My article in Women’s Web about a brief encounter with a “neighbor”

Some people we meet in life make an abrupt entry and a hasty exit, leaving faint but lasting impressions in their wake. Nothing too remarkable about my experience, I don’t even remember her name and yet I find myself thinking about her at times, wondering how things are going with her. Here’s an article I wrote on Women’s Web about meeting a Pakistani co-passenger on a flight not too long ago: http://www.womensweb.in/2017/07/pakistani-woman-chance-encounter-same-different/

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A short musing on writing, photography and other art

Pink flowers

Photo courtesy husband, of course! (Click on it to go to Myriad Moods Photography Facebook page)

Springtime in the Bay Area, USA alters the landscape in a lovely way. Around February, March and April nature erupts into a mad profusion of flowers on the ground as well as above. There are these almost other-worldly looking large pink and white flowers – a type of Magnolia – on some trees. On others, dainty, smaller pink and white flowers can be seen. As the weeks pass, below in the grass, the wild mustard creates a yellow riot and the slopes of the freeway embankments are covered by flowery carpets of different hues.

Another color that catches one’s eye is vanilla white, on the ornamental flowering pear tree. This entire tree undergoes a spectacular transformation, flaunting an outfit of pure white. Barely a green leaf peeping through, the white flowers are bunched together tightly, standing out starkly against the dark stem and branches. If viewed from out of context, it looks as if there is snow on the tree tops!

When the sky is cloudy and the light is diffused, these beauties look even more striking among the other shades of green. As the season progresses and the petals start to shed, they swirl around in gusts of air, especially when one is driving, with the small white bits spinning towards the car like delicate snowflakes. Fairy-dust!

It was while watching one such magical gust from the car that I looked up in spell-bound wonder at this entire street that had its sides flanked in white by the trees. I remembered that at another time, my husband had expressed his desire to capture that very same view in his camera. I was in a hurry to reach somewhere but I wished, too, at that time, that I could stop the car and freeze the beauty in front of me.

This brought to my mind a related conversation I had with my husband some time ago. As many readers may know, he is an avid photographer (although at this time of my writing, his photography is intermittent, a state that hopefully will change for the better). That day he had just finished post-processing a photograph he had clicked. Gazing at the stunning result, I enviously said, “This is beautiful. Look how fast you created this work of art! If I were to write a short story, it feels like it takes me ages. And the consumption of a photograph is fast too. People take it in between a mere blink of an eye. For my blog post or short story they might first scroll down to see how long my prose is before they begin reading (or decide not to if it seems too long!)”

He laughed and said, “it’s because of the instant gratification aspect of photography that there are so many people pursuing photography compared to fewer who write or paint.”

What he was saying was true. There is a difference in numbers when it comes to the seconds ticking behind certain creative pursuits. Of course, neither he nor I wish to devalue photography at all. Every form of art is unique and precious in its own way. And after all, isn’t there a saying, “a picture speaks a thousand words”? This conveys the immense power of pictures, no doubt. But it also aptly indicates that the amount of effort needed to produce written content versus visuals is far more. And those “thousand words” can’t just be any words; they have to work hard to qualify as ‘art’ and deliver the same effect as the picture does.

The main reason behind the comparison between writing and photography being discussed in our household was only borne out of the experience of struggling to find time to write to create something meaningful versus capturing the same by a camera. Even revising the first draft takes a long time versus post-processing a photograph.

Here, another thought popped up in my mind. What about painting and crafts like say, crocheting or sculpting? At least with writing (on a computer, not by pen or on a typewriters!) and digital photography (by a sophisticated camera and using software to process it, not by a traditional camera and developing prints in a dark room!), if not satisfactory, one can wipe out what one has done so far or maintain revisions that one can go back to and modify any time. With the other kinds of art, it requires a totally different mindset because of the nature of the work, the materials involved and the finite state that they attain. And how about other art such as music, singing and dancing? One can’t go back and erase mistakes in a live performance. The composure maintained by the artist in the face of pressure to be flawless while performing before thousands of people is truly applause-worthy. Also, such art doesn’t even have tangible physical forms and yet it can produce an enthralling effect that manifests physically in the spectator’s body!

The_War_Of_Art_bookRecently I finished the book ‘The War of Art‘ by Steven Pressfield. Have you ever read a book that knocks you off your feet like a powerful gust of wind? The War of Art felt just like that. A kick in the gut! For anyone who has ever felt a desire again and again to do a particular thing and yet there has been a disconnect between that aspiration and actually fulfilling it, The War of Art is a wake-up call. Although applicable to any endeavor, be it entrepreneurship, gardening, even motherhood, it mainly talks about art and writing. So it felt very relatable to me. That book is like a strict school teacher, concerned parent, psychiatrist and spiritual guru all rolled into one, with one singular message about any activity that is close to one’s heart: “just do it!”

The discussion with my husband and ruminating over The War of Art made me acknowledge and radically accept what a time-consuming process writing is. It emphatically reiterated what I have been learning for some time now: there are no short-cuts involved and time, which is in short supply, what with a day job and a toddler at home, has to be used wisely.

Coming back to that moment while I was admiring those pretty white blossoms mentioned at the start of this post, I was lamenting the absence of a camera to point at them and the skills to capture them in the most effective way. So I tried to store them in my mind’s eye. It would perhaps take me more time but I knew that sooner or later I would be using words to describe and re-experience those lovely flowers and “click” a mental picture of them onto a blank page.

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My short story A Boon for Sara in Indian Literature journal

A Boon for Sara in Indian LiteratureMy short story titled ‘A Boon for Sara’ was published last year in the bimonthly journal Indian Literature by Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of letters in India). Whatever recent work I have had a chance to publish,  has mostly been in an online format. This time, thanks to my father-in-law and mother-in-law who ordered an actual copy of the journal containing my story and sent it here to the US, it felt nice to hold a physical copy in my hands for a change.

In the story, I mixed the old with the modern by referencing a legend from the Mahabharata. Besides enjoying writing the dialogue-heavy tale between two characters, I think the theme is relevant to young Indian couples who do not necessarily want to be forced to go with the flow. Although I myself have purposefully chosen the particular path mentioned in the story because I really wanted to, I wholeheartedly support those who don’t choose it. I believe that this choice is personal and should not be put under the harsh societal microscope in order to be judged unfairly.

Enough with the preamble! Here is the story:

                                                                    A Boon for Sara

Sara woke up in a chair at the foot of Varun’s bed. Her head still heavy, she felt as though she had been lost in a maze for hours, only to land up in the harshly lit, sterile room that she now found herself in. It was when her eyes fell on the still figure of Varun, his body hooked up to a host of machines and his forehead under a swath of bandages that she remembered she was at the hospital. It felt as though the road accident they had been in had taken place only seconds ago.

The ugly screech of tires, the sudden shock of being flung into the air, the smell of burnt rubber and the slow spinning of the world around them. The surrounding commotion came back to her in fragments, disappearing and reappearing under cloudy memory, like a light switch getting flicked on and off. She had escaped almost unscathed, with minor bruises, while he had not been so lucky. She had spent the entire evening sitting there in the hospital room like a statue, mutely studying her husband’s unconscious face. She furrowed her brow. How odd! She seemed to have no feelings, no strong emotions at all. Her mind felt blank, her heart, as dark as the night during which they had been travelling back from a friend’s wedding that had taken place at a farmhouse venue outside of the city. Had the shock of Varun’s current state shrivelled up all the grief, fear and hope within her?

A shadow fell across the room. Wondering how she had missed hearing the door open, she turned around, expecting to see a nurse or the doctor. She nearly fell out of her chair.

“Oh!” Was all she could say.

He stood before her, six feet tall and built like an ox. In fact, his head resembled one, with thick black horns emerging from the front of his wide skull and curling back into sharp points. They gave a dull metallic shine against the sparkle of his gold crown. His complexion was as dark as the night and yet a bushy moustache curving over his full cheeks right up to his ears stood out clearly against his face. Behind him stood a sturdy black buffalo, its leathery body gleaming as though it had been scrubbed clean only moments ago. Together they took up all the remaining space in the room. If it weren’t for the fact that her husband lay in critical condition, Sara would have laughed aloud at the odd sight before her. It took her a few seconds to place a name on the man standing in front of her.

“I think you have the wrong room,” she said. He was perhaps an actor who had come to visit someone at the hospital straight after work. She had to hand it to them though. He looked like he had stepped straight out of one of the epics like the Mahabharata. Even the buffalo looked remarkably real.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked in a voice that was surprisingly gentle, given his muscular physique.

“Of course! You are playing the part of Yamraj – the Lord of Death,” she replied.

The man threw back his head and a booming laugh thundered up from his exposed belly button above his gold-embroidered dhoti*.

“Ha ha ha! You think I am an actor?”

Sara nodded.

“I am Yamraj himself!”

Sara kept on staring, not knowing what to say.

“Let me prove it to you,” he said and extended his hand, palm facing upwards. He moved his fingers as if summoning her.

There was a sudden shift in air pressure. A feeling of utter helplessness overcame her. Every breath she took seemed to require tremendous effort. She felt trapped, as if locked in a box, with its walls closing in on her every second.

The man dropped his hand to his side and just as he did so, Sara felt her wildly quivering heart begin to restore itself to its normal pace.

“Now do you believe me?” He asked.

Sara’s mouth hung open. Her mouth formed the words ‘oh, my god’, but no sound came out.

A mounting fear started to uncoil itself from somewhere deep within her. She looked at Varun and back again at Yamraj, who was nodding in reply to her unasked question.

“Please don’t.” Her voice squeaked past the lump in her throat.

Yamraj shook his head. “I must.” He said and took a step forward.

“Wait! Wait!” Sara sprang from her chair. “Listen to me, just listen to me first.”

The burly man stopped.

“Just look at him! Isn’t he too young?”

Yamraj shrugged his massive shoulders.

“Oh for God’s sake! He hardly ever even falls sick and he gets up at 5.30 every morning to go to the gym.” She said.

“His time is up…” Yamraj started to say.

“How can you walk in here and take him away just like that?”

“This is what I have been doing since the dawn of time.”

“No, no, no. He can’t die.” Sara almost shrieked. “Not now and not like this. You just wait and see, in a few weeks, it’ll be like this accident never happened.”

“I’m sorry.”

“But there’s still so much to do! What about his dreams? His utmost desires? Do you know how long he has been planning on starting his own business? All that time spent working hard outside of his usual office hours, chipping away at his late nights and early dawns. ’Sara,’ he would say to me, ‘I know my ideas are going to take off and explode. And once it is all done, we are going to take this splendid vacation to travel the world. The first stop will be Egypt. Imagine standing hand-in-hand in front of the pyramids as the sun goes down, gazing at them in stunned silence till the first bright star starts to twinkle behind those magnificent monuments.’ How can you deny him all that?” She asked Yamraj.

She took a deep breath. “Alright, that’s a bit far off into the future. What about simple plans for the weekend? The cricket match he has been looking forward to watching with his friends. The gift he was planning to buy his favorite uncle for his 60th birthday. The book he was planning to finish reading soon so that he could find out if the missing girl in it is found. He’s almost done. Just a few more pages to go…”

Her eyes turned dreamy. “He was planning this elaborate evening for our third year wedding anniversary next month.”

Everything felt unreal, disintegrating into nothingness even as the words left her mouth. Looking at Yamraj standing there like a statue made of stone Sara had the furious urge to hurl something at him.

“Alright, you don’t care about him then. But what about me? You think I will be able to live without him?” Tears sprang to her eyes.

“Life goes on, my dear,” he said.

Sara sat down heavily in the chair. “That’s what they all say, don’t they? Move on. You are young. You have your whole life ahead of you still. Blah, blah, blah. But what do they know of falling in love? What do you know of falling in love? And staying in love? It’s been six years since Varun came into my life and three since we have been married. No, it was not love at first sight. It was better than that. We were best friends above all else. Best friends and lovers. We still are. And we make each other happy. If he’s gone it will be like half of me is missing, like one side of my body is amputated. Why don’t you take me instead of him?”

Yamraj shook his head, “That won’t do at all. You are destined to grow to a ripe old age.” His moustache arched downwards in a deep frown. “Child, I am helpless.”

There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “I feel sorry for you, I really do. So I have decided to offer you a boon. Ask for anything except sparing the life that I have come to take.”

Sara gave a short laugh. “You really do go around granting wishes to potential widows, don’t you? I’m familiar with the legend of Satyavan and Savitri. When Savitri begged you to spare her young husband’s life, you told her to ask for something else. She came up with the clever solution of her wish to give birth to Satyavan’s children and this left you with no choice but to leave him alone. Are you expecting the same request from me?”

Before Yamraj could reply, she continued with a wry smile, “It’s funny how it has come down to this. If Varun were awake now, this would have totally cracked him up. You see, he and I had already decided not to have any children.”

“Why not?” Yamraj raised his bushy eyebrows.

“Because we had come to the crystal clear conclusion that childbearing and child-rearing is simply not our cup of tea. Varun is not very fond of small children. And even though I enjoy their company and I pamper my nieces and nephews, I know I will not be able to stand the hard times. We’d rather spend our time doing other things. Both of us love our highly demanding, yet fulfilling jobs. And in our free time, our creative selves take over. He writes poetry and I indulge in photography. We read, we watch movies, we travel and we also donate time and money to charity. We are a pair of happy lovebirds in our cozy nest!”

Her voice turned bitter all of a sudden and she rolled her eyes. “Ugh! The countless times we have been pestered by parents, nosy neighbors and elderly relatives about us not having any” – she drew imaginary quotes in the air with her fingers around the words – “good news after three years of matrimony. Some of my colleagues and acquaintances will look at me funny when I declare that we never want kids. Can’t a family be just two in number and still be happy?”

“And you know what? People have children for all the wrong reasons.” She continued. To bring a precious life into this world and more importantly, to raise it half-heartedly just because society says so when you are not ready, do not deserve to or are not even willing to is just plain wrong. It’s inhumane. How many times have I heard an elderly meddlesome relative advise a fighting couple who is caught in a failing marriage to bear a child? ‘Have a baby,’ they’ll say, ‘then everything will be alright’. Or the husband is a wife-beating drunk and she’ll be told to bring a baby into his life to sober him up. The poor unborn soul has no idea what a horrible childhood is in its destiny.”

She became thoughtful. “Also, as a matter of principle I alone cannot go back on our mutual decision.”

Yamraj smiled. “Your maturity and clarity of thought leaves me impressed. Pray, what is your wish, apart from that which I cannot grant you?”

“Here’s what I wish for then.” There was a glint in Sara’s eyes as she spoke. “You said that I would grow old and then die. So I want to die in Varun’s embrace, his sweet breath lingering on as I fade away after he kisses me goodbye.”

Yamraj threw back his head and laughed his rumbling, hearty laughter. He raised his hand and said simply, “tathastu!” So be it! The buffalo behind him tossed its head, flicked its tail and they both disappeared into thin air.

Sara woke up with a start. There was an imprint of the folds of Varun’s blanket on her cheek and her neck was aching from the way her head had lain sideways for a long time. How long had she been asleep for as she dreamt her outrageous dream? The story of Satyavan and Savitri of all things! And it had all seemed so real! She couldn’t help but look over her shoulder half expecting to see a fat black buffalo standing behind her but of course, there was nothing there. She smiled faintly as she remembered how the dream had ended.

And what was this? Was she feeling something at last? Where there had been blank whiteness inside her mind before, a rosy tint seemed to be seeping in along the edges now. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she gazed at her husband with hope that had newly sprung up in her heart.

* dhoti – a long loincloth worn by men.

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About our parents’ day out …

One day, not too long ago in November, during the week of Thanksgiving here in California, my husband and I both happened to be off work. The sky was blue, the air cool and the weather sunny. The little one was off at daycare. With glee that rivaled that of a school kid’s at the start of a holiday, we piled into our car to steal a few glorious hours away from the full-time job of parenting. 

Although only about an hour’s drive from where we live, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been to the destination we were driving to. The place felt like an old acquaintance, someone with whom you recall fun times but who you haven’t met in ages. The city that is home to a bright, iconic bridge, with roads that climb and dip along crazy, steep inclines and with dwellings layered thickly together like decorated cupcakes beside the Pacific Ocean. San Francisco!

I wanted to go to a location with a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge, especially in the cooler season in November, when it can be viewed in its entirety, without the fog playing spoilsport as it often does during the summer months. We decided on a drive through Half Moon Bay, along the Pacific coastline and this turned out to provide half the enjoyment in our outing.

Since it was a weekday and non-peak traffic hour, traffic was sparse. The music system in the car remained switched off. We were tuned into our own private communication channel, one where we were able to complete entire sentences at a stretch for a change. No half-sentences to each other left dangling in the air while getting constantly interrupted by a toddler. “Hey! Don’t put that in your mouth!”, “Don’t step in the mess, let me clean it up first. Wait, please!”, “Did you hear what our little girl said just now? Wasn’t that cute?” or “Oh! Don’t throw that, it’ll break. Don’t! Aaaaahh…” No more of “wait, what was I about to tell you? Gosh! I forgot about it when she started yelling …”

The surroundings at the side of the road had started to turn green with the first few rains of the season. After a pleasant drive through the mountains, a stretch of blue began gleaming in the distance towards the sides. My nose caught a whiff of a familiar salty smell. Hmmmm. The ocean was close by.

We reached half moon bay and instead of turning in for the route into the main town, we continued ahead towards our final destination. The coastline began to race alongside our car. My husband, who was sitting in the passenger seat, pointed out a spot in the distance to stop the car and spend a moment by the roadside, his camera at the ready.

I turned into a nearly empty parking lot that belonged to a restaurant that was closed on that day. The low cliff it was on overlooked a sandy beach. A narrow path travelled along the rim. It was bordered with the bountiful ice plant that grows in most of the coastal places here. We made our way along it and stopped at the ledge. The ocean sparkled under the sunlight and the water came forth in frothing milky waves under a flock of circling seagulls. There were barely six or seven people on the beach below. A woman leisurely walked her two brilliantly white dogs along the water’s edge. Far away could be seen the bulky shape of a cargo ship, right on the horizon. The breeze from the ocean was cold, yet it felt oddly pleasant over our winter clothes. I stood there taking everything in while my husband did what he has always loved doing in a beautiful natural setting. Taking in the scenery through his senses and the viewfinder of his camera.

“Next time, maybe in the summer, we must bring our little girl here! She’ll enjoy playing in the sand,” we planned. A pang of yearning left me pondering at this dialectic – we were enjoying the moment immensely and yet there it was, the unmistakable longing for that little disruptive creature. That’s how it is always going to be, isn’t it? This joyous, crazy and confusing parenting life. There we’ll be, alone or just the two of us. No distractions. And there she’ll be as well, hovering constantly at the back of our minds like a butterfly.

I remember, a few months after she was born, we had decided to grab lunch together during our office lunch breaks – just the two of us – on my birthday. Before entering the restaurant, I had smiled at my husband, “How long do you think it will be, after we are seated, that we’ll start talking about our li’l one?” Sure enough, we had lasted only a few seconds. Then there was the time, a couple of months before that, as I was driving to work on the first day after maternity leave ended. I was talking to my sister on the phone. “Wow! It feels good to be back in the civilized world!” I told her, recollecting the past few weeks that had disappeared under a blanket of diapers, nighttime wakings and frequent nursing.

Anyway, back to the present. We got into the car, reluctant to leave that slice of life immersed in nature from moments ago. The mind had been fed but the body craved nutrition. Time for lunch! The restaurant we found on the way was situated right by the ocean, with waves crashing powerfully onto the rocks by the shore. The colliding water sprayed us gently as we walked across the parking lot. After full bellies, we were on our way once more.

Lands End in San Francisco is just what its name means. The rocky coastline with a wide open view of the blue Pacific stretching out makes it seem like the edge of the world. As we got out of the car, chilly winds assailed us, threatening to penetrate our warm outerwear. Pulling our jackets tighter, we started walking on a trail that ran high along the coastline, with glimpses of the rocky beach and the waves below. But first, we had to fulfill the main purpose of our trip. Stop to take in the full, unblocked view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the near distance, situated admirably at the gaping mouth of the land beside the ocean.

lands_end_photo

At Lands End, a scene right out of a fantasy narrative

Some photographs and selfies later, we resumed our way along the trail, the windswept cypress trees and other vegetation providing interesting plays of light and shadow. It felt nice to be out in the cold but clear air, getting a bit of exercise for both body and mind.

We turned back much before the trail ended since we had to hurry to beat the evening traffic. However, there was still one more thing left to do. There is this famous creamery called Bi-Rite in San Francisco, rated among the top ones in the US. I had visited it just once before and had fallen in love with the taste that had lingered for far too long on the tip of my mind’s tongue. My pregnancy cravings for their famous salted caramel ice-cream (my new favorite flavor!) had remained unfulfilled. It was time to put this yearning to rest!

Bi-Rite creamery salted caramel ice-creamThe ice-cream tasted as heavenly as I had remembered it to. Sweet creamy goodness melting in my mouth, followed swiftly by subtle salty notes, without which the entire experience would have remained incomplete. And this delectation was taken a step further by the addition of the creamery’s own gingersnap cookies crumbled onto the scoop. All in all, this detour provided a perfect topping on a day scooped onto the already brimming cups of our lives. A day that gave a welcome break to the monotony of daily routine, one that usually contained a very long to-do list.

Everyone needs a break once in awhile and happy people make happy parents. I hope that at least for the immediate few days following our excursion, our kid was able to vouch for that sentiment!

Golden Gate Bridge

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The unfinished business of writing

Last night I had a dream that I happened to remember very clearly even after I woke up. In it, a middle-aged fortune-teller with a bandana over her hair was reading my palm. I waited to hear what she would say but all she did was fold my fingers shut over my palms and turn away with a smile that stuck in my mind even after I woke up. A smile that was toothless and wide, with a finality that declared, “your future has nothing to say”.

The dream did not end there. Still asleep, I somehow figured out what it was that she had seen on my palm. I opened my shut fingers and looked at it. The lines that I understood to be signifying my lifespan stood out. They were very short. It was crystal clear what the fortune-teller had refused to tell me. I was going to die soon. Then there was a secondary realization and all at once, a sad feeling seized hold of me.

In the morning I narrated this dream to my husband. I told him about the sad thought that had popped into my head after knowing about my imminent demise.

“Can you guess what I was thinking about?” I asked him.

“You were worried about our little daughter?” He ventured.

I shook my head grimly. “No. The immediate thought that crossed my mind was not about myself or my loved ones. It was only this: ‘Oh no! I have not written that one article … that one short story … that one novel … that I’ve always wanted to write.'”

Simply put, I felt a surge of regret at not having written enough.

The dream had then ended with a scene where a friend’s sister was showing off something that she had written, while I looked on with envy.

I imagined later that if I ever died too early, you would find my ghost, not just terrorizing people (what? shouldn’t ghosts have some fun?) but also spending a good chunk of time working on that draft of writing that had been in progress.

I googled for interpretations of such types of dreams involving the death of the self, not so much with any sense of alarm but more with a curiosity. I found the following:

According to this article containing a conversation with Jeffrey Sumber, a psychotherapist and author, dreams about death often indicate “the symbolic ending of something, whether that’s a phase, a job or a relationship.” He suggests that a dream about death can also indicate attempts to resolve anxiety or anger directed toward the self. “It does not, however, suggest that [a person] will actually die imminently,” Sumber notes.

So, that was a relief! However, the symbolism pointing towards anxiety about my writing practice, about my writing life being in jeopardy seemed spot on. It was not all hopeless, though. When I mentioned my earlier complaint about not pursuing my passion for books, I was not being completely truthful because if the level of interaction with books in my life dropped to zero, I would already be dead. It is just that it is not up to the mark, not as frequent as I would like it to be.

New Yorker fridge magnet

Our refrigerator at home, proudly flaunting its New Yorker magnet

For example, being a new parent, whatever little I have been reading has to do with parenting. Books about raising children and to some degree, books on self-improvement, is all I had been able to manage intermittently. My only connection with fiction – a real time-saver that my husband had once suggested – is a podcast I listen to during my daily commute to and from work. The New Yorker Fiction podcast has a rich collection of short stories read out by different writers (not the same author who has written it) followed by an engaging discussion with the editor analyzing the story. It is both entertaining as well as educational and the most fruitful minutes of my life that would otherwise have been regretfully lost crawling along in peak work-hour traffic. It helps maintain my sanity.

I know that life is one big re-arrangement of priorities and I teeter on the edge of dissatisfaction about not pursuing my passion and an understanding that it can get compromised when some other things take precedence. However, when I start falling off over to this side where there is no time and space for the written word, it seems natural that I am plagued with such dark dreams. And this serves as a wake-up call (pun intended!) to resume writing.

When the story inside me is struggling to be heard, when it is thrashing about, yearning to come up to the surface, the following saying pretty much sums up what I am feeling:

Writing is torture. Not writing is torture. The only thing that feels good is having written.” – C B Mosher

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My Sister’s Solo Sojourn to North-East India

In November last year, my younger sister decided to make a lone trip to North-East India. I asked (no, I demanded!) that she write her experiences and do a guest post on my blog. When she showed me what she had written I liked it so much that I wanted it to be published on a reputed platform with a much wider reach than my blog. And so I suggested the online magazine “Women’s Web”.

Before her article was submitted I happily put on an editor’s hat for her and gleefully slashed my sword through any stray grammatical and spelling errors I could pounce on. I also chopped quite a few heads… err…I mean, words to whip it into shape within a decent word limit. And here is the final product:  http://www.womensweb.in/2016/02/my-experience-as-a-woman-traveling-alone-in-north-east-india/

The preamble, which was written by the editors at Women’s Web says: “A woman traveling alone is rare in India. Here’s a journey taken by the writer to the Northeast, on which she learnt a lot, not just about the place, but about what she could do alone.

Read on to experience the memorable journey that she undertook with a companion being no other than her own self …

Rhinos at Kaziranga

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My childbirth story

Pregnant bellySo many female bloggers out there have written blog posts about their first childbirth and on reading them, I was fascinated by the fact that although this process is natural and common, it will never cease to be one of the highlights in the life of people experiencing it. Intensely personal, unique to every individual and something that has never been felt before! Without further ado, here is an account of my experience that adds to all those voices that came before me since the time the first human beings walked the earth.

I’ll begin a month before our daughter was born when my husband and I had a heart-melting moment on meeting our nephew for the very first time. Barely a few hours old, he was curled up in my husband’s elder brother’s arms as our sister-in-law looked on happily. Many people say that the birth of a child is a sort of re-birth for the woman herself. I agree. For a re-birth, you need to die first. And those painful labor pains will ensure that this condition is almost met!

In my case, those pains built up rather slowly. My doctor had decided to artificially induce me on the predicted due date of 40 weeks since I had been diagnosed with the temporary condition of gestational diabetes (that was meticulously diet and exercise controlled) during the last trimester of my pregnancy. The evening before, I started to feel very mild pains, which I later realized were actually contractions. Because of the fixed date to induce me, my husband and I got myself admitted to the hospital in the morning. I was fitted with the two belts around my belly to keep track of the baby’s heart-rate as well as my contractions on monitors next to the hospital bed. Then they started me off with a cervical ripening agent since there was only minimal dilation. And so began Part One of the waiting game.

Around midnight, a quick check by the nurse revealed that even after 12 hours not much progress had been made physically although by now waves of contractions had begun to wash up on my shore. There they came, crashing into each other in rapid succession, hardly giving me a chance to catch my breath. My husband and I had done our fair share of homework by attending childbirth preparation classes at the hospital, reading up tons of information and practicing breathing techniques. Now was the time to put all that theory into practice in order to tackle those lightening bolts zapping away just above my backside. That’s a strange description of and location for a contraction, totally different from how other women describe it but that’s just how this process is – absolutely unique to every female body. So there I was, each new contraction sending me to hell and back, where the devil himself/herself seemed to be driving his/her pitchfork deep into my tailbone again and again. My husband scurried around me with pillows, towels, blankets and the birthing ball, trying to get me whatever shred of relief I could obtain while I rocked, swayed, heaved, deep-breathed and grunted through the pain.

And then we tried something that had been highly recommended to us in those classes. I stepped in for a shower and – I kid you not – out burst glorious sunshine through the shower-head. Sparkling rainbows and galloping unicorns! Chocolate rivers and perfume-filled gardens! The most soothing forty-five minutes of my life! I remembered the words of the mid-wife who had conducted the classes: “I am all for saving water in drought-wrought California”, she had barked like an army general whose commands dare not be disobeyed, “but if a woman in labor wants it, she gets all the hot water she needs!”

Alas, I could not spend the entire time under hot water, especially when the nurses were preparing to run the drug pitocin through the IV to help progress my labor and increase dilation. Thus began Part Two as we clocked in around 18 hours from the time of arrival at the hospital. In the meantime, a painkiller drug took the edge off some of the pain and kept me drifting in and out of sleep, giving me some rest. Still, after its effect wore off, the pain returned in incremental levels and both of us were back scurrying to counter it with different labor positions and regulated breathing. At one point when I was trying to lie down and close my eyes, I was jolted awake by screams from a delivery room nearby that almost pushed my heart out of my body! That woman next door was already at the home stretch and probably without any help from medication. Her screams were soon followed by that sweetest sound every parent hears – a full-throated cry of the tiny creature who has just taken his or her first breathe of air. In the neighboring delivery room I gritted my teeth and awaited my turn.

My doctor, who had been dropping in a few times to check on me then recommended that I go in for the big guns – the epidural. An anesthetist kicked off Part Three by completing the procedure that involved administering the drug through a tube inserted near the spinal cord region. Soon enough, I was numb all the way down starting from my lower abdomen. Anyone could have sneaked up behind me and stabbed my thigh and I would have barely thrown a glance in that direction. Under its effect, I was able to comfortably chat with my parents and in-laws who had dropped by to meet me.

The doctor had discussed various actions she would need to take in case dilation still had not progressed. Much as I dreaded them, soon came the time when she had to break my bag of waters and insert a catheter inside to measure the strength of the current contractions so that the dose of the drug pitocin could be adjusted to a precise amount. Waiting had become second nature to us by now. Our hopes climbed high every time a nurse came in to check my progress only to tumble down after she announced no difference in the number of centimeters of dilation for the past few hours. I began to prepare myself mentally to undergo any emergency procedure if the need arose.

It was now close to 36 hours since I had been admitted to the hospital. I dozed off at around 10 p.m. and woke up in sudden discomfort in spite of the numbness of the epidural. I asked my husband to put on a movie that was available on demand on the TV in the room. I struggled to focus on the screen until finally, a few minutes later, I gave up and told him to pause it. “Call the nurse”, I said, as I began to feel an incredible amount of pressure start to build up inside. The nurse checked me and to our immense delight exclaimed that I was now 9-1o cm dilated and could soon start pushing! By now, the pressure was getting intense. I began to shiver uncontrollably and was running a high fever. Medication and cold compresses were started off without delay and they called the doctor who had gone home. She arrived shortly to carefully monitor my condition and keep a close eye on the heart-rate of the baby who was now on her way out.

Three pairs of feet

And then there were three!

A team of three cheerleaders now surrounded me – the doctor, a nurse and my husband. I began to run the final stretch of the marathon to steady counts of “one, two, three, … and to the tune of each building contraction. On “ten”, encouraging yells of ‘push’, ‘push’, ‘push’, ‘push’, ‘push’ broke around me as I held by breath and did as they told. What did it feel like? Try to imagine a bowel movement that is the size of a rock coming out through the wrong hole! After about an hour and half, I could sense that the finish line was close and with one mighty heave brought home our golden trophy.

I grabbed the slimy bundle that was placed on my stomach but drew back as soon as I heard the doctor say, “wait, wait! Umbilical chord around neck!” She disentangled the baby and cut the chord (baby’s father did the honors of cutting off the remainder later). The emotional hubby predictably shed tears of joy as he deliriously pranced around the room while clicking her photos and returned to my side with exclamations of “I can’t believe how cute she is!” over and over again. Our newborn – an exact 2.0 version of my husband – was whisked off for an examination by a team of doctors from the neonatal unit. This was because the baby was considered at a risk for infections since I had been running a high fever during labor along with some other concerns. Fortunately she was declared healthy. Relieved that all was well, I chatted merrily with my doctor as she stitched me up since she had to perform an episiotomy. (Ouch!) However, the rush of excitement at the new arrival (and the painkiller medications) masked any discomfort and pain. I carried an enormous grin on my face that felt impossible to wipe off as I held her skin-to-skin against my chest and welcomed my darling little daughter into this world.

Maternity photo

Posing with Mother Nature

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