Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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A Day in the Life of the Unemployed

The novelty of moving to a new place has quickly worn off and I realize we are still unemployed albeit in a different part of the world. The days seem to bleed into one another. It doesn’t matter if it is a Monday or a Friday. Only weekends seem different, with the kids around. The rest of week sees us following pretty much the same routine. For me, my day starts with the alarm at 6.00. I rush into the kitchen to pack lunch for the kids. I set the cereal and milk on the table for breakfast. Then I keep screaming the time out, to make the kids hurry. Followed by banging on the bathroom door to get them out or screaming up the stairs to get them down.  I see them off at the door and then the house becomes incredibly quiet.

After all that excitement I settle down in front of my computer and compulsively check my e-mail, junk mail and spam for mails from prospective employers. Disappointment washes over me when I find nothing and then I go to social media to take my mind off it. After breakfast, a renewed vigor comes over me and I start sending out resumes to half a dozen companies. On some days there are no new jobs posted and I slip into despair wondering if I will ever work again. By noon I am spent and resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t hear from half of the companies I applied to. I cook lunch and eat it quietly. A weariness comes over me as I think of the whole evening spread before me. I curl into bed with a book to again escape from my cruel mind and the horrible stories it tries to feed me.

The kids return from school and suddenly the sleepy house wakes up. Battle over the computer and who gets first dibs. Piles of homework to be done. After school activities have to wait and I’m clouded with guilt when I see kids marching off to karate in their stiff uniforms or carrying violin cases down the stairs. If it is a Friday and the weather is good we end up playing tennis together.

Weekends are hard because I know I won’t hear from any employer till Monday. It’s also hard to stay hopeful and cheerful in front of the kids when despair is eating at your heart. Sometimes I snap at them in frustration and they wonder what they did to get on my bad side. But on most days I play the part well. Every grocery trip, every trip to the gas station, I know we are dipping into our savings. As our bank account shrinks, the number of days spent unemployed grows and grows and there is this huge chasm in my resume that I could slip in to any day.

Social live is nil. Who wants to admit to perfect strangers that one is not working? How can you admit your brokenness and then expect to make friends? Like water finds its own level when poured into containers, people also reach for others at their level or above. Everyone has their own problems, who wants to take on another’s!

Hope is my only reprieve and also this responsibility I have to my children. If I give up too easily, how can I lecture them about trying hard and not giving up when they fail? So here I am, back at the computer, applying for jobs and trying to stay upbeat even though every part of me is exhausted by this constant search for something in the distance. Something seemingly unattainable and yet so close I can touch it.

I know in spite of it all I am lucky. There are unemployed people out there who are hurting, there are people who woke up and saw their life’s earnings disappear in the face of demonetization. People on food stamps and people living meager existences in different parts of the world.

So this holiday season as you go on vacations, shopping sprees and holiday parties remember there are some amongst you who will be staying home just wishing they had the means to provide for their families. Pray for them, send them your good vibes and if possible give them something in kind.


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A Poltergeist who Loves the Toilet

It has been my secret fantasy to encounter a ghost. Not the scary ones that haunt, possess and kill their victims, but the cute and cuddly Casper the friendly ghost types. My grandma met her fair share of ghosts in her lifetime and I thought it only fair that I should too.

We moved into our apartment in North Carolina last month. One morning I woke up and my husband announced that the toilet had flushed by itself. I laughed when I saw his expression, intent on giving me a scare. He insisted that he wasn’t making it up. But I didn’t believe him for a second. He tried the same thing with my daughter and I shook my head and continued pottering around the kitchen. He tried the same ploy with my son as well. But we all openly dismissed the idea of a ghost that flushes.

A few days later I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, owing to jet lag. I used the bathroom and sat down quietly on the spiral stairs that went up to the loft. I didn’t want to wake anyone. After a few minutes, I heard the toilet flush. I dismissed it thinking that it was probably the tank filling. But I did mention it to my husband. Over the next couple of days all of us heard the toilet flushing. One time however no one had used the toilet and I actually went in to check and there was water flowing into the toilet! Yup we had ourselves a poltergeist.

We alerted the property manager and she sent a maintenance guy to fix it. Well, he did a bad job fixing it because then the toilet didn’t flush with enough force. So my husband who is handy around the house, fixed the flush. The anonymous flushing started all over again. And as if to confirm that I was right about the poltergeist, this happened.

So I was in the kitchen cutting veggies for lunch. The rice cooker was sitting on the counter right next to me. It was on and the water was barely bubbling when it switched to warm with a loud click. I turned around to see that the rice was not cooked and the water wasn’t even boiling. So I pushed the switch back to cook. It switched back to warm again! I switched it back to cook and it stayed. The same thing happened a couple of weeks later.

Now we’ve made peace with our harmless poltergeist. The kids have even given him a name. He seems to like the toilet and I’m ok with that. He sometimes likes to make the bathroom door creak open slowly. Just as long as he knows that my kitchen is off-limits I’m fine! On several occasions I did ask him to leave in the name of God. But he has ignored my pleas. I was a little concerned about the water bills though and he seems to have read my mind. The number of flushings per day has gone down considerably. And I am thankful for that. Happy Halloween everyone.

 


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The Rise of Heart

Had enough of the negativity and the ugliness that is popping up everywhere? Do you believe that the world is on the brink of an apocalypse? Do you really think that all the good is gone and only dark days lie ahead of us? Then this one is for you.

In the midst of death, despair and devastating loss, I’ve seen ordinary people do extraordinary things. Now it’s easy to open your heart and show kindness to less fortunate folks when everything is going plum good in your life. However, it takes a different kind of heart to shift your focus from your suffering to the plight of another.

A friend’s friend, who is recovering from a serious illness with prolonged complications, is constantly in pain and sometimes unable to perform day-to-day activities. In the midst of her health crisis, she managed to rescue two injured cats and even opened her home to a dog recovering from surgery. Mind you, she already takes care of five cats and an ailing relative. She truly has a big heart and is a blessing to all the animals she cares for.

When my parents returned from Sweden after visiting my brother, their house help quit due to ill-health. Luckily, my mom encountered this lady who used to work for my grandma and later for her before relocating to another state. She couldn’t afford the rent in Chennai and her step-son asked her to vacate under the pretext of renovation. Being a widow, she is entitled to the widows pension granted by the state government and visits Chennai every month to collect it. Now when word got out that she was not residing in Chennai anymore, the authorities refused to pay her. To make ends meet she decided to work for my mom. She found a temporary place to stay and was provided two meals a day. My mom packed breakfast for her in the morning and also gave her a cup of tea and snacks in the evening.

All was well until the landlady started acting up after a couple of months. She made it abundantly clear that she wanted our house help to leave. Poor lady had no where to go. My parents decided to let her stay with them. In her retirement years instead of living a quiet life with a roof over her head and enough dough to sustain her, here she was homeless and forced to earn her living.

Recently another lady who worked for us and is now unemployed showed up and my mom took her  in as well. She now cooks for my parents. They really don’t need two people to help out around the house but they couldn’t turn her away because she has to support her family.

I think everywhere everyone’s heart has opened just a little more. I was surprised when my mother-in-law offered to feed our kitten – the one we had to leave behind. We raised it as an outdoor cat although we fed it a few times a day. She knew how to hunt for lizards and mice so we resigned ourselves to the fact that she could survive without us. But the fact that we may never see her again after we left for the U.S. broke our hearts. Seeing how distraught the kids were, their grandma decided to do the least she could do to make the kitten stay.

Then there are some brave souls who are in a vortex of adversity and still look out for others. A friend of mine suffered a loss, was sick and had to fend for herself. She had endless paperwork that had to be followed up and submitted and had to deal with uncooperative staff. She still found time to call and check on me and give me hope during what was a very dark year for me. Her dad’s friend’s sister was in the hospital and she offered to cook and provide meals for them to the extent of neglecting her very own health.

So is there still hope for this world? I’d say YES! It may not be obvious and it may not be breaking news but in small ways, small people with big hearts are showing us that love and kindness are alive and well in the world.


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My Big Secret – Part 2

I think I left you hanging long enough. So here is my second big secret. If you have been following my blog for the past year, you know of my big move to India and all the trials and travails that followed. It wasn’t as easy move after spending 13 years of my married life in the U.S. And my husband being unemployed did not help matters either. Add to that the education system which came as a complete shock to my kids and me. The fact that I did not have my own space or freedom made matters worse. So after much deliberation (mostly on my part) we decided to move back to the U.S.

In a week I will be moving with my family. You could say I am escaping, running away because I am too weak to face the challenges life has thrown at me. But I am just returning. Returning to a familiar place that I have come to call home. Where I have the freedom to be the person I want to be and not feel guilty about it or be ostracized for it. For those who think I am weak, let me tell you that I faced these challenges for a year using all my strength, faith and all the support I could garner. But at some point I had to admit to myself that things are not working out as planned and that I would never be truly happy here. And that somewhere along the way I ceased to belong to this place. Since this is my big reveal, I won’t go into the challenges I faced in Chennai in detail. That is material for a whole new post.

We have been moving every year since 2014 and this time I intend to put down roots, put my foot down and cement myself in North Carolina. For the next several years my kids need the stability of attending one school and growing up with friends they care about. As for me, I am tired of packing and giving away stuff and moving like a freaking nomad.

For the record, I lived in the same city for 23 years of my life, attended the same school from kindergarten to 12th grade. I attended college and university in the same city and had friends I knew from the cradle! I think my kids deserve a little bit of that too.

If you are reading this, please know that it isn’t as easy as it looks – hauling your family half way across the globe and then back in a year. We don’t have jobs waiting for us. We have to buy everything from furniture to vehicles and insurance. It is scary, but less scary than having to live in Chennai for another year without jobs. America isn’t called the land of opportunity for nothing! So I beseech you to keep us in your prayers as we make this move and settle down. Thank you and wishing you a lot of success if you are making big changes in your life. I will leave you with this quote I saw on Facebook yesterday that really resonated with me – If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree. (Jim Rohn)


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Oh Orlando!

Orlando. I remember you. Sitting right in the heart of Florida, you are a place where dreams come true. Where magic unfolds. Where a confluence of people from around the world come to enjoy dream vacations. Sunshine, sweet oranges, laughter, fun and good times – that’s what you are all about. I remember spending some quality time with you. Basketball games at Amway Center, birthdays at Disney, dining out with old friends.

Today, as the horror of what happened over the weekend sinks in, many who know me ask about Orlando and I am flooded with memories of magical weekends spent with you. Rainbows, long drives, writing in the sky, beautiful people living harmoniously under the same sun – that is how I remember you. You mean a lot to people the world over – some spend their lifetime earnings to make a dream trip with their family. You gave them a memory of a lifetime, sweet moments that stay with them long after the kids have moved out of the nest.

Somebody injected a drop of poison into your celebration of life and love. That drop may have consumed the lives of many but it has brought together droves of people. People who stand for everything that you are – love, oneness, unity, brotherhood and peace. And above all family – we are all one big family and it’s time we acknowledge that. We do in fleeting moments when we come together with a common goal in mind – to celebrate with our families or support a worthy cause.

Oh Orlando! The shadow cast over you will soon pass. For a hundred thousand hearts are beaming their light to you. And the light will triumph and peace will prevail. I don’t know if you remember me but I remember you and always will. You are my happy place and always will be.


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Along Came Lucky

My daughter rushed into the room, “Amma! There is a kitten outside and it has been abandoned by its mother. It was hungry and we fed it some milk and Acha named it Lucky,” she said. It was 8 in the morning and I was still in bed contemplating another miserable day spent languishing on the couch. But my curiosity got the better of me and I got up and went downstairs. My daughter beamed proudly as she pointed to the kitten crouched behind some cardboard boxes. I hadn’t seen her this happy in a long time. I peered behind the box and two little grey eyes with a black and white face looked back at me and mewed pleadingly. Something melted deep inside of me and all my defenses came crumbling down. All my sadness stood meaningless in front of this poor helpless creature.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. We’ll feed you. We love you,” I found myself saying these words. I was offering the very comfort I was seeking and in that moment my life changed. If I could have named the kitten I would have gone with Joy because in a trice it had pulled me out of my sorrow.

Lucky was very wary of us on the first day, darting quickly behind the boxes whenever we made any quick movements or loud noises. The kids were relentless in attending to its needs. They made sure that it felt safe and it was fed. Now feeding Lucky was a challenge because both my husband and I had only had dogs for pets. Its diet on the first day was milk, curd rice and biscuits. When I went to sleep I prayed that Lucky would be around the next morning. The kitten had opened up a part of my heart that only pets can – by being vulnerable and by loving us unconditionally despite our flaws.

The next day Lucky seemed to be more at ease with the kids and allowed them to come close and touch it. It didn’t eat as much as it did on the first day. We replaced its coconut shell bowls with a plastic tray, now that Lucky was a part of our household. As we were playing with Lucky after dinner, a cat jumped onto the compound wall. My husband beamed the flash light in its direction and it slunk away into the dark. Could it be the mother cat? Will she whisk Lucky away in the dead of the night? Fears of losing him clouded our minds as we retired for the night. I prayed that he would be waiting for us in the morning.

My son gave Lucky an old ball to play with. In two days the frightened, helpless kitten had transformed into a sprightly fly-chasing fur ball! It let us stroke it and rub its belly. It ran to my son when he called his name and enjoyed playing with the kids. It tried to follow us inside but we decided to let Lucky be an outdoor cat. I remember how the neighbor’s cats used to steal fish from my grandma’s kitchen and I didn’t want any of that.

The kids had wanted a dog for a long time but life gave us a cat. In a moment of deep understanding I uttered these sage words, “We didn’t choose Lucky, Lucky chose us.”

Today we figured out ‘it’ is a male kitten. He showed up when we most needed it and it turned my focus outward. He touched my maternal chord. Triggered the flow of selfless love. If he wasn’t already named Lucky I’d probably have named it Miracle.

 


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Not Depressed…Just Melancholic

That much celebrated emotion of bygone poets, bards and writers. That very same state of mind that evokes the deepest of sentiments that spill over and create art that transcends time, culture, and every other tangible wall. I fancy melancholic. It is definitely more palatable than depressed, don’t you think? Like a fancy mental state not requiring the 3 Ps – Prozac, a psychiatrist or psychological counseling. The hard part is to convince people that I’m simply in a melancholy mood on the verge of penning my next bestseller. I really doubt Van Gogh or Hemingway cared a hoot for what people thought. So these days I don’t give a damn either. You can pronounce me depressed, given your limited understanding of an artistic persona and you probably weren’t around when I was really depressed. I’m no where close to that now. I do have some days when I find it hard to get out of bed but I always find the strength to pull myself out of it.

So keep your eyes peeled for one helluva novel, poetry that pulls at your heart strings and other artistic outpourings from me. Just hope I can hold on to the melancholy long enough. Some days its just gone and other days it hangs around like a blanket obstructing the sun. Wish I could bottle some of it for days when I need a muse injected with a dose of sadness.

I don’t fancy putting on a smiling face and pretending everything is ok. It seems fake and unauthentic to me. That doesn’t mean you need to lament and share your sob stories with all. Nor does it mean that you should wallow in your woe. When you are not happy inside, the unhappiness spills out somehow. You are not really addressing it and so it stays there under the surface. You don’t have to say a word but people sense it and soak up some of it. After a point being around such people is unbearable.

It’s ok to feel sad and it’s ok to ask for what you need. I’m not going to burst into song and giggle my way through the day just because that is how you want me to behave. I might sing when I feel up to it or laugh at a joke that my kids made up. I give myself permission to be happy or melancholic and I don’t need you to judge me. I’m trying my best just like everyone else is and I need you to respect that. And maybe you’d be happy in the same circumstances but I’m not because I have higher standards! I don’t need to conform to your views of how I should live my life. You can keep going on like a hamster on a wheel, shoving everything down and pretending to be righteous. Excuse me for not joining your rat race and for stepping aside to do something more meaningful. For having the courage to say, this is not working for me and for looking for something better.

So the next time you see me and I’m not really grinning from ear to ear do yourself a favor and leave. I might be on the brink of a creative endeavor and I don’t need any naysayers to rain on my parade.


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Revisiting the Past

Many a time we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations over and over again. Try as we might to deal with the past and bury it, some patterns keep repeating. At some point I came across an explanation for this phenomenon. Until you make peace with something or deal with it appropriately it refuses to go away and keeps showing up like a petulant child craving candy. Sometimes locking up the candy or saying there isn’t any works. And sometimes ignoring the child works. But not always. We keep revisiting botched up pieces of our past to make amends. To maybe deal with it using our wiser (than in the past) selves. And I’m pretty sure I dealt with some bad decisions I made and moved on. In the end there are no good or bad decisions – only lessons. The good news is we have free will. We are never stuck with someone or something just because we made a bad choice. We are just afraid of admitting our mistake lest we fall from the pedestal of perfection we are standing on. Some think it is a sign of weakness and some are afraid of making a wrong decision. Or even worse, we think we might hurt our loved ones. And we remain miserable and put on a brave front unaware that our unhappiness is quite apparent.

In my quest to be perfect I couldn’t forgive myself for making a wrong decision when I went to study Ecology. I quit after 6 months and went into a shell. Beat myself up for being a failure. Some part of me is still holding on to that experience because here I am again beating myself up for making the wrong decision and this time around the repercussions are bigger and affect more than me and my insignificant life. Kids, husband, parents are all  bearing the brunt at some level.

This time around I’m willing to admit that I made a wrong decision. I just don’t know how long it will take to clean up my act. The city is not for me and it doesn’t help me do what I do best – write. When Ruskin Bond was asked if he ever regretted giving up the city for the hills, he said, ” I chose the hills for the purpose of living rather than a congenial place for writing. The mountains make a man realize how insignificant he is. At the same time, they allow one to remain an individual instead of being swallowed up in the crowd…”

Lucky Bond, he could write anywhere, but for me writing comes when I am relaxed and able to tap into my creativity. When the pace of life is not frenetic and I have few demands on my time. I am not the person I like to be when I live here in the city. I have time only to meet my selfish needs. My urge to reach out and connect with others is stifled by the sheer exhaustion of living each day and the countless challenges thrown my way. Laugh at me if you will and call me a softie but if being strong and successful means fighting and winning day after day, I’d rather spare myself the torture.

My blog is an extension of my urge to connect with others and it’s been over a month since I posted anything. Nobody missed it or so I thought when R who has been supporting my writing ever since I started way back in 2012 sent me a video – a disabled life coach’s 18 minute talk about just going for your dreams. I promised her I would write today and as the kids played at the park, I made notes on my phone. Maybe I don’t need to run away to the hills to write. Maybe the park will work for now. But make no mistake – the seeds have been sown and very soon I will be off to another place far from this madding crowd.


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The Restless City and Me

February 9th came and went but I hardly noticed. Nope I didn’t forget my own birthday or anyone’s for that matter. Nor was it my wedding anniversary. It was simply 4 years since I started this blog. No biggie right? Wrong! The pause breathe and relax lady is totally swept by the city and that aint good news for anyone.

It’s funny how she grows on you and makes you a part of her, no matter how hard you resist. A victim of chaos swirling in the air which grabs you in a vice-like grip and slowly but surely saps everything within until you join the hollow-faced endless crowd of humanity. Their listless eyes looking to the horizon, dragging their weary feet they go on but they don’t know where they are headed.

Her fangs pierce deeply through your skin and softly and insidiously suck the joy and peace out of you. Unwittingly you get consumed by a flurry of busyness and complexity. Complexity that serves no purpose and sits atop sagging shoulders with monstrous burdens. Deep rooted in her habits she has little or no patience for those who don’t conform. She sniggers at simplicity and directness. Why those are for fools and inept village bumpkins! For they lie dormant on the fringes of her skirts wondering why they weren’t swept by the tide. They don’t see the gift of stillness in a ever moving and ever doing world where to rest or pause is frowned upon by efficiency guards. Hut! Hut! Hut! On your feet at 5.00 a.m. they bark.  Don’t rest till your chores are done. Don’t nap or sit idle or you’ll miss doing something really important. Keep on your feet from dawn to dusk or guilt will keep gnawing at you while you try to sleep.

The important things slip away from you and you spend day after day doing prosaic burdensome tasks. You kill the creative spark in you. Your inner child breathes her last. Laughter and fun seem like a privilege meant for a few who have the luxury of time. Time ticks by and so does your life. Endless days spent in meaningless toil lead you to believe that this is life and you enter the maze of dim-eyed, dim-witted souls leading a procession to no where and nothing.

To break away from this trance is a super human task. Like the squelchy muck in a peat bog she has you at her mercy and the more you struggle, the more you get stuck. Many have emerged but get labelled as rejects because being stuck is mistaken for being rooted. Doing takes precedence over being and getting over giving. Programmed to do and get, there is never enough and the tortuous race must go on indefinitely. Everyone grabbing what they can and hoarding what they must lest they end up with an empty fist.

I see myself following them with a yoke around my neck. My strength failing me and my thoughts seemingly alien and pathetically helpless. Sometimes all it takes to shake off a bad dream is to wake up. I think I have woken up but the bad dream refuses to go away…


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The Spirit of Chennai

As I wait for the city to limp back to life between power cuts, internet troubles and cell phones with no signal, I feel like I have been stripped down to the bare minimum. No more escaping reality by drowning oneself in technology. Suddenly there is too much free time and too many people around for comfort. You are forced to interact, to make conversation. And in those forced conversations you realize how far removed you are from the life that is unfolding right in front of you. How alienated you are from the very people you share your roof with or the folks who live on your street. And it did not happen overnight. It happened over careless days, months and years skyping with folks thousands of miles away or sending messages to someone you met online, while you remain oblivious to the ones that really matter.

Disasters truly test your character. Your best or worst comes out when you are pushed to the edge. You may rant and rave about being positive or advise others regarding their behavior in certain situations. But will you do the same? No one knows till you face the same reality.

Storms reveal the seas deepest, most hidden treasures. In Florida the rough seas cough up buckets of shells in the aftermath of a storm. In Chennai heaps of rubbish were thrown back to the beach. Treasure or trash? Only the storms in your life will reveal your true nature. What you put out there comes back to you multiplied. So what are you putting out there?

I for one felt helpless and cut off from the rest of the world. The only thing I could do was pray for the rain to stop and pray for those affected. So many people I know helped out in myriad ways, by providing food and sending people out to check on family not accounted for. In places as far away as Sweden, people prayed for Chennai.

When I came back to this city I found it changed and unrecognizable. I yearned for the city I grew up in with people who genuinely cared for one another and where everyone lived in harmony. The very spirit of the city which I thought was dead and buried, emerged from nowhere. Strangers risking their lives for others. People working round the clock to provide relief and rescue people. These stories warmed my heart and brought back my faith in a city that I was about to give up on. Chennai has revealed its treasures in the midst of one of the worst storms in a century. Its treasures are its people – pure, selfless, loving and generous.