Spark Joy

If you have heard of Marie Kondo, you know what ‘spark joy’ means. She asks people to look at every object and ask the question ‘does it spark joy’ before deciding to trash it or keep it. I had never heard of Marie Kondo or her Konmari methodology. I am faaaaar from the most organized person you will find. My place is not a mess, you don’t have to tiptoe your way into the house, decently organized, but not Marie-Kondo-Organized. My sister-in-law is big about keeping things organized. It shows in her house as well, everything neat and put away and perfect. It is a joy visiting her house, I am just not made out of that cut. Anyways, she asked me to pick up Marie Kondo’s book from the library and that is the first time I ever heard about this organizing diva. No, I am not a follower, I don’t think I ever will be.

My designer friend on the other hand had another opinion. All said and done, out of curiosity, I decided to watch the Marie Kondo series on Netflix. I watched one episode (well, three fourth) on Netflix and learnt her mantra of ‘spark joy’. I liked her concept and subconsciously if an object does not spark joy in us, some of us throw it away, donate it or keep it in the corner of the garage. The ‘organizers’ promptly get rid of it. When I pick a dress to wear, if I think I will look good in it, then it sparks joy in me and I wear it, if not, it stay on the hanger for months!

Thinking deeper, doesn’t this concept apply to people. Except that the question is a little different. Do you spark joy in others? When you meet someone, it could be your children you see everyday, or your colleague at work, are they happy to see you? Isn’t that what matters? If my presence does not make the other person happy or as Marie Kondo says ‘spark joy’ then that relationship is stale. Whether you throw it away, keep it there depends on your circumstance and a lot of other things. But this concept is so easy to apply to identify positive and negative energies in your life. I read somewhere that it is important to identify the positive and negative energies in your life, it helps build self-confidence.

I would not focus on thinking about does the other person spark joy in you, because relationships always begin with you. If you are good, its good enough. When I go to work, almost all my colleagues greet me with a smile. I know the genuine ones and fake ones. To the fake ones, I know I am not sparking joy. But the genuine ones harness a positive realm around you, making you want to go to work. My kiddos, when I walk into the house after any kind of day, they come and hug me. Thats a definite sign of me sparking joy in them, like they do in me. Applicable to all mommy-baby relationships, it’s all positive there. It’s all in the moment, why wouldn’t you want to make it joyous?

Recently I was on the same median turning left into Barton Springs Rd. A homeless man stood on the median. He knocked on my window. I looked at him with conflicting thoughts of, I don’t have money to give you, I wish I could buy you food, how can I help him etc. When I looked at him, he used his hand to gesture to me and mouthed the word ‘smile’. I instantly smiled. He said, ‘thank you, that’s all I need’. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was stressed that morning, so a stranger on the street asking me to smile, was a reminder to smile and stay positive. I felt worse that I could not help him. But, who sparked joy in whom?…

Next time you meet anyone, just give it a thought, are you sparking joy in that person? If you are, good. If you are not, do you want to? If you want to, how will you do it? The sum total of these sparks is this amazing journey we are on.

To positive vibes! To sparking joys! To Marie Kondo!

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The fellow..

I have written about various people in my life but I don’t think I have ever written about my sibling, my brother younger to me by five years but looks and thinks otherwise. The story of his birth is one of my favorites. When I joined Nursery at Bishop Cotton’s I am supposed to have come home and complained to my parents that every one has a brother or sister except me. And so the stork carried this light skinned baby boy to our house who was the apple of everyone’s eye.

Fast forward few years and like almost every first born I felt my parents were partial to him. The feeling of why I don’t have a brother changed to why do I have a brother, pretty quickly. So amidst favoritism we grew up fighting for the remote, grabbing things, hitting each other, annoying each other, the usual sibling stories. Like most families it was I who took the blame. He was the younger one and I being the older one was supposed to adjust. Our mother had no two rules about who got the beating irrespective of who started the quarrel. She gave it to us equally, like she was watching a tennis match, one here, one there, repeat, with a red plastic spatula.

He didn’t want to compete with anyone in his class at academics, all he wanted was to beat my grades, which he did most times. He developed a passion for basketball just to grow taller than the rest of us at home, we are a short family otherwise.

Although we fought quite a bit my feelings for him took a complete u-turn when my son was born (my older son looks like him by the way). He felt more like a son than my brother. It’s a strange feeling and I mix up their names even. One of my personal achievements that I feel fortunate about is that I was able to support him at various stages to better opportunities. And to me that checks off a major portion of my responsibility of the relationship. At the end of the day your sibling is your pillar of support whose foundation runs deep. There could be a few cracks but those heal magically, your parents already put in pixie dust in the cement.

He is going to rofl reading this, shower me with choicest words, making mincemeat of my emotions, like he always does, I know this. My father too is probably going to read this say brother-sister too much love, wonder when you’ll start fighting.. But the bottom line is that I love him and it’s an amazing blessing from the angels above that we now live a mile apart. The last time we lived under one roof was twenty years ago. Blessed, blessed, blessed!!

Coffee house…

“Hello Shalu…”, said the male voice on the other end. Shalini recognized the voice instantly. She had heard it many times before. The number was new, not what she had saved on her phone as, ‘Think before you pick’.

“Hello Gopal…”.

“I am in Trivandrum, shall I come over for sometime?”, he asked. She wanted to ask ‘why’. Common sense prevailed and she quickly got into the skin she had shed ten years ago.

“Okay Gopal. Let us meet at Coffee Day at Kowdiar”. Shalini had moved apartments almost every other year when the rent went up. With her meagre salary from the job at the library, she could afford only so much. She tried to live as close as possible to the library, so she could walk and get her legs move. It felt eons ago when she drove her Audi car into the driveway of the public library at Houston to drop off books. She did not want Gopal to see her current living conditions.

“Ok at 4.30?”, he asked.

She looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.30 in the afternoon. It gave her enough time to dress up and get an auto to get to Kowdiar.

“Yes, 4.30 is fine.”

Shalini seldom heard from Gopal, maybe two or three times in the last ten years. She had shut that door when she walked out of the house with two bags of her clothes and jewellery. She left everything behind. The sprawling house, the luxury, friends, her job, she had left it all.

She got to the coffee house on time and saw Gopal sitting at a table. He looked younger than she remembered. Life had treated him well. She thought she should have colored her hair, she was greying everywhere. The little make up she put on, did not conceal her wrinkles. She turned to look at the glass door and saw the reflection of an old woman.

“Hello…”, she said and sat down across Gopal. He looked up from his phone and smiled.

“How are you Shalu?”

“I am good, and you?”

“I am doing very well. How did you come?”

“I took an auto. Are you in Trivandrum for work?”

“No, my wife’s family lives in Trivandrum, so I came to visit them”.

“Oh!”, said Shalini and instantly regretted the reaction.

“I have been married for about three years. She is from Trivandrum, moved to Houston after the marriage…”

“You live in the same house?”

“No, I sold it. I live in another neighborhood now.”

“Are you happy?”, quipped Shalini.

“Yes Shalu. I am happy.”, said Gopal, looking down at this hands.

“Good for you…”, said Shalu, with a tinge of jealousy and self pity.

“And you?”

“I work at the library, live with books, write when I can. It’s going on… Why did you want to meet me, after all these years?”

Gopal was silent for a few minutes. The waiter came, we ordered our coffee and I looked up at Gopal, waiting for the answer.

“Shalu… I wanted to thank you…”, said Gopal.

“For what?”, wondered Shalu.

“For leaving me….”

Shalini burst out laughing.

“I realized that when you left me, you were giving me back my freedom.”

“And you realized that now? After ten years??”

“Took me a while… you know me…”, said Gopal coyly.

“Gopal… it was obvious to me like it was to you, that we were not meant to be. I don’t know why we decided to get married in the first place. I tried in my way and you tried in your way, but the puzzle never fit. I waited for a long time for you to leave. I understood that you were scared and I had to be the one to let go. It was not what I wanted to do, but I had to do, to give us both our sanity. I was getting sucked in my depression and you didn’t want to hear about it. The best thing was to stay away. I never met your expectations, you looked at every other woman and thought what a wonderful woman and wife she is. It is not that I am bad, it’s just that I was never enough for you, I always fell short… anyways, there is no point of talking about all that and digging the past… bottomline is you are happy now. I am glad I could give you atleast that.”

Gopal took Shalini’s hands in his, looked into her eyes and said, “I am sorry”.

The waiter brought their coffee. Shalini withdrew her hand and sipped at her coffee. She avoided eye contact with Gopal and looked at others who occupied the coffee house. They drank their coffee in silence deep in their own thoughts. When Shalini was done with hers, she got up, smiled at Gopal and left the coffee house, without looking back.

Now, it was truly over.

Her wings..

“You add constraints to everything… and I cannot do this anymore…”, he said.

“How is this a constraint? Anything I say is a constraint now… I think I should just stop talking…”, responded Neena.

“Yes, that’s better. You open your mouth either to say no or restrict something. I want to be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, not as per your will…”.

“You should have thought about that before you got married…”, said Neena sternly.

Shiv flung the TV remote across the room and stood up from the couch to leave the room.

Neena knew there was no point in explaining anything to him, still she tried. Maybe he would understand if she tried to use his words or phrase the sentence better, maybe lower her tone, she still wanted to give it a shot.

“I have tried enough and it won’t work Shiv, I don’t want to set myself up to be hurt again…”, Neena tried to explain. She was sitting at the dining table finishing dinner. Wasn’t it an hour ago that they laughed at an old movie dialogue? Where did that go? How did they even get to this conversation?

Shiv stomped out of the living room and turned to the bedroom when the kids came in with a cake in their hands, candles lit.. singing.. “happy anniversary to you.. happy anniversary to you.. happy anniversary mamma and papa.. happy anniversary to you..”.

Neena and Shiv looked at each other, a long look, of a thousand silent words…

where is she?

Switch off the loud music upstairs
Its not very endearing at ten in the night
The beats drumming into her head
Like the other beats over so many days
The security watching over her entry and exit
The happy friend who turns it into humour
It is a constant wave of emotions
She rides unaware
Blank
The growing one pounces on her with attitude
Again
White haired sits mum
Words sealed in the mind
Little tantrums wants a slice of her
Each day
Every day
He beside her is riding his own wave
Clashing with hers at different depths of the sea
As she finds herself drowning, something pushes her up for air
The pillars are around, supporting like ever
All she has to do is lean
There is the dwelling, about to be born
Nurtured in the womb cared for day after day
Soon it will be born to open a pandora of memories
Where is she?
Hidden in these words, riding the waves
Sometimes under, sometimes over
The wings are tired, they want to rest
On a shoulder strong enough to bear the weight
Of lifelessness!

Hello… Ms Nayair…

It was Suma’s first time. She left her handbag with Rishi and gave him a long sad look before she entered the heavy door behind the nurse who opened the door for her. She knew the instant she turned, Rishi would have got back to his phone. It was not the time to think of Rishi’s phone addiction. She had to focus. She entered the hallway behind the door which had opened and closed with people walking in and out over the last twenty minutes while waiting for her turn. The nurse led her into a hallway flanked by changing rooms on either side. On one side of the wall was a locker-type cupboard. The nurse entered one of the changing rooms and instructed Suma to take off her clothes and jewelry and wear the gown with the opening in the front. ‘Undergarments also?’, asked Suma in a voice filled with doubt, shyness and fear. ‘Take your bra off and leave your panties on’, said the nurse matter-of-factly. Suma was shocked to hear the openness in the nurse’s tone. In America, all this is not taboo, if it was India, these words would have been uttered in hushed tones and whispers, she thought. Back in India, Ramu’s clinic around the corner of her street had all the medicines her family ever needed. Dr. Ramu knew everything about every part of the human body and could cure anything. This was her first time at a hospital, that too in Houston. She was there with her husband of six months. Suma had never travelled beyond her small town in Kerala. Taking a big airplane and moving to America had been a herculean task for small-town girl, Suma.

‘Once you are done, use any of the lockers outside to keep your valuables and walk down the hallway to the waiting area. A nurse should be with you shortly’, said the nurse and left the changing room. Suma closed the door and locked it. These doors didn’t have latches like in India, turning that small hinge on the handle did the job. She tried opening it after turning the small hinge, to make sure that she had locked the door. She set out to accomplish the task handed down to her by the nurse. When she got her bra off, she looked at her image in the mirror, at the sore nipple on her left breast that had turned red. It hurt to touch it. Wrestling through the night with Rishi’s maneuvers had become a painful ordeal, night after night, until she could bear it no more.

She tied the strings of the gown on her right side securely and double knotted it, just in case it came off as she walked into the hallway. She looked at herself in the mirror to make sure that everything was covered, she turned left and turned right, looked at herself up and down. She didn’t like the way her nipples showed through the gown. She folded her hands across her chest in an attempt to hide it. After wrestling through this for a few minutes, she gave up and got to the next task of putting away her jewelry in her purse, folding the clothes and put her shoes back on. She folded her bra and hid it between her jeans. That was not an object for public attention, so she was taught by her mother. She looked around to make sure that she had not left anything behind and opened the door. She walked towards the lockers and found one at the bottom with a key. It had a wrist coil roped in with the ring. She opened the locker, placed her stuff in there and locked it as instructed by the nurse. Suma wore the wrist coil around her wrist and walked down towards the end of the hallway. As she got to the end, she turned left and found a waiting area with a TV, chairs and magazines. There were three other women in similar white gowns with tiny prints sitting there flipping a magazine. Seeing them there Suma felt she was not alone in this. There were others. Her shyness vanished and she no longer tried to hide her nipples showing through her gown. She picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages, like her partners in the waiting area.

A nurse walked in and out and it was a good fifteen minutes before a different nurse came out and called out, ‘Suma’ which sounded more like ‘Syumah’ as in Tuna. Suma put her magazine down and got up. The nurse gave her a pleasant smile and said ‘Hello, follow me this way’. Suma obeyed and walked behind the nurse. They walked down another hallway and entered another room. This room had a white tall machine on one side, a chair and monitor on the other side. There were a couple of empty chairs against the wall where the door was. This nurse was probably in her fifties and reminded Suma of her mother. The nurse asked her to untie her gown and asked which nipple was sore. ‘Left’, said Suma. The nurse came to her side and asked her to place her left breast on the transparent plate attached to the white machine. Suma did as told. The nurse came around and while saying ‘my hands will be cold’, positioned the breast in a certain way. Another plate parallel to the one on which her breast was resting was brought down with the press of a button and clamped her breast. As it went lower, the pressure mounted and Suma bit her lip to restrict her loud cry. ‘It’s painful, huh? Just a few seconds’, said the nurse and went over to the monitor. She pressed some buttons there and came back to release the plates. Suma breathed a sigh of relief. This process went on a few more times in different positions. It was not until another thirty minutes after, that the nurse finally said, ‘tie your gown and wait outside’. Suma fled from the room, never wanting to come back or do this again. Her breast hurt, she massaged it over the gown and felt no shame. She was surprised that within that hour, she had gone from a shy nipple-hiding woman to a rub-my-breast in front of other women. It hurt, really bad. She sat down with a thump. The  elderly lady next to her in a similar white gown with prints looked at Suma and smiled, meaning to say, ‘yeah, it’s painful’. She leaned towards Suma and said, ‘putting a cold compress helps’. Suma smiled back and said a meek, ‘thanks’. 

The elderly nurse came out and told Suma that she was good to go. Suma asked, ‘What about the result? Is everything okay?’. ‘You will get a call’, was all she got. Suma retraced her steps to the locker, then to changing room, and out the heavy door. She found Rishi drowned in his cellphone. She walked upto him and he looked up. ‘All done?’, he asked. ‘Yes’, she said. ‘What happened? What did they say?’, inquired Rishi. ‘They said they will call’. They walked out of the hospital, Suma thinking about the result, Rishi about the email he had to stop half way, when Suma came out.

It was another three days that Suma passed in anticipation of the call from the nurse. Finally on the third day, the call came.

“Is this Suma Nair?”, asked the nurse on the other end. Syoomah Nayair, Suma was used to her name being pronounced this way.

“Yes, this is her. Who is this?”, she asked.

“This is from St David’s Hospital. I am calling with regards to your Mammogram report.”, said the nurse.

“Okay, please tell me.”, Suma said, her fingers and toes crossed. The pain had been awful, she had noticed a discharge from her left nipple that morning, which she had fretted about. She told Rishi over breakfast, who brushed it like she was telling him about the neighbour’s cat, ‘we have done the test, lets see what comes out of it’.

“We had the radiologist look at the results of your Mammogram. We believe there is a mass in your left breast, behind the nipple. At this point, we would like you to meet an Oncologist. If you have a pen and paper handy, I can give you the name and number of the Oncologist we refer our patients to”, said the nurse in one breath.

Suma didn’t quite understand what the nurse was telling her.

“Who is an Onnn-koo-lo-….?”, she asked.

The nurse cut her off and said, “Ms Nayair, an Oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer. We are not saying you have cancer, we see something which needs to be further investigated by an Oncologist. Do you have a pen and paper handy Ms Nayair?”.

Silence.

“Ms Nayair… “.

Silence.

“Hello… Hello… Ms. Nayair.. are you there? Ms Nayair…”.

Silence.