Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax



There comes a time in your life when you question the choices you have made and where they have led you. Had you chosen a different path where would it have lead you?  If you hadn’t made fear and conforming your bosom buddies where might you have flown?  And then you make regret your ally and that takes you nowhere. So why am I here? What’s the plan? Am I supposed be like the hamster on a wheel running endlessly with no purpose in sight? Or do I have a calling, a talent, something the world is waiting for and only I can bring into existence? The questions are endless and the answers go all the way to infinity and beyond.

Everything seems to be fluid and shifting right now. It’s like trying to find a foothold in the sea. It’s like trying to grasp air if you will, while you are plummeting down from the sky. Pointless. Sometimes I think God has a very sardonic sense of humor. Like he puts a bunch of us with acute amnesia in a place full of problems which we tend to aggravate and add to. He watches the whole drama unfold and probably chuckles a little.

The mythical churning of the ocean of milk brought forth nectar and I’m hoping the same is true for the world at large. Though what seems to be coming up is all the ugly and unwanted. Maybe we have to be purged of it before we can harvest nectar. It’s like alchemy, it transforms everything it comes in contact with but it takes years and many mistakes to master the art.

Why is there pleasure and pain? Is it because we need to experience one to savor the other? Can we only enjoy good health after a bout of disease? Can we only welcome rain after a drought? Why do we eternally live in a world full of opposites? Does pain have a purpose? To birth a new being into this world, every mother endures excruciating labor pains. The new born cries when it takes its first painful breath of air and opens its eyes to the glaring lights. Procreation on the other hand is an act of pleasure. Is it safe to conclude that pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin? One precedes or succeeds another?

And yet we are told of this magical place where we feel no pain, where there is no disease, no hatred, and no competition. But to get there we have to shed this mortal manacle and must go alone. We are terrified, afraid of the unknown, even though we came alone and came from the very same place. Some are fortunate to get a glimpse of this blissful place that is better known as heaven.  Comatose patients and those whose hearts stop beating for several minutes and are revived have spoken about such a place.

I’m not sure if I visited that place when I was born. But I’m pretty sure that I was not breathing when the ob-gyn thrust my lifeless body into Dr. Chacko’s hand. You see I was a breach baby and in those days when doctors did not have sophisticated ultrasound machines to tell the position of the baby, they relied on physical examinations which had a tiny element of human error. The ob-gyn mistook my behind for my head. So Mom was scheduled for a normal delivery. Imagine their surprise when my legs came out first! By then it was too late to do a C-section. I had swallowed a lot of the amniotic fluid, so they had to pump it out. My hip got stuck and when they pulled, it got dislocated ( I had to have it bandaged up for a month and no one knew if I would ever walk). But worst of all I was not breathing.


It so happened that Dr.Chacko’s granddaughter was born in the hospital 2 days before me and she was in the hospital at the time of my birth. The ob-gyn summoned her to revive me. Even today Dr.Chacko says it was a miracle that I came back to life. She prayed and did what she had to do and if it were not for her I wouldn’t be writing this today. Just breathing again didn’t do it for me. Every milestone was a big deal. I could have sustained brain damage. I could have been disabled. My hip may not have  healed and I could have been on a wheelchair. My speech or hearing could have been affected. So Dr.Chacko celebrated every milestone. She never told my parents about her fears. She kept it all to herself and prayed every time I went to her for a shot. I’m guessing all those prayers worked (although my friends and family will swear my brain is damaged beyond repair!)

When I enrolled into kindergarten at Good Shepherd School, her granddaughter Shomita was also there. It’s funny but our lives have always been running parallel. We were born in the same hospital, went to the same school, the same class in college and came to the U.S. around the same time. She also shares a very special bond with my kids.

The first few months of my life on earth were hard, to put it mildly. But thankfully I have no recollection of it. The rest of my childhood was happy and carefree and I was loved and adored by everyone. Treated like a princess. But all pleasure and no pain makes a poor player of anyone in the game of life. Immature and green with no experience muscles. So I got some challenges thrown at me. Pow! Pow! Pow! All at once. I succumbed to them.  Instead of facing them head on, instead of garnering the support of my friends and family, I just went into a shell. I internalized the anger I felt and got depressed. I festered in the hole I had dug out for myself, my sad story playing continuously in my head. I pushed away all my loved ones. My heart was like a black hole, sucking every bit of joy and love that was coming my way. I saw no way out of it. The only way was deeper and deeper, darker and darker, sadder and sadder. The only way out was death. But even death eluded me. Thrice.

Whatever it was that brought me into the world and revived me when I was not breathing decided that my time had not come. I had more to do here. I had to go on and get married to my soul mate, have two kids and be a mother. I had to write this!  I did not know it at that time but every time I felt like giving up I remembered that this infinite being, you can call it God, Universe, Holy Spirit, Allah, Buddha or Jesus, has given me four chances at life. I can’t throw it all away now. I felt deep gratitude and a sense of disconnectedness from my body. Like I was not the body and I was not controlling the body. The body was my vehicle to accomplish whatever it was that God had intended for me.  So I decided to give up the struggle. Give up the need to control everything and everyone.  I surrendered. May your will (not my will) be done. Only then can kingdom come. Right here on earth. If we all give up the struggle we can create heaven on earth!

To some surrendering may sound like giving up, not being passionate, drifting along.  But I am talking about surrendering to the master design, one who holds the master keys to a life you can only imagine. I think everyone is born with some talent or the other and these talents are revealed to us sooner or later. But instead of using these talents wisely we fritter away our lives chasing meaningless things. That’s when the struggle begins. When our souls, minds and bodies are pulling us in different directions, pain ensues. We try to cover the pain by working too much, eating or drinking too much, partying or drugging ourselves.  Or simply by withdrawing from the world that is causing us so much pain.  Instead ask what can I do? How can I use my talents to help someone today? When you find something that needs to be done and that you feel passionate about, go ahead and do it. If it is something that you are intended to do, life will throw you many more opportunities. Go ahead and embrace it. This is not to say that all the pain in your life will disappear. But it will definitely be overshadowed by the pleasure of helping someone and pain will no longer hold any power over you!

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Out of the Ashes Rises the Phoenix

I can count the number of movies I have cried for. “Anjali”, “Taare Zameen Par”, “The Notebook” and “Titanic”. This week I added a new one to my tearjerker list – Dolphin Tale. It is a tale of triumph. Overcoming odds. Resilience. The American Heritage dictionary defines resilience as the ability to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune. Or the property of a material to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched or compressed. Like a rubber ball. You squeeze it and it pops back up.

But this movie goes beyond resilience. I wonder if there is a word for recovering quickly from being pushed into the jaws of death and then popping back up much better than ever before. Because that was just what the dolphin did. It happened right here in Florida and someday soon I’ll be taking the family to see that dolphin. Cos this ain’t no ordinary dolphin. This is a dolphin with a higher purpose.

“Winter” loses her tail after being hurt by a crab cage. Imagine a dolphin that cannot swim – it’s as good as dead. But Winter learns to swim without a tail. Like that’s not enough, she gets a prosthetic tail – something unheard of and after several times rejecting it, learns to swim with it. Wait! That’s not it. Today she brings hope to veterans and children who have lost their limbs. Somehow they can relate to this amazing cetacean that cheated death and is a beacon of hope.

Oprah once featured a dog on her show. This amazing animal had lost the use of its hind legs and was walking on its fore legs. It’s the spirit of these animals that is incredible. They are as joyous as they would have been with all their limbs/tails intact. They do not perceive themselves as broken, handicapped or in any way deprived.

I’ve seen this trait in humans as well. The ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and emerge triumphant. A kind of invincibility that gets activated only under dire circumstances. I saw this man on stage with Dr. Wayne Dyer. A man who got severely burnt at the age of two. A man who lost both his hands.  And a man who decided to be a drummer. Yes! A drummer without hands. I watched in awe as he approached a drum set and attached the drumsticks to the ends of his arms with elastic bands. He then went on to play the drums with such gusto that I hardly have words to describe it!

And then there is the story of a mother who lost all her limbs to a flesh eating bacterium after childbirth. She didn’t have hands to hold her baby. The baby that she nurtured in her womb and waited to see and hold after 9 months. But she just wanted to hold her baby – with or without hands. She can now hold her baby and also actively helps out with taking care of her. Her love for her baby kept her from slumping in a corner, defeated and broken.

Some of you may not think that everyone is capable of such courage in the face of utter defeat and despair. I think that these animals and people are here to remind us that we are capable of great things. We just haven’t tapped into it yet. We just haven’t been burnt to ashes yet. Only then can we rise whole and resplendent.

I’m sure there are many more stories like the ones I’ve shared. If you know one, please share it below. The world could do with some inspiration right now!




The Help (Part 2)

I had to write this because I did not mention one stellar person in my last post (Let’s Help “The Help”). Probably because I never did consider her the help. She has been around for such a long time that she is part of our family. When my friends came home I always introduced her as my ‘other’ grandma. Her name is Vijayalakshmi. My grandma called her Thankam. I call her Ganga. All the kids who came after me adopted the same name – Ganga – and so it stuck.

When I said she was around for a long time, I mean a really long time. Like right from the time she was a kid of say 9 or 10. She came from a well-to-do family. But tragedy struck, taking her father away and leaving her mother with a house full of kids to fend for. Ganga was pulled out of school even though her teacher thought it was unwise to deny such a bright child an education. Her mom simply couldn’t afford it and sent her off to work in my great grandmother’s house. My grandma was just a girl then and a couple of years older to Ganga. Ganga almost instantly took a liking for her and wanted in her heart of hearts to follow my grandma wherever life took her. Her wish was granted and she became my Dad’s nanny. My Dad is the son she never had. In the queer way that I was raised by two grannies, my Dad was raised by two mommies. One doting and fussing over him, while the other was disciplining and demanding.

By the time I arrived my grandma was widowed. She had moved from Bombay to Guwahati and then to Barauni and finally to Madras (after grandpa died). With Ganga always in tow. She shared my grandma’s love for me, dogs and entertaining. She is an excellent cook and could dish up a feast in a trice that would put the chef at Taj to shame. She loved gardening and single handedly managed my grandma’s garden. All grandma had to do was make regular visits to the nursery. Grandma went to work and dropped me off at school. Ganga packed lunch and took care of me when I got back from school. You get the picture right? They were a team.

Every night my grandma would talk to Ganga about her day and she would add her two cents’ worth to it. Such was their relationship. They had been through thick and thin, untimely deaths to joyous birthdays and celebrations. From the village of Kollengode to the plush bungalow in Barauni and then to her cozy two-bedroom home in Madras. I’m sure if she had to, Ganga would have laid down her life for my grandma. One time she almost did.

After a long day working at the gas agency, my grandma would come home with a bag full of cash earned from the sale of gas cylinders. Ganga usually opened the gate and stood there waiting for her. Or she would sit on the porch telling me stories. One night when my grandma got off the car, a man came charging and grabbed the bag of cash from her. Ganga quickly grabbed the bag from the man and held onto it tightly under her arm. The man proceeded to beat her with an iron rod he had. But she did not let go of the bag. By then, the driver got out of the car and charged at the man. The robber gave him the slip and disappeared into the dark. Ganga had a few bruises but was  otherwise unharmed.

Things have changed since I left Chennai. Ganga retired and left for Kerala. She would come running to Chennai everytime I visited. Her sisters children are in Kerala but she hardly bonds with them. Her heart aches to be with my Dad, with me, with her true family. My heart yearns to be near her and take care of her, the way she took care of me as a child and as a mother (after I gave birth to Anjali). Maybe God will grant me my wish, maybe he won’t. But I will always be grateful for my ‘other’ grandma – my Ganga.