me I'm no more than the children I bear
And yet some affairs to settle with the passer bys
Who bless my destruction and applaud my submission
A few to settle with the leaders of the land
With blinders on of archaic tradition

 Oh yes! I say!
 Let's have an affair!
A roaring, romping, raucous affair
 I quite like having 'em affairs you see
'Cause they just won't get started but for ME.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Bittersweet Tri-Color

September 7th 2011, Paramount Theater. 9:15AM. My husband and I sit quietly in the cool, dark auditorium. A woman brushes past us. Congratulations! She mouths. I give a wry smile and wave back weakly. A man comes out onstage and takes his place behind the microphone. The ceremony begins.
It’s time to get our American citizenship.
My heart is sinking.
I glance at my iPhone; a missed call from my mother. I hesitate to call her back.
My family has a long and passionate love affair with India. My grandmother, aunts, grandfather all fought in the freedom struggle under Gandhi. Just a month back my aunt appeared in the media, supporting Anna Hazaare, denouncing corruption, recalling her memories at the Gandhi Ashram. One uncle was the Foreign Secretary, another uncle served in the Air Force, my mother is a Commissioner in the Information Commission. To be Indian and serve India has been the constant chant in my ears growing up. And yet—here I am. At the Paramount theatre, ready to be re-baptized.
My head hangs lower.
The presenter is now making light jokes, eliciting nervous giggles. He introduces another colleague. A lady from the electoral office. She informs us about the importance of voting. A few more pleasantries and then we are asked to stand up and sing the Star Spangled Banner. My eyes are welling up and my voice chokes. The hall is ringing with melody; but I am thinking Sujalaam Suphalaam Malayaja Sheetalam Shasya Shyaamala Maataram….Vande Maataram. I sink back into my chair. I cannot go through this. I feel claustrophobic.
I suddenly desperately wish my children were there. I know it’s impossible… after all they’re in school — but lo! at their thought my restlessness disappears. Instead a reel starts spinning. I think back to their birth – the nurses helping me lovingly; their school - teachers aiding them on patiently. In my mind’s eye I see the parks we play in, the roads we travel on, the policeman who patrols our neighborhood at night, my colleagues back at the office waiting to hear from me, the restaurants we eat in, the roses in my backyard, my favorite printed quilt on my CalKing bed– what has this new motherland not given me? For 13 years she has fed me, petted me, nurtured my dreams, my children - and yet, today I hanker after another mother I left behind. Funnily, suddenly, I think of Sri Krishna. Born of one mother, reared by another. True to both. Yet belonging to none. Known for himself, yet known as theirs too!
So the question is, can we be like that? Can we belong to all and yet to none at all?
Of course I can’t find an answer in the middle of Paramount Theatre, but I am much steadied.
Now a lady is reading out an alphabetized list of countries and applicants from each country are standing up. I like that. I am yearning to hear India’s name, acknowledge one last time I am an Indian. India! I hear it at last and spring up. I think about the people who designed this ceremony - what an incredibly sensitive thing to do. I love standing up for India this one last time, as an Indian!
The presenter beams down at us. She is acknowledging that each of us brings something special from our motherland. Yes! I nod emotionally. I see many people doing the same. But now – she continues- today we will all come together as one. We are what we are but we are also now fellow Americans.
Is that the true meaning of being American, I wonder. Am I being re-born a global citizen?
Not really. The oath dispels my illusions.
We stand up to take the oath. This time my voice is steady. I pledge allegiance to America. I renounce my fidelity to any other sovereign nation. I promise to bear arms for America. It takes all my strength to say the words aloud - yet I do it. I know some people fall silent or pacify themselves knowing they ‘don’t really mean it.’ But I repeat each word clearly. There’s no waffling mid-stream.
And so I have embarked on a new journey –from my Janmabhoomi to my Karmabhoomi. Many have crossed this chasm, so I hope it can be done. For now I am poised at the precipice. I am patiently weaving a tri-colored net. Orange, green, white. Red, white, blue. White… the white is comforting… White… Peace to me. Peace to my motherlands. Peace to my bittersweet tri-colors...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Who moved by Vitamin D?

This morning I wanted to call the pundits to my house. Light the holy flames, fill my house with Vedic chants and dissolve my grief like golden ghee melting blissfully on wooden chips.

On most days the puja room in my house is a locked door. I trip past it happily on my way to work, trudge past it groggily on my way to bed. Ignore it most weekends through the clinks of wine glasses. But today is different. I am coping with the death of a 6 year old; I am grieving the loss of a twenty year old. I am dreading a surgery on my dearest friend. Illness, death, loss- a mirror to my mortality. A message that my clich├ęd haven of two children, a loving husband and a big, warm house are tenuous- oh so very temporary. So very transitory.

I have looked in this mirror before. I have faced losses before. One parent, uncles, grandmother...many painful losses seemingly washed away by exuberant youthful memories. My first beer, my first kiss, the first ride on my Honda, my first paycheck, my firstborn... And yet, yet- when I sat down to meditate this morning, the tears that rolled were not for my friend. They were for me. For all the people I have lost, for all the connections I have had to severe because death gives you no choice. When I closed my eyes and chanted the Mahamrityunjaya I prayed most desperately for myself above all else. As I sat in silence looking at the peaceful smile on Buddha's face, I begged for my sanity above anything else.

And perhaps, that's what God ultimately is all about. That's what praying is all about. It’s about a rock that you sit tight on when the seas start churning. No matter how far out you have swum, when that perfect storm whips up, you are going to swim right back to it. Land is far away. The sea bed is miles below. Your choice is to climb aboard that rock or sink with complete abandon.

I was fascinated when I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The book raises many questions on the existence of a supreme external being, especially when revered through orthodox channels of prayer and religion. It spurred many a discussions in our living room too. We extrapolated at length. What is God? Who is God? Should we believe in God? Is the act of praying important? Is a physical manifestation of our spirituality necessary? Should I teach my children all the little customs and religious practices we often watch our parents perform and join in condescendingly only after a little disbelieving shake of our heads? Ultimately, should I ask my children to pray every morning?

Spurred by doubt, aided by lethargy, blinded by the bustle of daily chores it was just easier to let go. To drop the evening meditations taught by my grandmother. To spurn the morning salutations suggested by my mother-in-law. To start believing in my invincibility. Did I let go of something important? Did I lose something precious?

This morning, in this searing moment of pain, I realize the answer is a crystal clear YES. (Displaying my oh-so-deep Bollywood roots) I am reminded of a scene in Abhimaan. The hero (Amitabh)asks the leading lady (Jaya) if she believes in religious practices and God. I recall her simple answer "Babuji kehete hain behes mein kuch nahi rakhaa.Vishwaas hi sab kuch hai." (My father says there is nothing to be found in arguments. Faith is everything) While I certainly don't endorse superstition or close-minded fanaticism, there is truth to these words. And it comes shining through in moments when we lose our ability to argue or be logical!

We are wired to look for God when we land in trouble. It’s an instinct as primal as a child hiding behind its mother for protection. But very few of us are evolved enough to find this comfort and strength from abstract spirituality alone. We understand life through our five senses. And that exactly is how we should also understand Death and seek comfort in our conflicted moments. To simply be good and spiritual in daily actions is not enough when the mind is reeling. We need to breathe in the fragrance of an incense stick, we need to hear the chime of the arati bell, we need to see the regal countenance of a merciful God looking back at us with a gentle gaze, we need to feel the stickiness of prasaad on our fingers, we need to taste the cooling assurance of tulasi water...and then, slowly our senses soak in some perspective, some slivers of hope. It’s a sense of sharing and community; Human sympathy and superhuman love reach us in ways we can finally understand. The simplest analogy I can draw is that Vitamin D is needed to absorb Calcium, so is the act of praying for us to absorb God.

So just as I teach my children table manners and find them piano teachers, I must also teach them how to find their faith and keep it. And just as I take myself to the gym and enroll in professional courses, so must I practice my faith daily, even when mortality does not stare me down with stony eyes. In the famous words of Kabir "Dukh me sumiran sab kare, sukh me kare na koi, Jo sukh me sumiran kare, dukh kahe ko hoi." (We all remember God when we are beset by grief, none of us remember Him in our good times. Had we remembered Him in our good times, why should the days of grief have come!')

So I end now my epistle now. The sun is bright outside my study. I am going to open the windows wide and find my Vitamin D.