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A Month Together After Seven Years

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After my brother moved to Sweden to pursue his Masters in 2012, I haven’t met him. Our trips to India never coincided. Often we’d miss each other by just a couple of weeks. And for some reason we never got to visit each other either. That changed when DD came to¬† Las Vegas on a business trip. He figured he might as well apply for a tourist visa while getting his business visa. He decided to come visit me in July (the hottest month in the U.S.) so he could celebrate my birthday with me. My parents were also supposed to visit but their visa interview was scheduled to be on my birthday!

I took every Friday off from work so we could do weekend trips together. Our first trip was to Asheville in Western NC. I had never been there myself, so it was a welcome surprise. Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and about 10 degrees cooler than Raleigh, this place is steeped in natural beauty and a very “hippie” vibe as DD put it. Yoga studios, crystal shops, vegan restaurants, and art galleries galore dotted the downtown scene.

We strolled around Grovewood Village which boasts of an art gallery, an antique car museum, and art garden with artsy windmills and bears, rabbits, and fish made from wood, metal, and ceramic. The textile history museum had rare artifacts from when the city was a booming hub for the textile industry. Hand-spun material that originated here ended up as dress suits won by some first ladies.

After lunch we headed to the arboretum to cool off. We walked one of its numerous interconnected trails and encountered others like us who were trying to escape the long weekend Fourth of July rush. Sitting on a bench, we soaked in the light filtering through the canopy while listening to a stream gurgle by. We skipped over some rocks to touch the cool water glistening and dancing in the sunlight. It was just what my soul was yearning for.

Later that evening we drove to Lake Junalusca to watch the fireworks. It was a rainy evening but by dusk the clouds cleared as we stood overlooking the serene lake with a lone boat drifting along its perimeter. As it got darker, a smaller firework show started right before our eyes. Fireflies! Dozens or more of them in the bushes surrounding the lake were putting on a show. The actual fireworks were on the other side of the lake and obscured by some trees. But it was too late to move so we just enjoyed them from afar.

Next morning we headed to the Folk Art Museum with its corn husk dolls, horse-hair pots, and other unique pieces of art that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. It helped that my brother also enjoyed art and wasn’t in a big rush to leave as I lingered over each piece. After a hearty lunch at Mela, we headed to the Thomas Wolfe Museum and did a tour of the author’s childhood home which interestingly enough was also a boarding house run by his mother. It was trip back in time to when boarding houses didn’t face much competition from hotels and doctors prescribed fresh mountain air to cure tuberculosis and other maladies.

The characters in his book, “Look Homeward Angel,” were all poorly-disguised real-life characters. Fearing confrontation with family and friends for baring their secrets and follies, Wolfe never visited Asheville for eight years after the book was published. But when he did return as a famous author he was well received. Ironically, he died at a young age from complications due to tuberculosis. Rumor has it that his mother did not turn away sick people from the boarding house. Our tour guide brought all these characters to life and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Before heading back home the next day, we stopped at the Swannanoa Valley Museum which was basically a firehouse converted into a museum. Beacon Blankets was the town’s bread and butter until it closed down in 2002. The museum followed the history of this company which was so closely tied to the history and economy of the town. On the 2nd floor were artifacts like the first automatic voting machine, segregated water fountains, and old switchboards for telephones, also stories from the Prohibition era about moonshiners, bootleggers, and their run in with the law.

It was with a heavy heart that I drove back to Raleigh, leaving behind the misty mountain tops and chilled-back vibe of Asheville. But I’m certain I’ll go back for more. I don’t know if the mountain air is a panacea for serious maladies but I’m pretty damn sure it can cure souls grown dreary with city life.

On Sunday we had lunch with our cousin and his wife, one of many reunions that would unfold during DDs month-long visit. On Tuesday we went to a music park to watch the Tedeschi Trucks, with Derek who was supposedly a wizard with a guitar. DD was explaining the whole slide guitar concept which was completely alien to me. I had never heard of this band or listened to their music before, but was happy to accompany DD as long as it wasn’t rap or heavy metal (DDs fave genres when he was a teen and used to blast his music till the whole apartment vibrated!)

I have to say that this Derek guy delivered on his promise. His guitar prowess was evident and his skill and technique were flawless. He even played some Hindustani tunes on his guitar and I was impressed. The opening acts were also fairly decent and I could finally check off rock concerts on my bucket list thanks to DD (the only concerts I had been to in the past were school concerts and Carnatic music concerts!)

The rest of the week rolled by and on Thursday we made our way to Washington DC. I had been there last summer so I knew the drill. We did all the memorials – Lincoln, Roosevelt, MLK, World War II, White House, and Capitol Hill in sweltering 90 degree weather. By the time we reached Capitol Hill we didn’t have an ounce of strength to walk up to the building and take pictures. We stood near and gate, captured a few shots and left!

The highlight of the trip was meeting our cousin and aunt after several decades. We laughed and talked and reminisced the old times over some good Chinese food. I also loved the Air bnb we stayed in, tucked away in a quiet street in Falls Church. The owner had a cat, that we both took turns feeding and letting in and out of the house. When she got wet in the rain, DD ran after her with a paper towel to dry her off, only to find out later that she was a Turkish Van and loved water!

The next day I headed back home alone while my brother stayed back to meet some friends from school before heading to NYC to meet old friends from AIESEC. While he was there he met a former client who had made a career out of dog walking. DD spent an afternoon dog walking with him. His pictures with the dogs are pure bliss. You can see the joy filling him and spilling over. I really wish he would get himself a dog!

From NYC he flew to Denver to meet some clients and then explored the city, which he described as his favorite city in the U.S. so far. He got back home just in time for the weekend and we explored the museums in downtown Raleigh and ate a ginormous breakfast at Big Ed’s that serves up Southern fare. DD discovered grits when he was in Asheville and loved it. He was little alarmed to find that all Southern dishes were fried but finally settled for Cajun fried chicken. On Saturday he headed off for a day in Charlotte to see some Arsenal fans/friends. He spotted the assistant coach walking past him and managed to get a selfie with him. He’s always lucky that way. Years ago, DD caught Buddy Guy’s guitar pick when he threw it at the crowd during a concert in Mumbai. And here I can’t even catch a foul ball at a local baseball game!

On my birthday we went to a Tibetan Buddhist center to participate in their morning meditation. After the meditation, they set out some strawberry cake, fruits, coffee, and herbal teas for everyone. We finished off with a South Indian lunch buffet at Tower and headed back home because it was too hot (this was the heat wave weekend across the U.S.) to do anything else but laze indoors.

It’s funny that the two of us are so different and yet so similar. We both love bisi bele bath, salt and vinegar chips, art, animals, and meditation. Of course his idea of meditation is 10-day intense retreats, while I prefer a regular practice in the comfort of my home.

Our last week together flew by and then it was time for him to leave. I made one last meal for him and we sat down to have lunch together. Just the previous night he had made his world famous Zafrani pulao. When we were growing up, I had never seen him cook anything but Maggie noodles. So I was in for a surprise. He took his time, was very particular about the ingredients, and didn’t allow me to rush the process. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t cook every day. But the pulao was perfect. It didn’t stick to the bottom of the pot (which is what happens when I cook rice on the stove top) and it tasted great!

A month flew by and we had so much fun. I just wish we meet more often and don’t have to wait another 7 years to do this again!

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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.