Little red seeds

I got back from India about three weeks ago. I was there for twelve days. I traveled to five cities. I met so many people. People from as young as eight months to people in their eighties. These are people with whom my paths have crossed at some point in my life. People I have not seen in twenty two years, twenty years, eight years, six years. I smiled, I laughed, I cried, most importantly I felt loved, every moment I was there. These are my people, they have all played a part in where I am today.

It is common knowledge that when an Indian born living outside India, goes back to where they reside, depression sets in for a few weeks. I had heard of this, but this is the first time I experienced it. I went into depression, the real stuff, where I don’t have an appetite, I am sad, but not really sure why, I don’t have the drive to do anything. All I want to do is lay somewhere and look at something mindlessly. I tried to wake up from this slumber, but I just couldn’t shake it off. During this time Grey’s Anatomy came to my rescue. 18 seasons on Netflix, that’s what you call a treat. I was glued. Three days of winter storm, at the end of it, by lower back started hurting, because I was on the couch for hours, escaping my depression.

This morning when I woke up, I decided that I will not watch another episode, until I empty out the suitcase I brought back from India. It has been lying in my living room, open, with undergarments, unused sanitary pads exposed. I simply did not bother. I walked by that suitcase everyday, many times a day, yet it was like this thing, that if I went close to, would burst some bubble and I would gasp for air. Today, as I was talking to my mental health clock (she keeps me in check, almost everyday), I picked up some hangars from my closet and started pulling out the dresses one by one. Each one had a memory. I remembered when I wore them, with whom I was, the happiness I felt. It was draining. I found the photographs, that I had taken out of an album I found in my father’s house. The ones that didn’t have any meaning, my friend held on to those, the rest I found, today. I got that old plastic bag with the heap of one, two rupee notes, that I found in my father’s steel almirah, of forty something years. That almirah is like a person who lived with us, since when I remember. I finally ransacked his secret compartment while looking for property documents. He never let us open that compartment, because his valuables were stored there, lenses, cameras, his salary. I found so many old lens filters and gave them away to his friend. A very long time ago, when he came back from one of his official trips, he’d brought me a purple glitter pencil, where you remove the used lead and push it back at the top of the pencil, so a new lead emerges out at the writing tip. He never gave it to me. I found that pencil and took it. I found old coins, 1 paise, 2 paise, 3 paise, collector’s stuff…

As I took them out one by one from the suitcase, I found the kolhapuri sandals, that my friend and I bought on Commercial street, bargaining, a skill neither she nor I like or know anything about. We went into those shops, looking for oxidized jewelry, I found those as well. One by one, they all came out. Lying around the suitcase in hangars, piles, organized by where they will go, in my closet. At the bottom was a red Tommy Hilfiger pouch I received as a gift eighteen years ago. When my kiddo was one, when life was simple, when everything was happy. I opened the pouch and found those old coins, the oxidized jewelry, the fancy stuff I took from here, but never wore, and among them scattered were the little red seeds I had packed in a tissue.

My besties and I went to a resort for a day. A day where it was just three of us in some tiny corner of the world, talking about everything and anything. As we walked on the grounds of that resort, we saw a little red seed on the ground. I got excited. My friend looked up and said it was a tree of the little red seeds. She and I picked the seeds, one by one, like little children. She gave me a handful which I tuck away in my pocket.

It wasn’t the clothes that I was pulling out of that suitcase, it was the memories. The friend and her family who opened her house and her arms to me, my father’s friends from even before I was born, who made me feel that he lives on in our thoughts, the eight month infant, who looked at me with her big round eyes, like she knew me from another life, the aunt, who couldn’t say a word, but in the end, took my hand and kissed it, my little buddy whom I taught ‘see you later alligator, in a while crocodile’, my friend who tears up every time she seems me or lets me go an epitome of what affection is, the family, the love, the happiness, the warmth. I was pulling out each one of this from the suitcase.

As I always say, depression is real, depression is hard. There is no way around it, but through it. As my therapist says, one foot in front of the other, baby steps. The light will seep in through the crevices. It always has, it always will.

Grief

My father passed on Sep 3rd. The same day my US Passport was issued. It has been tradition that my life progresses when he visits me in the US. The first time he came, I bought my first house and got my green card. The second time he came, I bought my second home, a dream home. The third time he was here, I got my citizenship, and got divorced. The last page was getting my passport and that happened right before he passed. Thinking back, it is strange that my passport was issued on a Saturday.

3 Saturdays later I sit here on my couch watching an SPB concert on YouTube. My younger kiddo is playing on his PC upstairs. A Saturday I have longed for this entire year. There is nowhere I have to be, there is nothing I have to get done today. Even if I do nothing today, its okay. I don’t like roller coasters, I am shit scared, yet this year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A job change, my elder son graduation high school, researched and visited colleges for him, got divorced, cared for my younger son through his wisdom teeth extraction, sold my house, moved to another house, convinced my dad to come to the US for the third time, vacationed with my boys at Mexico, got COVID, appeared for my citizenship interview, saw off my son to college in another state, nursed my father during his last two weeks of life, held his hand as he passed, cremated him. And I am here on the other side, strong enough to tell the story.

The week my father fell ill and the week after his passing were the worst. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would google ‘signs of death’ for my father. But I read each one of them and recollected what my aunts or uncles or mom had mentioned when others in the family passed. It all started on Aug 27th when he started throwing up only to discover on Aug 28th that the endoleak from his aneurysm repair had caused an aneurysm rupture. Almost lost him on Aug 27th and Aug 29th but I guess he was not ready. He woke up like nothing had happened. Nursing him for the one week before he finally passed on Sep 3rd is what I consider as one of my biggest blessings. The last few days of a parent is the absolute last ask they have of their children. There is nothing after that. Absolutely nothing.

I have had some really strong eye openers these past 3 weeks. After he passed, the funeral home tied him in a white sheet, transferred him onto a gurney, strapped him and covered him with a fitted blanket. They loaded him onto the back of a minivan and took him away. Everything one does in a lifetime ends in the back of a minivan. How much we emote, stress our asses off, hold grudges, push and pull in relationships, things we want to buy, positions we want to achieve, the egos we manifest, everything seemed so meaningless in that moment.
I am a believer of the concept, where the soul lives on and the body is merely a cloth that the soul sheds when someone passes. I also believe in signs. Three days after he passed, I saw the brightest light, lighting up my garage as I opened the door in the morning to drop my son to school. I knew he was going. I have never seen that light before or after. The funeral home director placed the bag with his box of ashes in the front seat and fastened the seat belt around the bag. It appeared like he was sitting right there, I spoke him on the ride home. When I got home, there were 4 birds, I have never seen them before waiting on the trees around my driveway. Like they were there to welcome him home. That first night, deers from the neighborhood sat vigil next to the wall where I kept his ashes. So many signs he has shown me, strengthening my belief in the soul.

I have been perusing a lot these last two weeks after his passing, and I realized that two roles of my life that I had been playing for years, ended in a matter of months, that of a wife of 19 years and of a daughter for 43 years. I may be a wife again, but I will never have to be a daughter again. And that has been the strangest feeling. We get so used to the multiple roles we play, that of a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and we think these roles stay until the end. They do, but the realization that we stop being them is strange.

Suddenly I am not so sure what I should grieve for. My son leaving the nest or my father passing or my divorce. Walking into my son’s room and trying to organize his room is the most painful thing. I cannot bring myself to moving his clothes or looking for something in his closet. It is easier to hold my father’s phone or see his shoes outside the door or his glasses on the coffee table. Bringing a life to this world, giving that little human everything you have, taking every chance because there is no rule book and then letting them go is by far the most unfair transaction in this world. In the end parents are just bridges for the first 18 years of their life. When I left him in his dorm room briefly and walked out, I felt something leaving my body, maybe the umbilical cord? Weird.

Then seeing your parents pass and doing everything for their physical being, is just so unfair. And you go through that twice. It takes years to overcome (if you ever overcome) to push the sadness of one, that the other one goes and creates another layer of sadness that you have to push through one day at a time.

All said and done, I am not quite sure what I should grieve for or just let it be. As my therapist says put one foot in front of the other and take one day at a time.

Destiny..

I don’t know what else to title this write-up. I am sitting here in a ‘media room’, something I didn’t even know existed say ten years ago, in Austin TX, land of the free, typing this on my Macbook. There is central AC in my 3000 sq ft home and luxury seeps out of every corner. It is nothing but destiny that has got me here and a lot of hard work and sacrifices from my parents.

My father was born in Puthur, Mangalore a year before India gained independence from the British. His father was a pujari (Brahmin priest at a Hindu Temple). His family migrated from Puthur to a small place called Shivapuram near Mattanur in Kerala. The king then granted the right to do pooja at the Shiva temple and an acre of land surrounding the temple to my father’s eldest brother. Mi padre went to the local school where he excelled in Social Studies and Malayalam but failed miserably in English and Maths. By grade 8, he was the school magazine editor, wrote plays for the school, and was involved in everything creative at school. That is when his father fell ill and he had to tend to the pooja at the temple. So he skipped school for a year and followed the family traditions. After a year he went back to school and failed grade 9. His skill was arts but the education system back then, just as it now, did not care about his creative talents. He tried again, but failed. After this he quit school.

Sitting at home, he saw an ad in the paper for a course in craftsmanship at Calicut, conducted by the Government. It was free and provided a stipend to the participants. My father applied, got in and went to Calicut with 10 rupees. The institution provided the training but he had to arrange his own accommodation. Staying away from home at the age of 16, made him uneasy. After a week’s class, he told one of the other participants, that he was leaving. He walked to the railway station to catch a train to Thalashery. He recalls how he hid behind a pillar in case someone recognized him and took him back to the training institute. As the train arrived, he dashed into the train and fled.

Back home, with nothing to do, he was called by his brother to join him as an assistant at Suratkal. The Engineering college was being built and his brother had a small contract job as an electrician. My father accompanied his brother on a train journey to Suratkal and did odd jobs handing over equipment or hammering nails helping his brother. During his time there, his brother a few others and my father went on a trip to Mookambika. As my father recounts, the national highway was under construction and due to limited resources, they walked.. barefoot. On the way, a stone pierced through his foot. A makeshift bandage around his foot, he continued to walk.

Due to some misunderstanding, my uncle stopped working as a contract electrician and decided to move to Bangalore. He told my father to go back to their hometown and wait for his call. After my uncle settled down in Bangalore, he would send for my father. My father packed their kerosene stove, and a few other belongings in a burlap sack and headed home.

After a few months he got a letter from his brother asking him to come to Bangalore. My father packed the kerosene stove and a few other things in a burlap sack and was put on a train by his father. In an old shirt and white mundu, he left to the unknown world.

At Bangalore, my uncle cooked sweets at weddings to earn his living. My father started doing odd jobs writing sign boards. They lived near Lalbagh inside a certain Munisamy’s electrical shop, behind the stairs. They cooked after the shop was closed so as to not interfere with the customers and their business. His first sign board assignment was in Natkalappa Circle, so he took the route from Lalbagh Rd, through Lalbagh to get to Natkalappa Circle. That is where he saw a young Jayalalitha dancing on the lawns shooting for a movie.

During those time a certain Saamy visited my uncle and brought the newspaper. One day there was an ad calling for artists to work at the Museum. Saamy encouraged my father to apply. He cut out the ad and walked to Gandhibazaar where his brother’s friend would help him write up the application and post it. After a few days he received the news to attend an interview. In his same old faded white shirt and mundu without footwear he walked into the Museum for an interview. They gave him some assignments to assess his work and offered a job as an intern. They asked him how much we wanted to earn. Since he was earning 3 rupees with his board sign writing, he asked for 6 rupees. He got the job as a daily wage temporary employee at 6 rupees a day.

His first day at office, a colleague came and told him that his attire was not appropriate and he should wear a pant and some footwear. That evening he bought hawaii chappal (flipflops) for 2 rupees. Munisamy gave him 10 rupees and asked him to go meet a tailer for pants. A stitched pant was waiting for him unclaimed by the owner. He bought the pants for 10 rupees and he walked the next day to office (from Lalbagh Rd to Kasturba Rd) looking like Chaplin in his new pants and footwear. This was the first time he had worn footwear, and his feet revolted. By evening that day his feet were swollen and he was in severe pain. His feet were not used to anything beneath them, except the ground. It took him a week to get used to wearing footwear.

After a year, owing to his exceptional work, the Museum created a position as a line artist and competitively offered him the job. His basic pay would be 110 rupees and monthly salary 210 rupees. After his first pay, he went straight to buy cloth for 2 shirts and 2 pants. He got them stitched to his size this time. His colleagues were surprised to see him in clothes that fit him and chided him saying, he looked like a different person altogether. After this his brother and him rented a room with a half wall separating the kitchen enclosure at 30 rupees a month.

There is more from how I got here from his one room dwelling. But that is for another time.

Now do you see why I call this destiny? Hearing these stories from him, just makes me exponentially grateful and humble for everything I have today. It also teaches me the value of hard work. It reminds me how my life is interconnected with many lives and people that I don’t even know. Like it is all a web linking the past to the present and the future.

I am a… Part 2

Okay, my previous post led quite a few readers to reach out to me and express their happiness of how well they identified and could relate to my situation. Thank you. That inspired me to delve one step further and clarify in my head what prayer means.

I think prayers are of two kinds, the standard one and the custom one. Let me explain. A standard prayer is printed somewhere or is carried forward from generation to generation, like the Lord’s prayer or Naamam as per Hindu traditions. The custom prayer of your personal outcry where the language is yours, words are yours, style and mood is what you define, an original piece of art. As a child I was never taught a standard prayer at home. I was that kid who came from Bangalore to central Kerala every summer with a suitcase and frocks in a taxi ambassador or Jeep. Cousins would gather to see what was in the suitcase, what frocks I had, and to hear about the magic of a distant land called Bangalore. Bangalore was the US of the 80s for most Keralites and I was privileged. So during one of those summer trips I found my aunt telling my cousins as the sun set to wash their hands and feet, light the lamp and pray. I followed them because as cousins you just copy each other. In my borrowed pavada-blouse (long skirt-blouse) I sat down with them. They started chanting the “Naamam” which is a prayer in praise of the Hindu Gods. I had no clue that something like this existed. I was surprised why my mother didn’t teach me these things. I just enjoyed the routine with my cousins, happy to wear the borrowed pavada-blouse and feel like a real Malayali.

My custom prayers almost always happened before the exam. My father told me to think of his deceased parents for blessings and write the exam, in the hope (he was sure) that they would help solve that crappy chemical equation or the long math theorem. Anyways I diligently obeyed prayed to them and aced my exams.

As I became more aware of the world, yonder world, souls, God, or to put it simply, as I increased my Spiritual knowledge, the magical Destiny kicked in. I started to believe that everything was destiny. If there was a supreme power that defined destiny, maybe. Until I read about and attended Dr Brian Weiss’s session. It was all about the soul. I still believe is Destiny but the soul and destiny define almost everything there is to life. So then going back to my original question, what is prayer? Are you really talking to God or the creator or the supreme?

No.

You are talking to yourself. To your inner conscience. When I “pray” asking for strength there is no magic happening where an ounce or pound of strength is invisibly pumped into you. I am telling my inner conscience to become stronger. Before all those exams I wrote, when I prayed to get good marks, nobody changed my answers on the answer sheet to make a 70, 95. What I had learnt and wrote got me the 95. Let’s take this example, you are going through a rough phase. You pray for help, strength, happiness whatever. 9 out of 10 times (unless your destiny is totally crappy) in a few hours or days or months the rough phase will pass. And you think, God made this happen, He turned things around. But really, did He? Look at it from the opposite side, good things were in store, so before that there was a low, that is how destiny plays out. Everyone can’t have good times all the time and everyone can’t have bad times all the time. So, did prayer do the magic?

So then why pray?

It is to create a layer above you. Otherwise we would simply drown in our ego. The layer you are creating above you is your conscience. It is your conscience that you should uphold at all times, irrespective of what you do. From times unknown or from religions created around the world, this layer has been called God. So we pray to God.

This is where the whole concept of custom prayer sky rockets way above my head. How can there even be a custom prayer? And that too loudly recited? Whose inner conscience are you reaching out to, your neighbors? Because the emphasis is not (most often) on feeling or meaning each word but play catch up. If you are slow you skip words to make the chorus sound right. It is funny and sad. People’s belief in custom prayers has blinded them from their inner conscience, is my personal take.

I am not an atheist. Atheist is one who does not believe in God. Do they believe in their inner conscience, maybe not is what I can guess. I am not sure. The only staunch atheist I know is my brother. Yes isn’t it a paradox that my father a staunch Brahmin and his son just the opposite.. 🙂. Having said everything I said above, I am starting to think that I am in between.. I believe in my inner conscience and I call that conscience God.

I want to teach my children to pray, so they believe in their inner conscience and can reach within for answers. That is what is important is my deduction based off what I wrote and read and spoke over the last few days. Not religion.. not practices.. what they decide to call this inner conscience and the practices they decide to adopt is upto them.

A package

Last week as I was talking to my father about Father’s Day and what my sons were planning for my husband, I realized I should do something for him. I ordered a bag of Hershey’s kisses on Amazon India (my regular shipper of goodies to my father). I wanted to keep it a surprise so I did not tell him about the order. The norm otherwise is to tell him everything I order, I tell him when the item is due and he updates me when he receives the item. Just so he wouldn’t be alarmed while opening the box, I added a gift message ‘Happy Father’s Day Appa’.

This morning around 6am IST, I got a message that the package had been delivered. I did think it was an odd time for an Amazon package to be delivered and thought his alarm instincts would go up.

Like everyday, I called him on my way to work and immediately he asks me “did you order something on Amazon?”. I told him, I had. He said, since he was not sure, he did not open it. He went on to tell me that he had recently read in Mathrubhumi and Manorama online (his net-savvy newspapers for a few years now, since he became a netizen), that mysterious packages were being delivered which someone had not ordered. I told him to go ahead and open it. He opens it to find my small pack of chocolates. His relief at finding chocolates was quite funny. “Ooooh chocolate-aa?” He added, “the watchman said it was delivered at 6am, who delivers packages at 6am? The Amazon packing is not all that good either”. I asked him if there was a note inside the box. He did not find a note. So then I had to tell him, that I ordered them for him, for Father’s day and he was supposed to open it as a surprise and find a note saying ‘Happy Father’s Day Appa’.

So much for surprising my old man with a bag of chocolates on Father’s Day! His true happiness was when my kiddos called him and wished him a GRAND Father’s Day..

The little moments of a heart full of happiness.. tiny moments of immense love.. blessed!

He

His arms carried me as a baby

His arms bore the weight of my education

His heart celebrated my every success

His heart cried at my loss

His legs walked for miles for me to stand straight

His legs stopped for me to catch up

His eyes saw the now and fretted tomorrow

His eyes dreamt of my tomorrow

His words cautioned me of the world

His words strung a thousand stories for me

He is

My hero.