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Disconnecting From the Matrix

Years ago I watched the movie “The Matrix” (several times for Keanu Reeves) and it seemed like a fantasy with no element of truth in it. But when I watched it when I was older (and wiser – ahem!) it seemed not too far fetched from the reality we wake up to every day. The daily grind. Put your nose to the grindstone and chug away. Work hard to pay the bills, provide for your family, save for retirement, buy that big house or fancy car, pay for that destination wedding or island getaway. The whole time losing yourself to chaos and missing out on the miracle that is life. Losing health and happiness over needless dramas that play out endlessly. Feed your body junk and fail to feed your soul. Live a boring, passionless life full of drama and unhappiness. And then teach another generation to do just that because you cannot get your blindfolds off and see what life really is about until you make an exit.

Life is freedom, happiness and choices made from a place of joy and love. Fear drives us to hold on tight to jobs that make us miserable or relationships that don’t nurture us. Fear tells us that we are not good enough or strong enough to take care of ourselves and that we have to give our power away to authority figures.  And then when it all becomes too much, something snaps and our whole world of illusion comes crashing down. The days that follow are filled with fear and a mad frenzy to get things back to where they were – rebuilding the same old house of cards because it feels familiar and comfortable. The prison with no windows – where the light cannot obliterate the fear.

Sometimes the divine hand intervenes and stalls the progress just long enough for the shades to fall off. Just long enough to wake up from the dream and see the world for what it is. A big lie. A fantasy. An alternate reality put in place to keep us from waking up to the true power that lies within. The power that can set us free and help us soar above the drama and chaos.

For some that one wake-up call is enough and they can never go back to their old selves and old lives. For some it is a constant back and forth between illusion and crystal-clear clarity. Between bliss and drudgery. Between the ego and the wisdom of the soul. Between what is expected of you and what you truly desire. At some point the whole exercise seems futile and one dumps the world or one’s inner journey all together. But some emerge triumphant and shine the way for others.

Disconnect from living life in a trance, going through the same motions over and over again. Cramming so much into your life that you have no time to pause and ruminate. Awareness requires space and the more space you create the more aware you are. Turn off the TV, computer and phone. Listen rather than talk. Quiet the chatter in your head. Get outside in nature. Live your life unscheduled. With lots of free time thrown in every day. Then what really matters will become clear to you. The illusive world melts away and you are left with only the brightness of your soul illuminating the way to a life full of joy, creativity and love.


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15 Days of Gratitude

I have tried over the past several years to do this 30 days of gratitude thing in the month of November but never before have I gotten this far. I thought I’d run out of things to be grateful for but I was wrong. The more grateful you are, the more you will have to be grateful for. Does that makes sense? Read on and maybe you can start your own gratitude list. It’s never too late and it doesn’t have to be November!

Day 1

I am thankful for the chance to start our life over in the U.S.A.

Day 2

I am thankful for my own beautiful space to think and be

Day 3

I am thankful for my tribe of sisters who have stood with me through thick and thin. Dedicating the upcoming posts to each one of them.

Day 4

I am thankful for my dear friend Shoms who has been around since the day I was born and continues to be there for me, pray for me and guide me (she even secretly follows me around all over the globe!) I love you and I’m eternally grateful that God put you in my life.

Day 5

I am thankful for my soul sister Namami who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and pushed me to be the best version of myself through her wonderful example. So so thankful that our paths crossed.

Day 6

I am thankful for my little sister Gayatri who has shown such courage, hardwork, discipline and perseverance over the past several years. She is not afraid to chase her dreams and has inspired me to do the same. Love you to the moon and back and you are such a blessing in my life.

Day 7

I am thankful for my little sister Latha who reminded me to practise gratitude when I really needed to and who egged me on to finish my book. Thank you for being there for me.

Day 8

I am thankful for Hema who went out of her way to help me when I was in India struggling to keep my head above the water. She gave me hope, her husband helped my husband secure an interview and she still keeps checking on us and praying for us. Thankful for angels like her in my life.

Day 9

Today I am thankful for my children Anjali and Nitin who see humor in even the most solemn situations, who remind me to laugh and let me see that life is not about the big things but about the littlest of things – a warm hug, a snuggle, a giggle or breaking into a song or dance. Love you both to the moon and back.

Day 10

I am thankful for my parents who have always been there for me no matter what and who have shown me that being a parent doesn’t mean being perfect but trying to do your best in every situation. Love you both very much and wishing you a very happy anniversary and many more to come.

Day 11

I am thankful for our friends Raghu and Swastika who have been so helpful during this time. For being patient and taking the time to help us sort out stuff. We miss being neighbors with you and hope we meet again soon.

Day 12

I am thankful for good food on my table and for above average cooking skills.

Day 13

I am thankful for my brother Dinesh who has been around since I was 2 1/2 and has grown up to be an dashing young man. I’m thankful for the crazy times we had together making up jokes and laughing till the wee hours of the morning. I’m thankful for your unique and deep insights when I most need them. Most of all I’m thankful for your support through really tough times when I felt alone in the world. Love you and wish you have a very happy birthday and many more to come.

Day 14

I am thankful for children, not just my own, but the many I have come in contact with over the years through teaching and volunteering in schools. Their innocence, lack of guile and unconditional love always leave me speechless. If you are weary of this world, simply spend a day with a child and see your joy rising and hope returning to your cynical life. Thankful for all the little yogis and tiny Zen masters of the world. Happy Children’s Day!

Day 15

I am thankful for my brother Rohit for being my body gaurd in the streets of Chennai and for always being protective of me. We have laughed endlessly, shared our burdens and teased each other mercilessly. Even though he is far away, I know he cares and will do anything for me. And for that I am deeply grateful.


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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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Imagine

 

Imagine a sea of humans in a vast expanse of darkness,

A lone candle burns in the hands of one,

Observing his neighbors unlit candles,

He proceeds to share the light of his candle with them.

The light grows in intensity and more shadows jump out of the darkness,

Almost threatening to snuff out the candles,

But the bearers of the light know that the shadows are visible because of the light.

Sharing the light becomes an all important task,

As more and more shadows jump out in desperate need of light,

And yet one candle will suffice to rid us of the darkness.

Every face aglow in the warm light,

Laughter and tears mingling with the soft strains of music,

Every heart bursting with love,

A love that is limitless and engulfs the entire cosmos.

Imagine a sea of dancing flames that illuminates the entire earth

Perceived as a luminous globe by creatures from afar

Love pervading every nook and cranny of space

Every black hole turned inside out to reveal brilliant light.

Our heavy bodies burdened with life

Magically turn light and we float blissfully

The very embodiment of the Divine.

 

 

 


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The Illusion of Time

Time waits for no man and yet we spend our lifetimes waiting for something to come along so we can finally live our lives the way we imagined it. Time becomes our enemy, robs us of peace, health and happiness and keeps us prisoners of hope.

The clock ticks on incessantly – each tick taking us closer to our mortal end. Each tick making us anxious and worried – is it here yet? When will it arrive? When can I finally have it all?

For some of us it is a life long struggle to find the right partner. Hits and misses. Heartbreaks. Failure to commit. Infidelity. Broken promises. Sometimes even divorce. We end up thinking we are broken and need to be fixed. Or we come to the conclusion that we are meant to walk alone on this journey. And yet something tugs at our heartstrings. This need to share this life and love another human being burns in our heart- a feeling that never goes away. For some it comes easy and others have to wait longer than they can imagine. But if the heart longs for a partner believe me it will materialize – in time. Don’t buy into the lies that you grew up hearing. If you wait until your 30s or 40s to get married, all the good guys are taken! What a lot of baloney that is! Getting married early has it’s pros but if you want to be really clear about what you want from a partner I think that sort of clarity only comes when you are older. Men too mellow down and realize good looks and a great body aren’t the only things that matter.

For others a partner comes along quite early and their fairy tale begins. They settle into a new life, roam the world, throw themselves into their careers. Until they wake up one fine morning and decide they want to have kids but due to some ugly twist of fate, they can’t. Again time is working against them. This time biological clocks are ticking loudly and maliciously. Time is running out. Couples go through a lot of physical and emotional pain to have babies. And yet a miracle is always in the works. Some wait for a decade or more before they are blessed with a baby. Is it the fruit of a thousand prayers? Faith? Absolute surrender? I’d say all of the above.

And then there are others like me who get lucky with finding a husband and having kids. But my career eluded me. I fooled myself (like the single folks) into thinking I was happy being a stay-at-home mom (single in their case) for the rest of my life! But that nagging doubt in my heart would drive me crazy with sadness every once in a while. Now for me the long wait has ended. 11 years of being unemployed. Without getting a pay check. Feeling like a total loser. Feeling dumb. Like I was worth nothing at all.  All those years I spent bored, sad, my self esteem teetering on low, seem so insignificant. Like a tiny blot on the vast expanse of my life. Like a distant memory of a past life.

But before I could change the course of my life, I had to feel good about myself. I had to stop beating myself up for not being the career woman I dreamed I would be. There was work to be done in the world and I went out and did it. Even if it didn’t pay. At least I felt like I could contribute something and that it was appreciated. My confidence levels slowly rose. I attracted helpful friends into my life who nudged me in the right direction. I started looking inside of myself for guidance and answers. The work I do now is not what I thought I would be doing. I thought I’d work for a magazine or write a column for a newspaper. But I’m a blogger (how did that ever happen?). I thought I’d make money as a blogger. I was wrong again. The work I do has nothing to do with writing and yet it is very satisfying. Even though I don’t have a degree in that field, being a mom and volunteering at schools landed me my current job.

So when I look back at the (then) puzzling events in my life, they make perfect sense (now). Everything I did in the past was in perfect order and brought me to right where I was supposed to be. There were no mistakes. It felt like time was standing still, like I had missed the opportunity and that I was destined for more of the same. But on every account I was wrong.

So when you finally arrive at your destination you forget the long grueling uphill climb, all the missteps and falls. The whole experience of finally getting what you always wanted transforms you. And after waiting for something as long as I have, I don’t have the time to dwell on the past. I’m too busy enjoying the realization of my dream. If you do that time loses its power over you. And that is the secret. Lose yourself in what you are experiencing now. Go with the flow. Trust that you will arrive at your dream destination. Time is just created by the mind to make us feel small and mortal. Rise above it and even the longest wait will seem insignificantly small.


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My Gastronomic Adventure – Part 2

Now the U.S. is a culinary jungle all by itself and living here for more than a decade has greatly influenced my cooking. As a young bride I focused on making everyday Indian food which was easy, given that I used to help my mom a lot in the kitchen and knew most of the basic recipes. I love Chinese food and we used to eat out at Chinese restaurants quite frequently. The Chinese food you get in India is usually spiced up and modified to suit the Indian palate. When I came to the U.S. I quickly discovered that most Chinese restaurants were Americanized. I was disappointed and craved Ind0-Chinese food so much that I started making it myself – just the fried rice, noodles and cauliflower Manchurian.

Another type of food that I missed was chaat (Indian snack food or street food). To try and explain what chaat is to someone who has never tasted it is next to impossible. Maybe the closest I can get to describing it is by borrowing a word from Japanese – Umami, which is a 5th taste, a savory taste. Chaat is an explosion of salty, sweet, tangy, spicy and crunchy that takes you to food heaven. So again I had to perfect my paav bhaji, pani puri and bhel puri for whenever the chaat cravings hit me hard.

I love to bake and out here baking is big. So I spent many years trying out different cake and pie recipes and now I have a few perfect ones under my belt. Like banana nut bread, apple pie (thanks to Aunty D’souza – who bakes the most amazing desserts), key lime pie (thanks to Florida) blueberry muffin, almond cake, brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

When you are vegetarian, eating out is such a tedious task. Our go-to places are Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants. My kids simply love Italian food and given a chance they would eat pasta every day. So chef DC did it again and perfected her pasta sauces, ravioli, lasagna, frittata and even home made pizza. The fun part of making pizza is getting the kids involved. They love getting in there and getting messy and I love cooking with them. It reminds me of the time I spent cooking with my mom and also G.

I used to spend many hours watching food network and my favorite show was 30 minute meals with Rachel Ray. She was my idol and I used to race against the clock and try and make Indian food (that typically takes hours to make) in just 30 minutes. The rice cooker and pressure cooker were my best friends and I quickly mastered the art of speedy chopping. So in under an hour I would make one veggie dish, one gravy and rice. I can make a one pot sambar (many traditional cooks frown upon this method) which to me tastes just as good.

Other friends I have made out here have also shared wonderful recipes with me. Most of my neighbors in Boston were from Andhra Pradesh, India and their dishes are very tasty and very different from ours. I learnt how to make mango dal and eggplant curry from them. My good friend and neighbor shared her mushroom biriyani recipe which has been passed on to many friends and is still a favorite at my house. She is a very good cook and we used to make and share vada and payasam during festivals and also try out different recipes and share them. She inspired me to make sweets for Diwali (although the seeds were sown by G’s family and Ganga). So I’ve made Ladoos, Jalebis, Halwas and Kheer. My neighbor S started making murrukkus with me when she was between jobs and I soon found myself in the possession of a murukku press (thanks to my husband), making murukkus from scratch.

My husband likes to cook on occasion and he has whipped up some very good recipes. One of the earliest ones was a veggie sub with grilled green pepper, mushroom, onions and tomatoes and melted cheese. He makes the best rava dosas and dry coconut chutney. These days he is into making plantain chips from scratch – we just finished frying up a batch after slicing them up in our spiffy new mandoline.

So that brings me to last month’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Firstly we don’t eat turkey – me because I’m vegetarian and the rest of my family simply doesn’t like it. So we replaced the turkey with chicken wings – buffalo style. My daughter wanted mashed potatoes and my son wanted lasagna! I replaced the lasagna with mushroom ravioli because it’s a lot easier to make and for dessert we had eggless cake. I’m glad I chose a simple menu because on the day before Thanksgiving I fell sick and I secretly thanked myself for not choosing to make Indian food! I consider myself a die-hard curry eater but no other cuisine involves so much soaking, grinding, marinating, frying, sautéing, mincing and spicing like Indian cuisine. Later that evening the guilt set in and I ended up making eggplant curry.

There is something about food that not only titillates your palate but also warms your heart and soul. When you break bread with someone, share your table or your cooking with someone, an invisible bond is formed – one that lasts for a long time and one that evokes a lot of fond memories of fun, food, family and friends. Here’s to your own culinary adventure…cheers!

 


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A Heart Full of Gratitude

It is with utmost joy that I write (and now type) this post. A long awaited dream of mine has come true. Roll back to the second post I wrote (The Work Saga –http://www.punctuatelife.com/2012/02/13/the-work-saga/) and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I got a job! A real job! One that pays!

It’s been less than a month but I can’t keep it from the world any longer. No it’s not a writing job. It’s not even a full time job. But it’s just what I need. Part of me was always apprehensive about going to work and leaving the kids in daycare. I’m so used to being there for them when they get back from school that it was inconceivable to me to hand that responsibility to someone else.

Yet part of me craved for a job, for independence and even the companionship of colleagues. This I partially fulfilled by doing volunteer work at the school. The volunteer work (200 something hours spent cutting and gluing, helping with centers, buying supplies) finally paid off and landed me this job.

So at this job, I get to keep the kids with me, the hours work for me and my volunteer work helped me snag this job. I’ll keep you guessing while I go over my long list of things I’m immensely grateful for in my life. It goes without saying that I’m infinitely grateful for this job. I’m blessed to have two little angels for kids. They make each waking day a joy for me. From whiny, cranky, needy babies they have grown to be solid, sound and responsible little kids. I’m in awe of these little wonders that I helped bring into the world.

I’m thankful for an awesome husband who has made my life comfortable and easy. I live an almost stress-free lifestyle thanks to him – he bears the burden of providing for the family, paying the bills, planning for the future. I know he will take care of even the tiniest detail and that we are safe and secure under his wing.

I’m thankful for my family – my parents, brother, in-laws and my adopted Grandma (Ganga). We had the good fortune of celebrating my father-in-law’s 80th birthday with him. Thank you for all your prayers, support and good wishes over the years. A special thank you to my awesome brother who keeps giving me feedback about my blog and doing a lot of PR for me.

I’m thankful for my friends who swoop down to my rescue when family cannot. Without you guys I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Your support and encouragement over the years has built my confidence, has reminded me when I have forgotten who I am and what I am capable of. A special thank you to my bosom friend N for always finding time to comfort me, praying incessantly for me and my family (like her own) and above all for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

My dear friend S tied the knot this year and I’m so happy for her. When you have a friend you have known from the cradle, you can’t help but want her to be happy and settled (not just money-wise or career-wise but also partner-wise). So I’m thankful that she finally found her soul mate and is starting to live her happily ever after.

I’m thankful that we finally got our green card (this summer) after years of waiting. I’m also very thankful that I got to see fall colors this year after a long time. I’m thankful for good weather out here in Florida (snow is really not my thing). Thankful for food on our table. Thankful for good people in my life. Thankful for every reader (secret ones too) and subscribers. Thankful for my blog. Thankful for my pet fish. Thankful for miles and miles of beaches. Thankful for my little garden and the flowers blooming outside. Thankful for electricity and running water. Thankful for a warm and cozy home. Thankful for Mother Earth. Thankful for sunshine and rain. Thankful for laughter, good health and joy and I wish you all the same. Have a happy Thanksgiving y’all.