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

Posted in Seriousness | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Seriousness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

My book review of NurtureShock in Women’s Web

NurtureShock book coverI attempted a book review for the first time after having read the excellent book “NurtureShock”, which simply blew me away with shocking insights into raising children. I wish I could have done a better job, because, looking back, I felt that what I had written was lacking in some respects. There was scope to reveal more instead of holding back so much and I should have chosen better words to make the book more enticing to the reader. The awesomeness of the book is not really shining through in my review of it and it also comes across as a bit dry. Oh well, there is a first time for everything and I hope I improve. Here is the link to it on Women’s Web online magazine under the section ‘Parenting’: http://www.womensweb.in/2015/03/nurtureshock-book-review

Posted in Published Work | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A memorable babymoon

When I asked women about their experiences during the first trimester of pregnancy, some proudly recalled how they had no trouble at all while others shuddered remembering the severe nausea that had set in. In comparison, I could place my morning sickness meter between mild to moderate. However, whatever irritations I faced during that time seemed to dissipate into thin air as the second trimester began. I had read online about this being the perfect time for the parents-to-be to take a ‘babymoon’. This is a vacation that the couple or even a single parent takes to relax and later escape to in their mind when, in a few months, they are bound to be surrounded by sleepless nights, soiled diapers and a howling little creature demanding their whole and soul.

I found the concept of a babymoon very enticing and those online articles backed by paid hotel advertisements proved to be successful in planting the seed of temptation in my brain. However, I could not immediately translate it into action due to some hectic changes in career and thought less and less of it as I eased into the sixth month of pregnancy. After things had quietened down a bit in life and while I was in the midst of waiting to start a job at a new employer, the hubby brought the subject up and enthusiastically went ahead to plan our babymoon at the picturesque wine country of Santa Rosa, a two-hour drive from where we live in California. Turns out, it was the best decision taken at the perfect time!

Santa Rosa vineyardFall in California cannot be compared to the vibrant colors on the East coast or other areas in the United States, with one exception – wine country. The transition from a cool color scheme to a warm one looked astounding there. Lush green vineyards now resembled carpets of yellows, reds, oranges and browns climbing over hillocks or stretching out luxuriously under the warm California sun. Persimmon trees hung thick with plump orange fruit, roses pushed their pretty faces through gaps in fences and shiny, pink throat-ed hummingbirds thrummed their tiny wings to produce surprising grunt-like powerful sounds. We drove through the countryside and along inner roads, enjoying the blur of colors in the vineyards passing by and occasionally stopping for photo-ops with me holding my bulging belly. The signboards inviting visitors for wine tasting were of no use to me although, pregnant or not, I do not drink anyway. Nevertheless, I drank my fill of the unique architecture and landscaping at each winery.

For the duration of our trip, we stayed at Windrose Romantic Cottages in the town of Windsor. Turning in at the gate brought us to quaint, lemon yellow cottages with white trimmings clustered together like decorated cupcakes, available in different styles – English, French and Italian. The bed and breakfast place felt as cozy on the inside as it appeared on the outside, with simple yet stylish interiors, a warm fireplace and adequate amenities. Since the theme of this mini-vacation was for us would-be-parents to relax, we casually strolled about in the town of Healdsburg nearby, window-shopping through its downtown area and later got a soothing couples massage at a spa in Santa Rosa. The day was topped off with tea and snacks while lounging out in the patio of our cottage under a patch of sky resplendent with sunset-tinged clouds. This was followed by a sumptuous dinner at an Italian restaurant. I like to think that the baby inside showed her contentment as well in the gentle rolling movements I felt from time to time during our short yet memorable babymoon!

Santa Rosa Vineyard

More photos on the hubby’s website: http://myriadmoodsphotography.com/wine-country-fall/

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My short story ‘One Saturday Morning’ in Indian Short Fiction

It is strange how writing can be influenced in subtle and indirect ways. For my birthday six months ago, my husband had gifted me “On Writing”. It is a fantastic book with valuable lessons on writing by Stephen King, the ‘King’ of the horror genre. Although I had hardly read any of the author’s actual work, I loved what he had to say about the craft of writing and absorbed many useful lessons as I gleefully chomped through his non-fiction book.

Screenshot of story on Indian Short Fiction

In it, Stephen King also talks about some of his novels and short stories including the themes and characters in them. I think it was perhaps only due to these fleeting references, without even reading an entire horror story or novel, that the antennae in my subconscious mind started picking up signals to imagine a story with a slight supernatural connection. My story titled “One Saturday Morning”, set against a domestic backdrop in an ordinary household takes a sudden macabre turn on a seemingly lazy weekend morning. It recently appeared in a literary magazine called “Indian Short Fiction” and here is the link to it: http://indianshortfiction.com/flash-fiction-stories.php?id=141

Since the above link may not be functional anymore, here is the story in its entirety:

                                                             One Saturday Morning

Tender light filtering in through the curtains managed to wake up Jaya even before her alarm clock could beep. Perhaps this is an effect of advancing age, she thought, unable to go back to sleep. It was a Saturday morning and too early to wake up. Monday and her part time job at the beauty salon seemed a long way off. She had no specific plans for the weekend. No lunches or movies scheduled with friends, no weddings to attend and nowhere to go to with her husband who was at the moment away on a business trip. She had gone shopping just last weekend. The day stretched out long and languorous like the sun rays that were beginning to warm her toes. How deceptively innocent it had seemed then, Jaya would reflect later on.

She tossed and turned for a while, then gave up and headed to the bathroom. Turning her face this way and that, she hunted for the presence of new wrinkles and any gray hair that might have appeared as her hair color faded. Finding none, she started to hum a cheerful tune under her breath as she freshened up, looking forward to enjoying her morning cup of steaming hot tea. The maid servant Sarita would be here soon and she remembered a cleaning task she wanted to get done by her. Having worked with them for a decade, Sarita had been entrusted with the key to their apartment and could enter on her own to start household chores without disturbing her employers’ sleep on weekend mornings.

As she passed her son Rahul’s room, Jaya paused and tried to open the door just a little and as quietly as possible. The bedroom door yielded easily. Even before she peeked inside, the fact that it was not locked immediately told her that his bed would be lying undisturbed. Her darling boy, how hard he partied every Friday night! It was seven o’clock and he would stumble home soon, his clothes smelling of cigarette smoke, alcohol and feminine perfume. She would then make a half-hearted attempt to scold him while trying to suppress the joy she felt every time her eyes rested on her one and only offspring. It was a relief that his father was not at home. Saturday mornings turned unpleasant quickly at such times as father and son viciously lunged at each other. Some other people – relatives and friends who were just jealous, she knew – had a few complaints against him, mainly about his driving and his attitude. Some even had the nerve to gossip about his adamant pursuit of girls allegedly against their wishes. People found it hard to swallow his success and happiness, she thought. How proud she had been when he secured his first high-paying job! It also made her happy that it was in the same city where they lived so that he could continue to live at home. He worked so hard and deserved to enjoy and recharge himself at the end of the week. There was young blood pulsing through his veins. After all, boys will be boys, she reasoned.

Jaya was careful to shut back the door for fear of angering him if he suspected that she had tried to enter his bedroom without his permission. She continued on to the kitchen to make tea. Putting on some water to boil, she was reaching for the sugar when she almost jumped out of her skin. Sarita was already in the kitchen, standing near the counter with her back towards her.

“Oh my God! Sarita! You gave me a heart attack! I didn’t even hear the door open and realize you had already come in.”

Pouring another cup of water and adding two spoons of sugar in it, Jaya went on, “Alright, now that you are here, drink some tea first and I’ll tell you what you simply must do today.”

“Madam, I don’t think I can work today,” Sarita’s voice cracked.

Jaya frowned. These maidservants were always taking unscheduled leaves and coming up with excuses not to do their job. “What is it, today?” she frowned, already regretting her kind offer of tea.

Sarita spoke as if through a curtain of tears. “Madam, first of all, I must confess that I have not always been truthful to you. I have often not come to work on time or have taken many unexpected leaves for no good reason. I once stole some money from your purse while cleaning your room. Yes, I have been a thief and a liar. But I did not know I would be punished like this. No, not like this. Oh, not like this!”

She slowly turned around to face her employer. The container of sugar fell down from Jaya’s hands on to the smooth kitchen floor with a clang, spreading its white contents all over it.

The front of Sarita’s sari was drenched in blood. Her hand was twisted at the elbow so that it pointed unnaturally away from her body. Her head was tilted to the side at an odd angle like a broken doll, wobbling dangerously, as if it would roll off every time she moved. The most ghastly parts, however, were her eyes, which had turned completely white.

Jaya screamed, or at least thought she did but no sound came out. She took a few steps back, all the while thinking she would faint, unable to take her eyes off the sight in front of her.

Sarita or whatever disfigured creature it was that was standing before her looked back with a grotesquely sad smile. “This time, I have a strong reason for a leave of absence.”

“What happened to you?” Jaya began to shake uncontrollably.

Sarita sighed. “You must ask your son that question, Madam”.

Before she could say anything, Jaya heard the key turning in the lock and Rahul stumbling inside. She ran out of the kitchen with a scream and threw herself at him.

“The kitchen … the kitchen”, she repeated over and over.

Rahul tried to steady them both as he swayed. The smell of alcohol emanating from him was intense. He pushed Jaya away and sat down heavily on a sofa with his head in his hands.

It was then that Jaya noticed the bloody cut on Rahul’s forehead and the purple bruise on his cheek.

“How did you get hurt?” She asked.

Rahul looked up with bloodshot eyes. “I was in an accident close to our home. I hit her with my car.” He said.

“Who?”

“Sarita.” Rahul replied, “I think she is dead.”

He began to tremble and gasp for breath. “My head was hurting so much but I kept going since I was so close to home. I didn’t see her in the bright morning light.”

Jaya recognized the terror in his eyes as a pure reflection of her own from just a while ago. “Oh God! She was covered in so much blood.” His voice came in a whisper now. “She is still lying there. I could not look anymore … and … And I just ran up here.”

The doorbell rang and frantic knocks landed on their door, accompanied by a horde of voices calling out her dear son’s name from outside. Jaya stayed frozen, her hand pointing limply at the kitchen that anybody who peeked inside could have vouched was unoccupied, with only the water boiling away merrily, waiting for fragrant tea that was supposed to be made and consumed while savoring a Saturday morning.

Posted in Published Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My story ‘A Trip Back Home’ selected in top 5 on Women’s Web

Each month, the online magazine Women’s Web asks readers to get inspired by an iconic woman writer and funnel that into their own writing. The 5 best entries on the writing cue get published. For December 2014’s Muse of the Month, the following lines from That Long Silence by award-winning writer Shashi Deshpande provided inspiration:

“It’s astonishing how we comment on change, as if change is something remarkable. On the contrary, not to change is unnatural, against nature.”

Women’s Web gave the following synopsis for my entry: “Hope can be cruel, but we cling to it anyway. Here’s a story that captures the high and the fall of blind hope.”

And this is what was written on their Facebook page before they shared my short story: “Does home always welcome you back with open arms? This story has a heartbreaking perspective.”

The entire short story is here: http://www.womensweb.in/2014/12/muse-of-the-month-december-1

Posted in Published Work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment