Punctuate Life

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Dancing in the Rain

If you live in North Carolina the only weather forecast you take seriously is a hurricane headed your way. So three days ago when they predicted thunderstorms I headed out for a walk with A and two umbrellas in tow and although the clouds looked menacing they only managed to squeeze out a few drops of rain. So the next day when there was a thunderstorm in the forecast I decided not to skip my walk. This time we only had one umbrella between the two of us (A had misplaced hers). It was already raining when we stepped out but within a few minutes it got really heavy and our sleeves were getting wet because the umbrella was not big enough for the two of us. By the time we reached the mail boxes with a little roof over it we were quite wet. That’s when A suddenly remembered that they interrupted regular programming to alert everyone about a thunderstorm with potentially 60 mph winds.

“Now you tell me,” I scolded her. She just shrugged her shoulders and proceeded to take videos of the rain coming down in buckets and causing little rivulets of water to swiftly make their way to the storm water gutters. My initial plan was to wait it out but I wasn’t sure when this storm would pass and we were losing daylight. So we decided to head back home. At this point the umbrella was useless and we were pretty much drenched by the time we got home.

Getting wet in the rain reminded me of simpler times in Madras, the rain-starved city and its people. Of course weather forecasts weren’t that accurate and schools didn’t send emails and text alerts to let you know they were closed. So, many of us would brave the rain and reach school only to find out that school was closed. That meant no classes but the gates would be open and our classrooms too. We’d take off our wet socks and shoes, and untie our braids. Uninhibited and unsupervised, we’d play games, sing, and make the black board our easel. It was more fun that sitting at home and watching TV.

I remember a time when we lived in a rented house and the land lady wouldn’t supply us with water in our pipes and we had to go fill water at a hand pump in her backyard. We had access to the terrace because we lived upstairs and one day when it rained, my mother ran up to the terrace and stood in the rain. Just taking in the abundance of water falling from the skies. When she emerged, rain-soaked and glorious, she was beaming. What the land lady withheld from us, the heavens gave freely and there was some deep relief in knowing that.

My friend G and I used to go for evening walks and window shopping in the galleries on KNK Road. But by far the most enjoyable walks we had were in the rain. The oppressive heat and the delayed monsoons always made everybody restless. Rain was sweet relief and release. The cool water on our skin was cleansing and healing. The dusty roads gleamed and the puddles reflected the stormy skies. It was pure joy walking in the rain with another soul who enjoyed it as much as I did, giggling and laughing all the way.

Later when life got busy and we went our separate ways, I still got excited when it rained in Madras. I remember running outside my grandma’s house and dancing in the rain, spinning around in circles till I was dizzy. The plants all around me seemed to be equally happy as they glistened in the rain.

I almost forgot how happy I was in the rain. When A got completely soaked and lost her slipper in a puddle she was giggling and so happy. I on the other hand was feeling like an irresponsible parent, dragging my child through potentially dangerous weather. That’s when I remembered, wait a minute, I used to enjoy this! By then we were home but I decided to go dancing in the rain again some time soon because I now know that the rain nourishes my soul.


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Before and After…Never the Same Again

Life plan before the accident

  • Wake up at 6:00 a.m. Pack lunches.
  • Work from 8 to 4, Monday to Friday
  • Chill from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Cook dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
  • Eat dinner and clean up from 8 to 8:30 p.m.
  • Watch mindless TV or a movie from 8:30 to 10 p.m.
  • Sleep from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Life plan after the accident

  • Publish my book.
  • Do meaningful work (more than just getting a paycheck). Right now this is inviting a larger community to experience Reiki healing through me. But I feel like this is just a small part of what I can offer to others.
  • Spend time with people that make me feel alive and joyful.

So on the 25th of July my brother and I were driving to a seminar and were in an accident that was pretty bad. I don’t want to go into the gruesome details but the car got totaled and we escaped with minor cuts caused by glass shards from the shattered windshield. That we are both alive and I’m actually typing this, is a miracle. When my car spun 180 degrees after the impact, I thought I was a goner. Even after it stopped spinning I wasn’t sure if I was alive or dead till someone opened the door and asked me if I was OK. That’s all it takes. We are just one breath away from kissing death. From losing our mortal frames that we so take for granted. If I had died that day, I would have died with a lot of regrets. For not putting my happiness first. For not doing things that were really important to me.

We all have all the time in the world before something like this shocks us out of our complacency. And then it hits us that our time is limited, borrowed, and we pay a heavy interest for not investing in our dreams. Even if you never had a close brush with death, every time someone you loves crosses over you are plagued with guilt and regret. You think of all the calls or visits you could have made, all the words you should have spoken and all the things you should have done to let that person know they were loved. The list goes on.

You don’t remember them for all the wealth they accumulated or all the places they traveled to. But you always remember how they made you feel and their small acts of kindness that made the world a better place. Did they spread joy, laughter, and abundance? Were they there for you when you needed them?

I want to be that person who was not too busy to call and check on you. That person who has not lost herself to the mindless busyness that so many live and die for. I want be around people I love and cherish and who love and cherish me just the way I am and not expecting me to play small for their sake. After the accident I chose life, love, joy, abundance, and most of all meaningful connections with people.

As if the accident was not enough to wake me up from my slumber, another incident jolted me out of my comatose state. A friend from college passed away. A kind and loving soul with infinite potential who was a visionary and touching so many lives through her work and her mere presence. I may not be able to do what she did in her short life but I at least want to try to be the best person I know I can be and use my God-given skills to make this world a better place. I cannot ignore this anymore and keep on focusing on meaningless things.

If you are in a place where life is throwing challenges at you, know this. You are not alone. We were never meant to go at it alone. It’s the constructs of the world and technology that isolates us. Reach out and know that someone out there is also going through the same thing and is also wanting to reach out to you. Here’s to finding more meaning in your life and relationships.

 


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The Hollow Truth

After years of trying to put myself together and reach the ideal I set for myself, it finally feels like I have succeeded. I have a home, a job, a family, vacations when I want and even where I want. And yet I feel like I have paid a steep price. When all the hollow material things came together, the things that really mattered started falling apart, pillar after sturdy pillar crumbling to dust before my eyes as I hankered after shallow stuff in an effort to fill the void and the numbness where love once dwelt. Maybe it’s not my destiny to have it all? Or is there even such a thing – not the destiny bit but the have it all bit.

We often get beguiled by the smiling pictures on social media. But maybe just maybe there is a lurking sadness behind those eyes. Some deep dark mystery that keeps those photo-shopped faces awake at night. Then again I look inside and feel like my crumbling pillars were built on foundations of soft sand. Sand that was wont to shift and shake those pillars for good measure. I feel all alone in the world with my checklist of accomplishments which only feel important till you actually check them off. After that they are just items on an impossible list that keep growing. Maybe it stems from my relentless need to prove myself. I’m not sure who I’m trying to prove myself to or what I’m trying to prove anymore. But it looks like I spent the greater part of the last decade doing that. But I’m not puffed up with pride. I just feel hollow, empty, and quite ordinary.

Maybe hollow is a good place to start. Maybe I can fill it with things that bring me joy and love. But first I need to dust off the debris and discard it. I can’t fill my hollow with the rubble I intend to leave behind. I cannot build over the crumbled remains or anywhere near it. I’m going to have to find some sturdy ground to plant my feet and start building anew. I don’t know the where or the how but I do know that I can’t put all the pieces back and keep trying to build stuff after it breaks down time after time. I’m just tired of reinventing myself and trying to make things work when I clearly know they won’t. Trying to hold onto crumbling pillars when I know I could get buried under them. And I did get buried in the past and had to crawl out of it all by myself. One must learn from the past or be prepared to keep repeating it.

It is time. Time to build something worthy of me.


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The Story of the Temple

Here’s the story of the famous temple in South India where people celebrate their 60th, 70th, 75th, and 80th birthdays, and where we celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday. There once lived a sage who was a great devotee of Shiva. Every day he would joyfully offer his prayers to Shiva. One day however the sage was a little downcast when doing his daily poojas. Shiva appeared before him and asked him why he was not his usual happy self. The sage told Shiva that he had no children and that was the cause of his misery. Shiva smiled and blessed him with a baby boy. But he warned the sage that the boy would only live till the age of sixteen. The sage was ecstatic and he named the boy Markandeya. When the boy turned five, his father taught him how to do Shiva pooja. The boy prayed to Lord Shiva every day without fail. When he was going to turn sixteen, his distraught parents told him that his end was near.

On his 16th birthday, Markandeya was praying to Shiva when Yama, the god of death came for him. Yama told Markandeya that his time was up and that he had to go with him. Markandeya ignored him and continued with his pooja. Yama repeatedly called the boy but he refused to go with him. Yama, livid with rage, took his noose and threw it around the boy. Unfortunately, Yama’s noose fell over Shiva’s idol. Shiva flew into a rage and annihilated Yama.

Shiva granted Markandeya the boon of immortality, so he would stay 16 forever. Markandeya was so grateful to Shiva that he travelled from one Shiva temple to another singing 16 verses in praise of Shiva. The last temple which also happened to be the 108th temple he visited was Thirukadaiyur. “Kadaisi” means last in Tamil. The deity in this temple is Shiva accompanied by Markandeya and a vanquished Yama underfoot. Abirami, Shiva’s consort is flanked by Saraswati, the goddess of learning, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Right across from the deity is a shrine for Yama.

The story goes that after Yama was vanquished, there were no deaths on earth, but the births continued unabated. Mother Earth went running to Lord Shiva lamenting that the burden was too much for her to bear. She begged Shiva to do something. Shiva in his infinite mercy released Yama and gave him back his powers. With Yama back in his post, births and deaths were balanced out and Mother Earth heaved a sigh of relief.

The number 16 shows up in the temple quite often. They performed 16 homams for my Dad’s 70th birthday. Sixteen kalashams or pots of water were poured on my parents. The priests recited the 16 verses composed by Markandeya and we had to do 16 namaskarams or prostrations. The belief is that people who visit this temple will also be granted a long, happy, and prosperous life. And I do wish that for my parents and for my aunts and uncle who accompanied us.


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An Unforgettable Trip

My father just celebrated a milestone birthday. On March 1st he turned 70. Ten years ago I had flown down from Boston with hopes of celebrating my grandma’s 80th birthday and my Dad’s 60th birthday back to back. But that was not to be, my grandma passed away a day shy of her 80th birthday and her cake didn’t get any candles and was never cut. We couldn’t celebrate my Dad’s birthday in a big way. It was just a quiet lunch with immediate family and one close friend from his Monfort school days.

I had  planned to go home for Papa’s 70th birthday. I hadn’t been home since we moved back from India after living there for a year. Two and a half years. I was so ready to go home to my parents. I ended up going alone because the kids had school and couldn’t take off for two weeks.

I took a day off from work to go shopping for gifts. After several hours spent wandering around the mall and its menagerie of shops, I still couldn’t find one gift befitting the occasion. So I settled for several smaller gifts. Books, a t-shirt that said “Papa” and a stash of letters addressed to “My Incredible Dad.” You see he is always asking me to write letters and I can never find time to sit down and write to him except when I’m waiting at airports to board a flight.

When I landed in Chennai, the city gave me its usual stinky welcome and I was on sensory overload for the next two weeks. The food had an exotic taste to it (although I pretty much cooked the same thing back in the U.S.). The vivid colors, the crowds, the noise engulfed me and so did the love of my parents. With the kids and my brother absent, I was the sole object of their affection! And how I basked in it.

I gave my Dad one gift every day up until his birthday. I baked a chocolate cake for him, that didn’t turn out as well as I wanted it to. (Note to self: Bring high quality cocoa powder from the U.S. next time.) But it was consumed in two days and I’m guessing my parents loved it.

My dear friend N came down from Pondicherry a day before my Dad’s birthday. Since her birthday had just passed we decided to celebrate with a black forest cake. The girl loves Italian, so we walked down to “Little Italy’s” and stuffed ourselves with garlic bread, lasagna, and gnocchi. My Dad treated us to ice cream at Amadova. We ended up eating “Bournvita” flavored ice cream to counter our over indulgence but ended up too stuffed for our own good. Suffice to say the walk back home was surprisingly long and hard.

On March 1st I gave my Dad the stash of letters, an Origami card from his granddaughter, and a card and some NC chocolates from my friend at work. My Dad’s friend from his school days (the same one who came down to celebrate his 60th birthday) showed up with a humungous chocolate cake and other gifts. My mom and I made puris and potatoes (my Dad’s favorite), curd rice, grated carrots, paneer curry, fried mushrooms, and fried rice for lunch. N left for Pondicherry after lunch.

In the evening, we put two candles (7 and 0) on the cake and had my Dad cut it. We all took turns feeding him cake. His friend, ever playful, tried to put cake all over Papa’s face but only succeeded in smearing some on his cheek. His nephew came over to pick him up later that evening. I have to say that some friends are one in a million and once you find a friend like that you hold onto them for rest of your life. And Uncle V is definitely such a friend. Even my friend N, who reads people like she’s a psychic, could tell he is special.

Next day, it was my turn to be graced by a visit from my friend from school. J and I ended up giggling like school girls and then she took me out to have some Indo-Chinese fare with her lovely daughters. I stuffed myself with chop suey, gobi Manchurian, chilli mushroom and fried rice. The girls insisted on ordering fried ice cream – a desert I had heard of but had never sampled. The verdict? I loved it and would definitely order it again.

After a couple of days my aunt flew down from Mumbai. Papa and I rode the metro rail to receive her at the airport. I have to say the station and the trains were cleaner than the New York metro. It was not crowded and shined like new. The white straps hanging from the top of the train to my great surprise weren’t grimy or grey.

The next morning my aunt and uncle came down from Kerala. My parents had bought sarees for all of us and we went shopping for matching blouses that evening. Again you can spend hours in saree shops looking at all the lovely weaves, hues, and designs. But we had rush back home and pack for our big trip the next day.

After packing way too much food (which we didn’t end up eating) we left early next morning for Thirukadaiyur, a temple town famous for celebrating 60th, 70th, 75th, and 80th birthdays. Six hours and many kilometers later we reached there safely, thanks to a driver who didn’t feel the need to race against time. After resting for a bit, we proceeded to the temple for the 1st set of poojas. (Look out for my next blog post on the story behind the temple.)

My dad and mom exchanged garlands while the nadaswaram and drums played and escorted them to the place where the priests were waiting for us. Sixteen homams had to be done and some of them were done that evening. The next day we were back at the temple at 8.00 a.m. where my parents garlanded each other again to the accompaniment of the drums and nadaswaram as is the custom at Hindu weddings. After a few more poojas and homams we proceeded to pour 16 pots of water on them. My mom shivered as the cold water hit her. After they changed into dry clothes, they garlanded each other again and we all sought their blessings. The very same day we returned back to Chennai and the next day I had to return back to the U.S. My whirlwind trip had come to an end.

Now that I’m back, the whole trip is like a blur. But I remember my mom’s soft idlis and sambar, my dad rubbing tiger balm on my swollen feet, my aunt letting me sleep on her lap when we were driving back to Chennai, my other aunt stitching a blouse for my daughter, and my uncle packing idols of Ganesha for me and staying up with me when I couldn’t sleep due to jet lag. I remember the unconditional love that only parents can give you and the sweet embrace of my friends. I will cherish this trip for years to come and I hope and pray that I get to spend many such precious moments with my parents and my extended family and friends.


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Goddess

I am a goddess and I know it,

I don’t need external validation

To feel this truth that burns within me

I don’t need to fit into old constructs

Of what that might mean to you

You  or you…

 

It is the feeling of being complete

Within and without

The feeling of being in the flow

The feeling of love flowing from me

To me…

Inundating me with bliss

Filling all those holes left by others.

 

It is that inner knowing that everything

Will be as right as rain

Even amidst the deepest pain

I know I will emerge

Victorious again.

 

I am a goddess and I know it.

Look deep into my eyes and you

Might get a glimpse of it.

The power of love that has no boundaries,

That knows to give as well as receive.

 

That knows when to walk away

And when to engage in a warm embrace

I am a goddess and I am enough,

Enough, enough!


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My 30 Days of Gratitude

This is something I started two years ago and get excited about doing every year. Some of you have also taken this up and I’m sure you find it as rewarding as I do. This month was wonderful, with a trip to see fall colors and also a trip to the beach. I also took some time to pamper myself. And when I was having a rough week and wasn’t feeling particularly thankful, a friend gave me a wonderful card and bookmark reminding me that, “There is always something to be thankful for!”

Day 1
I am thankful for my job and the financial independence that comes with it.
Day 2
am thankful for my hybrid car and chargers at work.
Day 3
I am thankful for the beautiful fall colors that everyone can enjoy.
Day 4 (Trip to western NC to see fall colors)
I am thankful for vacations and the opportunity to unwind and take a break from  the routine.
Day 5
I am thankful for my good health and energy that helps me accomplish all that I need to do at work and home.
Day 6
I am thankful for a full pantry and the ability to generously donate to those who need help.
Day 7
I am thankful for my beautiful home that keeps me safe and sheltered.
Day 8
I am thankful for the produce from my garden. (Okra, tomato, spinach, mint, oregano, and carrots.)
Day 9
I am thankful for my beautiful children, Anjali and Nitin. They fill my heart with joy and pride.
Day 10
I am thankful for my parents and for their support, love, and faith in me.
Day 11
I am thankful for the infinite and omnipresent source of all love and light. For guidance, grace, and infinite miracles.
Day 12
I am thankful for technology. It helps me keep in touch with friends and family around the world.
Day 13
I am thankful for my brother Dinesh Damodran. He is a bag of surprises. One day he is at a Vipasana meditation retreat and the next day he is cooking zafrani pulao for friends. He is not afraid to try new things and I’m always eager to hear about his latest adventure. Happy birthday Dini. May the next year be filled with new adventures and happy travels.
Day 14
I am thankful for my brother Rohit Singh. For all the laughs and for being so protective of me.  Here’s wishing you happiness and success always.
Day 15
I am thankful for powerful women who are my role models. Dadima you are #1 on the list. Whenever I feel stymied I just ask myself,  what would dadi do? I love you and miss you. Waiting for the day we will meet again.
Day 16
I am thankful for the men in my life who treat women with respect. They set the standards for everyone else. #1 on my list is my dad.
Day 17
I am thankful for friends like Namami Ghosh. Sometimes talking to a friend who will just listen is the best therapy.
Day 18
I am thankful for meditation, reiki, and quiet time to rejuvenate my spirit.
Day 19
I am thankful for a good education and most importantly the discernment that comes with it. And also for the varied life experiences that have shaped me.
Day 20
I am thankful for teachers (Mabel Erevelles and Nirupama Prasad) and gurus, both in this world and beyond for inspiring me, saving me many times over, and for helping me evolve as a person.
Day 21
I am thankful for Karen Warmbein and her friendship. Today, she brightened up my day with this beautiful card.
Day 22
Thankful for a day dedicated to giving thanks, good food, and family. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Day 23
I am thankful for warm clothes and heating and for wonderful friends who warm my heart.
Day 24 (Trip to Myrtle Beach, SC)
I am thankful for beaches and oceans, my happy place. I am thankful for myself because today I picked up a lot of trash from the beach.
Day 25
I am thankful for sacred space, to get away from the maddening world and just be with myself.
Day 26
I am thankful for time. Time to volunteer, read, bake, take walks, meditate, and sleep. Thankful for more than enough time to do the things I love.
Day 27
I am thankful for efficient appliances that help me manage my chores without a maid. I am thankful for all the women who did chores for me when I was growing up. Only now do I really appreciate what they did.
Day 28
I am thankful for my aunt Raji S Nair for always being there for me and praying for me. Love you Valliamma.
Day 29
I am thankful for my blog, creativity, and my way with words.
Day 30
I am thankful for all the blessings coming my way – all the joy, abundance, laughter, good times, and love.
What are you thankful for? I’d love to hear from you!