Sunday, September 18, 2016

The things I cannot write

I have been coming here as often as I could for a very long time. In these decades, I have been like a student, learnt like a sponge... I still am. I see, I hear, I absorb... more than you would guess. The things that I am told... in passing, in confidence, in explanation. The things that I see... the things you try to hide, the things you do not notice because you live here, from my location in the world between the tourist's and the local's. The things you mean me to know and the things I find out. 

A hundred thousand million things that remain in my thoughts or words in my notebooks that I cannot actually write here or anywhere someone is meant to read them.  

I could not tell you why this is so. Or maybe, I could. Maybe the words I write down will overstate what is there. Maybe being written will amplify feelings people are hiding for a reason. Maybe a careless outsider's words will upset a fragile applecart. Maybe I am wrong. Or maybe, I am right. 

What is this silence about?

I carry it like a gift and like a burden, waiting for a sign that I can give it up.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Colombo, again

Driving into the city from the airport, for the very first time, I am not filled with anticipation and excitement. Partly this is because I am ravenous and tired. But I wonder if I am finally jaded about this city that has always felt like home? Or is it that it is home, where you don't greedily consume the view as though it's your only chance?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Siddhi Vinayak memories and other reflections

A few years ago, I dragged my friend who lives in Worli to Siddhi Vinayak temple. My family had a mannat (vendidal) to complete--an offering of many coconuts--and I was the courier. She had rarely been to this place that was an integral part of my childhood.

I must have been four or five, maybe a little older, when my father learned about the temple. Many Sundays were spent driving to the temple in the morning from Colaba, having a vadai breakfast after that and driving back.

I remember that Siddhi Vinayak distinctly. It was a small neighbourhood temple with a shaktishali Ganapati. We would first stop at a tree with a Hanuman on the way in (or out? I was really very young then!). The temple itself was really small, with just enough space for a single file circumambulation. I remember the light in that little courtyard, dappled with sunlight and the shadows of leaves from what must have been the sthalavriksha. The air was both warm and cool in that Bombay way--yes, I do remember those details.

I want to say we went every Sunday but that is probably not correct. We went often enough that it was a preferred Sunday routine for me. Sometimes we drove back by the Portuguese Church which continues to fascinate me. (The vadais remain a draw, as well.) But it was hard not to love this little temple even when you were pretty much holding someone's hand and dragging along to keep pace.

Then my Mama, never perfectly healthy, became seriously ill, far away in New York. My father would wake up on Tuesdays when it was still dark, bathe and start walking to Prabhadevi. He would return at around 8. I don't know how many weeks he did this. Ganesha did help. He ended the pain and the suffering and gave my Mama peace. In exchange, he gave us a great grief that we still feel after decades. This was 1973.

We continued to visit the temple but less and less frequently as my parents' responsibilities grew and Sundays became days to finish secondary school homework. As teenagers, my sister and I developed our own routines--and politics. I went through a very long phase of questioning and not-believing because I was still questioning, and then I thought temples don't matter--in a way, I still think that.

In those years, the little temple became richer and more powerful as people invested their faith. My mother (and great-grandfather) explained temples and idols this way to me: It's not the idol. It's not the space. It's not the architecture. It's the energy. Not intrinsic to anything physical but brought in and invested there by hundreds and thousands who believe. They believe it is there, and by their belief, it becomes real. By the belief of hundreds of thousands (and their offerings), the little Siddhi Vinayak temple acquired layer after later, shell after shell, structure after structure, to become this grand palace we see today. The sanctum too grew more splendid and the worshippers more celebrated. Could Siddhi Vinayak have time for simple people like us who knew him way back when?

In my heart, though, he is still that little guy I visited when I was a little girl. And so I know he listens to me. In a crisis, I think of him. He and my other Bombay people--Mahalakshmi, Mumbadevi, Haji Ali (whom I have never visited), St. Joseph from my school church, Mary from the Mahim Church, the Hanuman on Colaba Causeway... this is my A-Team in bad times (as if they were separate from other such repositories of energy and faith who are here and everywhere). And  as they belong to me, so I belong to Bombay/Mumbai.

On my own journey, I have followed my questions, then my need, then my faith in other people's faith and then my own experiences to the point where I do go to temples without coercion. On my time, in my way, with whatever ritual my heart makes up for that moment on that day. But some temples you carry within you. Siddhi Vinayak is one of them for me.

***
On this Ganesh Chaturti, I wish for:

No obstacles to non-violence.
No obstacles to peace.
No obstacles to justice.
No obstacles to compassion.
No obstacles to learning.
No obstacles to understanding.
No obstacles.

For everyone.

***
For me, I write this blogpost as a prayer. Let me be able to reclaim enough health and sanity, enough peace of mind, to be able to be calm and compassionate, creative and constructive. Let me travel inwards and outwards at once, learning and teaching along the way. No obstacles.

***
PS: Do I believe that the offerings determine outcomes? Of course not. I think however that the time and attention they make you divert from your self-centered anxiety may help your morale. (For me, writing is an offering that transforms my energy.) If you make a charitable offering, then noticing other people's suffering puts yours in perspective. In the moment you make the promise, you give yourself a little hope--that tomorrow will dawn, better, because you have a promise to keep. It re-commits you to something concrete. And like my father, walking to Prabhadevi at the crack of dawn, it mitigates your helplessness in the face of something beyond your control--at least I can walk, at least I can do this. That's good enough, I think. We do the best we can. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

What to write about

This is inspired by Naina's post last week on 'What to blog about.'

I woke up this morning intending to write an article for the website that kindly gives me a platform. And then I logged into Twitter and realised everything had been said. Everyone knew everything already. And everybody was right so I couldn't possibly even argue--although a less adda-argument-loving person you will not meet! And yes, I could write about how annoying I find the Southasian love of long-drawn out discussion. Makes me feel hot and tired and dehydrated.

Now, there are notes I have waiting, but I cannot summon up the discipline to fashion an article out of them yet, and I am also reeling from a young person's pronouncement that I am paid too little for my articles, so I won't go there yet. (Now, this money and negotiation thing, I could blog about.)

I could write something based on the travel diary I just finished writing by hand. But those images and words feel too precious to share as yet. I could share instead the rediscovered pleasure of writing by hand in a notebook. From watching the words form to witnessing how different my handwriting felt and looked at different times on the same writing day to the long-forgotten (if ever known) pleasure of sitting in a coffee shop with an open notebook and pen to just being able to start and stop the writing anywhere, without regard to power outlets and clunky laptops and Internet and so on. Writing in a notebook is a pleasure without parallel at the physical, emotional and intellectual levels. I could write about that.

Or I could share a photo and write about it. I could do that, I guess.

I have things to say about the TV shows I watch. I could tell you about them but there should be something in my life that is not in the public domain.

And I love it when other people do lists of music clips. I could do that too.

I could share with you the brown-and-grey depths of the funk I am in. But you have your problems too, I know.

I could even venture to write about something political. That was how this blog started out; I thought I would write about the things I was trained to write about. You might find out I actually know a few things. That would never do. The admission of ignorance is very liberating and suits a lazy person like me in the marketplace of egos.

I could write about how lovely it's been to meet old friends this week, one from graduate school and one from college today. But that's like a Facebook post.

But for now, my writing is like water in a pipe full of air-bubbles and noise and ego and worry and self-censorship and self-doubt. I have to let the words run for a while before they will flow. And I have to remember that I really don't care whether you read this or not, whether you like this or not.