Mount Abu and its Mirage

Setting: One Summer Day in Mount Abu

Those were the warm summers when I went with my family for holiday to the cool hills of Mount Abu. In that time of innocence, my dreams used to be scattered with fairies and magicians. I would wake up in the morning and open my eyes in the warmth of my mother’s arms. The width of my dad’s shoulders spanned my world.

One such morning when I sweetly slipped out of my fairyland, my mother held my hand and readied me for a bright and sunny day out. As she finished tying my sneakers’ laces, I screamed in semi-irritation when my elder brother pulled my ponytail, and then smiled with semi-delight at the mere sight of this god-image. I ran behind him fighting for the toy cars he was now engaged with.
My grandmother joined us while we moved out of the hotel room and hopped in the big white taxi and accelerated ahead for a long, long day out. The trip to the Dilwara temples was enlightening, no doubt, and as the knowledgeable guide showered us with his anecdotes, facts and history, we followed him across long passages lined and ceiling-ed with the most intricate carvings. The entire scene appeared to be surreal, as the carvings appeared to be suspended magically in the air.
Wide-eyed and curious, I held to the helm of my mother’s sari and stuck very closely to her. Finally my brother had had enough of being bombarded with history and took to teasing me and playing with my hair, having not been allowed to bring his second best toy (car) in the premises by my religious mother. We took to running around the pillars, much to the orthodox guide’s despise, earning us doles of disapproving looks from both the guide and the other visitors.

When my mother sighed and called out for the two of us kids, I emerged first from one of the hallways, being still chased by my brother. We were panting when we stepped out of the temple premises, earning even more of those disapproving looks coupled with a rare smile by passers-by. My mother had to pull us away from the candyfloss stalls on the pretext of unhygienic production, but having the foodie father that we did, both of us earned not one but two floss-sticks each.
We were thus bribed, and offered no rebellion when the taxi driver now announced that he would take us for the view of ‘sunset point’, a trademark commercial tourist spot without which every hill station would stand to be incomplete. We jumped out of the taxi when it neared the long populated parking. Visibly, a lot more visitors had chosen that weekend to tick this site off their checklists.

We were soon at the coveted peak point and could vaguely see the ‘sunset-point’ at the other end, along the horizon. The mountains were hidden behind dense clouds and only a few rays of the sun cloud be seen slashing out of the corners of the clouds.

We took seats close to each other on a cemented wall close to the dispersed crowd. Soon we were surrounded by a herd of hawkers selling snacks, toys, newspapers and binoculars. After repeated refusals, they persisted for sometime before finally wandering off to yet newer customers. Soon a little boy emerged from behind us and soon enough a wide shoe-polish brush and plate with traces of wax appeared too. “Please sir, let me polish your shoes”, he said. My father was of the view that those who want money should earn it. Seeing this distressful image, my mother commented, “Let him off with some biscuits.” But my father allowed him to polish his shoes for the dignity it would give him. His brush and his polish box looked devoid of everything.

Seeing a colleague getting a job, other boys with shoe-polish brushes and polish boxes rushed over to intervene. “Sirji, he has no polish! Allow us to polish your shoes bright and nice. Look, we have better brushes!”

The boy however ignored them and diligently went on polishing using an exhausted box and a dying brush. My father then gave him a couple of rupees and let him go. My eyes followed him from behind my father. I saw a small smile while he pocketed that money and joined the companions who had been teasing him. The empty polish box and a dying brush made my heart break.

The clouds had sifted by now and the stark sun could clearly be seen setting. However, they had sifted too late and we got only a single moment of glorious saffron light to bathe us all in the same color of humanity, and then it was gone.

The trance lifted immediately and everybody started looking for their families and friends to head back to their shelters. The boy was gone, and I could see his friends tinkering off and trying their luck on the very last of the visitors.

My mother gathered us all as we were to head back to our hotel room.

That night, I did not dream of fairies. In those flower laden gardens, the face of the boy kept irrupting again and again. When I got up the next morning, I wondered if this was why people said growing up was bad. The fairies in my dreams were replaced by monstrous realities. I stayed in the hug of my blanket and gaped at the curtained window with vacant eyes.

Then I remembered the boy’s smile. It made me smile too.

Spring

The summer sun shines in my eye,
I wander out of my home for the rays otherwise shy;
The walls meet my palms with a rough handshake,
And the wind insists on brushing by.

You can see my eyes still shine,
And there is summer in my mind;
With one hand I work along the wall,
With the other I work on the railing three foot tall;
I pull a chair and use it as my ladder,
Simply to push myself a bit farther.

There is now winter in the arc of my feet,
That are cramped against the curved steel;
The spring has not reached a single bone,
Of my feet still numb with the winter cold.

The winter of my feet and the summer of my eyes,
Must indicate that spring is close by.

Now I am looking down
The length of the building,
And I stand on the railing
Against the wall unyielding.

While my heart pounds against my chest,
The breeze giggles and tries to calm;
I slowly detach from the wall –
A shivering, moist and fearful palm.

There is winter in my feet,
And summer in my eye,
It could be time for spring
To spring from the building to die, and fly.

Dance with me

“Hello”
“Hi-”
” how are you doing today?”
“I-”
“It’s a wonderful evening, wouldn’t you say”
“Yes, I -”
“I would love to hold your hand and dance all day”
“Really, why -”
“Oh I love you like crazy, now if I may?”
“Okay”

He holds her hand and takes her away
She steps with doubt and gently he makes her sway

They play in the background the song of the day
The crowd fades around her as he closes in to say..

Relax now my lady
I will hold you all the way

He glides with her across the floor
The corner of her eye is still at the door

She wants to escape and thinks of a way
Brushes her elbow by the glass laden tray

Yet he glides with her across the glass-strewn floor
Closes in on the distance a little bit more

“It’s crazy” she thinks
And finally joins in the dance

He twirls her away
And into his arms
Another lady from the aisle
He was just waiting for his chance

Firefly Moments

July, 2014

Fleeting firefly moments with you
I catch and hide them in a box.
I take them away from glaring eyes
Hide it under faithful rocks.

Dodging those snatching hands
Catching glitter under bare trees
In an urgency to find space
And let out free.

Someday,
we will have a garden of them
Firefly moments of our sweet time
Its a matter of where and when.

Stitch me up

Winter, 2012

And you led me through the sand
You took me by my hand
With your soft warm grip
That firm dictating lip
I miss you by the day
When the lonely night is chased away
I miss you when it’s dark
In jokes and sundry lark.
Come here now
Pick me up
Throw me down
Stitch me up.

Dilemmas of our Generation(s)

We are, as Generation Y and X, the most privileged generations that have come to be. And yet, we are of generations easily dissatisfied and often disconcerted. We have some very unique new age dilemmas. (You wonder if I am a loathing critic? Quite the contrary – I am an admirer. )
Privileged as we are, we also have the most opportunity and potential. Our issues are the unnoticed natural dust accumulating on the furniture – some routine housecleaning will help in avoiding unforeseen colds.
Our systemic issues are placed in a domino sequence. Sitting at the very beginning is,

The Paradox of Choice

There is liberation in choices. And yet, the more choices we are given, the less free we make ourselves. I will let author Bruce Hood explain: “we procrastinate in trying to make the best decision…We are so worried that we may make the wrong choice that we try to compare…along dimensions that we have not even considered relevant before…that makes us put off things that we really should do now.”
I say no more.
This pushes over the next domino in the sequence:

The Paradox of Commitment

It is only when one limits their own options that they can manage to exert influence on the other participant’s choice of actions. I am talking Game Theory 101, with a little real-life ambiguity.
Suppose I have two free tickets for a movie show tonight – and I have a choice between Birdman, and Mad Max Fury. My first preference is definitely Birdman. If I fail to find suitable company, I am happy to go for Mad Max as a second option. I post this on facebook to invite replies. By noon, I get two replies for Mad Max, but none for Birdman (I know, all interested parties had already seen the latter Academy Award winner). In theory, I am quite flexible in this situation as I am somewhat okay with either of the movies.
However, my flexibility has added uncertainty into the situation. Although I am quite open with my choice, I cannot say a ‘yes’ to the two people who messaged me as I am still hoping for someone to say yes to Birdman. I tell the two friends the situation and that I will confirm about Mad Max plans in the evening. Come evening, if I am lucky, then I would have found company for Birdman. If not, my two other Mad Max friends may have by now made alternate plans and leave me friend-less for the movie. What’s more, I might be too late to book a seat for Birdman and end up going for the dreaded Mad Max anyway. Had I committed myself to Mad Max earlier, I would have had some company. Alternatively, I could commit myself to Birdman. That way, I am sure to go for Birdman that night – I might go alone, or with someone, but atleast get to watch the right movie!

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Clearly, if I were aware of my own preference, I would have committed to Birdman quite early on. Things get more complicated when I have a third choice of a Woody Allen movie, let’s say Irrational Man. Would you suggest me to commit to Birdman or Woody Allen? Birdman may give me an 8 or a 10, whereas Irrational Man is a definite 9.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 1.16.30 am

Different people would have different answers, but it is easy to see that as little as three choices could cause commitment paralysis – a sheer lack of focused commitment – there is no telling what multiple choices, as in real life, can do.
Solution to the commitment paradox – commit! Commit yourself to a choice, and this will lead other people to join you. If you are certain in your path, it lets people make certain decisions (if not, introduce them to ways of resolving the commitment paradox).
But why can we not commit?

Fear of Losing vs. Fear of Losing out

Fear of losing inhibits action, when things should have just been carried through, when we over-think and over-analyze a situation to decide our actions. Given that nothing is perfect, we end up finding a fault in the possibility we had imagined, we ruffle the feathers of our mind and force it to look elsewhere. “The person over wedded to the planned career (especially if they happen to hate it) tends to believe the best risk management strategy is to take no risks.” It is completely legitimate to seek stability. Priorities change at different stages in life.
And then there is the fear of losing out. Fear of losing out pushes us to do things – reach beyond, don’t take things for granted, run around with a net, chasing dreams and ideas of fancies regularly. Of course there are many bumps and dumps in this process when what we dream of, does not materialize. It is worth the effort for the few things that do materialize. It all depends if at the end of the day you want to go to bed fearful of life, or over-filled.
The second approach works well until it reaches a manic level where one does things without real meaning behind them. In the previous movie example, fear of losing out would mean, me having gone for all three movies one after another – in essence not giving complete attention to any single one.
But why do we want to keep our cake and eat it too? To put it another way, why do we want more and more?

A wrong anchor can sink your boat

There is an explanation behind why we want more of everything, even when we don’t really want it.
Anchoring is usually spoken of as a marketing phenomenon where a consumer sets a certain standard in their mind (usually by what the market signals to them). Every consumer decision made thereof, is biased and would either overwhelm or underwhelm you depending on this initial anchor.
Media, especially social media, tells us more is good. Its continuous feed of glossy images and status updates shows a lop-sided view of life. If you go by social media standards, you would imagine there to be no space for a normal day as we live it. It incorrectly anchors ‘normal’ days to be a chain of events, one exceeding the others in terms of excitement. We are told to over-use and under-appreciate.

Since when is it okay to over-use and under-appreciate? If our generation is unhappy, it is often because we have received too much too quick, not recommended for digestion. If you are buzzing with too much cake and yet unsatisfied – it is time to take a walk and clear up the shelves of the dust – our indulgence needs a break and our potential needs fresh air to thrive.

Gardener, wildling and weed

That one blossomed in the garden
Joyous as could be
She, untouched by man and weather,
An envy to see.

She was one spring,
Sought by this gardener with care
One who bent down on his knee
To lift her upright with his hands bare.

He picked out his hat in summer-time
To enjoy sunshine by her fragrant side
And she in turn would turn unto him her hue
Kissed by a man of this kind.

But like any man was he
As the days grew cold
He wouldn’t show up anymore
She peeped at the gate
while her spirit grew sore

She thought to herself
‘Now you leave me to the nature
You are not there when I cry
You would not know when my life freezes
You would not know when I die.’

To comfort the blossom’s wilting leave
Crawled by a sneaky weed.
She leaned for comfort
Unaware of the thief encroaching the dirt.

Running out of air
She cut her own shoot
She had to leave her bed
Leaving behind traces of her root.

She would go by the wildling
Who plucked her when he was young
I will die young, she thought, at least in the arms of one
Who would hold me till I am done.

The Sky-Sea

The sky opened its heart
And told me to taste its pearl sea
I leaned forward bewitched
Then stepped back wondering how could it be.

He laughed and told me
“Just walk right in. Your place awaits you”
I wasn’t sure if this was meant
Or had our past encounters left something due.

When I saw the sky alit and dim
Holding out its hand to let me through
I took a gasp of breath
And said I do.

“You do what?”
Said the people around me as I snapped out of a dream
“Oh, I have a lot to do,
That’s what I mean”.

Yet another day
I step out into sunshine
And look at the sky, wondering,
Are you really mine?

The sky urges
“I and my seas have always been”
Then why won’t you bend down from that horizon
And take me like its queen?

[P.S.

Am I to take a flight
To reach you on a whim
Or work with time
And ensure that I can swim?]

Entertaining a Fool: Heart vs. Mind

Why don’t they teach our hearts to be as quick as our minds? Move quickly, ruthlessly. My heart falls in love slowly. And doesn’t move so quickly. There is ill-synchronization – this process design would naturally be systematically wrong, and give a right scenario only by chance. Problem identified. Solution awaited.

Step 1: Stop listening to the heart. It is a fool. The heart is the devil. It will pine and cry and demand.

Step 2: You said no to the heart in the first instance. The heart should mellow down by now. Look at it with tenderness. Listen to it. Exhausted of crying, it would now be calmer. Ask the heart what it wants. It will reply quietly. Ask the heart ‘why?’ It will invariably have an answer. If it continues to ask for the same thing, let it have some.

Step 3: If everything goes well: congratulations. If it doesn’t, well, continue to Step 4.

Step 4: If everything isn’t as planned, its alright. Life isn’t a perfect story. Remember never to put your life on hold for anyone. This is a recipe for disaster – it brews all kinds of unnecessary expectations. Improvise. Compromise. Do not idealize.

Step 5: If things don’t work out despite genuine effort, you should know the limit to which you are willing to go. If anything asks you to lower your self-esteem – drop it.

Step 6: Drop it, Move on. Remember, don’t put your life on hold.

Step 7: Easier said than done? I agree. But you have simply got to do it. Stand up straight, throw back your hair, and get on with work. You have a life, the centre of which is you . Someone once told me a brilliant quote by Charlie Chaplin: “Life is a tragedy in close-up, but a comedy in long shot.” Look at the big picture and be grateful for the experience that made you more aware of yourself. Before I sleep at night, I thank God for all the bad experiences that have hurt me in some way. These are the experiences that make you go outside your comfort zone. If life were a jungle, this experience just made you fitter to survive. You just smoothened a rough edge that you had, and are now stronger for everything else that you wanted, and I do know you have many dreams that are blazing inside you asking for some fresh air. Go tend to them.

Step 8: When in life you look back, don’t regret anything. It is what you wanted and you did everything in good faith. For the next time, I would remember these lines I once heard from sufi singer Shafqat Amanat Ali: “Hamne usase wafa mangi jise wafa ka matlab hi nahi pata”, “I asked for the sincerity from one, who is oblivious to what it means.” Forgive yourself and move on. Next time, give the mind more time to audit your heart’s whims.

Little Boy Unnoticed

Little Boy Unnoticed
In a deserted street
Bending over
The garbage bin.

Pulls out
A used rag
From within.

He looks around
No cherubim.

Only,
His addictive sin.

Little boy,
They turned you at the gate
Even though you had been raped

But you never knew
The care-house wasn’t safe
There users had a crew.

Now you turn away as you were told

You had been wishful
In a world so cold

Deluded with hope,
You reached out again,
Shimmer melted away like liquid gold

You stumbled against your fate
It was thus arranged everyday
And you told yourself again
For one more time, just be bold.

Little Boy,
When I build a roof –
That day,
I will take you under.

From those misleading alleys
And strange homes,
A comfort besides the thunder.

Tucked in warm and sweet,
Of your fate you wouldn’t wonder.

How long will you last?

Did your struggles merely appetise –
A conspiracy’s hunger much more vast?

When the day wraps up
And the crowds turn away
Shelving anecdotes of you in their past-

Little boy Unnoticed,
Know it in your heart,
You will be the brazen star,
Rising to glory among an aesthetic cast.

Leaves, you, and me

Standing among the trees
Feeling that breeze
You look at me adoringly
As I straighten up that crease.

You lift me off my feet
Throw me into a mess of autumn leaves
“Are you going to help me up now?”
and you tell me to say that with a please.

I roll my eyes
Brush fingers through my hair
Re-arrange my dress –
And you push me down again.

This is your Box

How this works is, I find a box that I think suits you. Then I expect you to stick to it, however cramped it may get. And if you as much as poke an elbow out of it, things aren’t right.

Lame? Well, more often than not, we do exactly this. We label people around us, putting them onto a pedestal of expectations and stereotypes. By forming a certain image of them, we assign them a ‘box’. Of course this is advantageous: mentally, it simplifies the way we deal with people so we don’t have to formulate a relationship from scratch, saving valuable time and effort. Moreover, if people on average don’t deviate much from their inherently differing personalities, assigning boxes is logical and helps two different people in finding stability, where quirky behavioral traits don’t shock consistently. If I get cranky when hungry, a knowing acquaintance would form expectations, be undeterred when I show irritation and stick to a normal pattern. Potential conflict reduced.

Boxes, especially if they fit well, allow no room for growth, because, as I once read, “we fix one another in our expectations and we live down to those expectations.”

Any relationship that doesn’t accept your growth, is unhealthy. Cut loose. Live free. When you travel through life, travel light. Don’t carry burdens that drag you backwards. Allow the learning to strengthen and hope to energize – let the experience gym train you to be swift on your feet.

And yet in this frequent traveler environment, we shall stop and find companionship and build connections. It is human nature to connect. But relationships throw open the Pandora Box of human emotions: expectations, need, jealousy and desire. So is living light and creating valuable relationships compatible? If balanced well, why not.

If we know what boxes do to us, why fit others into them anymore than we want to be in them?

Relationships, like houses that we plan to live in, demand strong foundations. One could move into a house that someone else built, but that’s not personal. One could build a house on previous well-tested foundations, however if it is a new architectural structure one wants, the foundation has to be compatible with the architectural style. So, for a new personalized house with a new architectural pattern, we require solidly built new foundations. Effort certainly required. And if customization renders multiple-use foundations non-workable, we can’t really fit people into boxes and get away with it. These structures will fall.

And if a settlement of houses isn’t workable, accommodating tents are always a good option.

Fire in my House

There is a fire in my house

Let it burn, let it burn.

It’s a house, not my home –

Its something I must learn.

 

And let it burn

So I may leave

And find my ways

To where I should be.

 

And when I find that place

I will put down a tent

For a stay isn’t sure

I’d rather pay a rent.

 

You can critique

And call me lost or aloof.

I don’t know of tomorrow

But today I appreciate a roof.

 

A roof I need

Under which I may stay

Return to it by night

And there sleep after I pray.

 

A place to put my papers and maps

Where I can chart route for next morning

But usually I have no plan

And I would leave without a warning.

Two friends and a Picnic

Two friends by a lake
They laugh at a joke.
Not far behind them a friendly house –
Sniffs out some Smoke.

The friends, they stroll,
And pet each other’s dog;
While somewhere in a house’s fireplace,
Someone pushes in another log.

The friends – they arrange a picnic,
They have a cake and open a beer.
And something burns nearby,
Something very, very dear.

They play a game of rummy
One wins, other ensures those cards.
Very close behind
Abandoned structures are falling apart.

They get up and stretch –
And play some more games.
In the backdrop one could see
The house light up in flames.

The fire would follow dry grass,
And near the picnic it would land.
Would they run the easier ways?
Or would they hold out a hand?

एक दोस्त ने हमसे कहा,
तुम्हारी दोस्ती झूठी है;
बरसों बीत गए उसे मनाते मनाते –
वह फिर भी रूठी है।

इन सालों में हवा के रुख बदल गए –
वह कहती है हम अलग राह पर निकल गए।

पर आज भी हम-तुम वही गीत गाते हैं,
उसी तालाब उसी टीले पर जाते हैं।

एक अकेला
कैसे जोडे टूटे धागे?
काश वो कहती,
आओ साथ में नया धागा पिरोऍ।