Map of Kerala State
Heavy rain during June and July is a normal phenomenon in the state of Kerala in South India. This year, the effect of the South-West monsoon was more profound not only in Kerala but in the neighboring state of Karnataka too. Though meteorologists are of the view that it is not unusual, climate experts feel that it is a fierce reminder to India about climate change.
Though Kerala experiences heavy rain due to the South West monsoon, this year the rain was unprecedented not only in Kerala but in major parts of the adjoining state of Karnataka too. Even in their distant dreams, people of Kerala did not expect to face a calamity due to rain, which was a normal phenomenon all these years.
Kerala Ravaged by Floods
On August 9, large parts of the state woke up to large-scale devastation as the monsoon renewed its date with the state. There were flash floods and landslips in several places and the State Disaster Control sources were caught unawares.
Within 24 hours, death toll began to rise and the Indian government employed personnel from the Army, Indian Air Force, Navy and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to the worst-hit districts of Kozhikode, Wayanad, and Malappuram.
People Wade Through the Flood Waters
“On August 12 we were given the first alert, when the authorities said they would be opening the Idukki dam (built on the Periyar river), which was reaching full capacity after a span of 26 years, if it overflows. Unfortunately, heavy downpour forced the authorities to open all the sluices within 24 hours and there was chaos and disaster all around,” explained Bindu, a resident of Ernakulum, presently relocated to Chennai. Deadly landslides bashed Idukki district, which was known for its tea and cardamom plantations, winding roads and scenic resorts. As Idukki is situated at a high altitude in the Western Ghats, people were unaffected by natural disasters such as storms or hurricanes but little did they think that torrential rain would displace their livelihood. “Our place was always referred to as Kashmir of Kerala. My heart bleeds when I see my hometown battered brutally,” said Anand Kuttan, whose entire family is employed in the tea plantations in Munnar (Idukki district).
By August 13, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a red alert to eight districts – Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Idukki, Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Kannur. It was extended to others in the next few days.
But the scope of the disaster had outpaced efforts to cope with the disaster and the state had set up several flood monitoring stations and all of them notified extreme flood situation. The two regions that bore the brunt of the rain fury (August 19, 20) were Kuttanad and Chengannur.
The government took all efforts to help stranded residents. They involved all kinds of aircraft and boats. But, the real heroes who stood by the government and rescue personnel were the fisherfolk. They hurried to the flooded areas with their boats in which they navigate the high seas. In fact, they were the first to rush to Chengannur to rescue the marooned by the Pamba river. Said Bindu, “While the Army and government agencies could only concentrate on towns, the fishermen deftly reached out to those in remote areas.”
The fishermen battled the adverse weather, held on to trees to veer the boats in the right course and faced the challenge of a strong water currents. They helped rescue heavily pregnant women, infants and almost swam in and out of all homes in a number of villages looking out for disabled persons and elderly.
“Women had no stamina, especially the elderly. They had very little endurance, especially after the loss of property and near ones, they could not bring themselves to board the rescue boats,” added Bindu.
“They had to be cajoled and even bodily-lifted. We Keralites are attached to our homes and we could not bear to see it ravaged,” wailed Suresh her brother.
Relief Materials Being Transported to Kerala
Rain battered Kerala breathed easy only after August 19. According to officials over 2.55 lakh people were displaced and there was a steady rise in death toll.
But, despite being handicapped in all ways, Keralites rose up to the occasion. They did not panic, though their morale was badly down. Several NGOs and private relief teams swung into action from nearby Tamil Nadu and all over the country. Relief material began to pour in and they were housed in over 7, 24, 600 relief camps all over the state.
According to the IMD, in just 20 days (August 1 – 20), Kerala had received the highest amount rain in 87 years. Idukki district alone received a breaking record of 1419 mm in August (till 20). Scientists opine that this is a once in a century rain which has displaced more than 1.3 million people in the state.
According to farmers, they have received nearly two and a half times the normal amount of water across the state, during mid-August. “We depend on the right amount of rain at the right time for our livelihood and food. How do we cope with this situation,” asked, Lakshmanan a farmer of Ernakulam?
Thousands of hectares of agricultural land are under sheets of water. Paddy and banana were the worst hit by the flood and they are yet to know the actual loss which they expect to be very high. The state has also lost poultry, milch animals, and ruminants.
Expert warnings ignored
The floods have washed away multi-storeyed buildings, commercial establishments, bridges and eroded roads. Several tribal communities, hilly areas and villages are still surrounded by the swirling flood waters and totally cut off from the rest of the state.
The flooding also affected the Kochi airport as it has been built on the floodplains of the Periyar river. According to officials, the airport has been carved out of paddy fields. “All rivers have a floodplain that is used to hold water and if the government does away with such an integral part of the water body, who can we blame now?” ask activists and experts.
Rainfall Pattern in mm (1960 – 2016) in Kerala (Courtesy: Regional Weather Forecasting Centre and Area Cyclone Warning Centre, Chennai)
With millions displaced in flooded Kerala, climatologists warn that devastating floods of this enormity will become a norm if the Indian government has a callous approach towards climate change. This is a major challenge that is staring at the country now and most of its plans to deal with it are more rhetoric and lesson planning and policy decisions.
Eco-system of Western Ghats
The situation has created awareness among the residents about the importance of preserving the environment and its role in climate change.
After reading the report submitted by scientist Madhav Gadgil (headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel formed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2010), many of us feel that the problem faced by the state due to the floods was partly man-made, said Aparna, a resident of Ernakulam.
The report submitted in 2011 by Madhav Gadgil had identified that nearly 37 percent of the Western Ghats, covering an area of 59, 940 sq km was ecologically sensitive. Here, good natural vegetation and forests spread over 1,500 km cover six states – Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and includes protected areas and world heritage sites.
A high-level working group had also recommended that state governments should prohibit projects and activities in the ecologically sensitive area which have a maximum destructive impact on the ecosystem “Wish we had taken proper steps to preserve the fragile eco-system of the Western Ghats and followed environmental laws. Above all, we feel that the government should have strongly recommended a ban on new industrial and mining activities.”
Families in districts such as Idukki and Ernakulam, where destruction was gargantuan are critical about the attitude of the government. They opine that without a concern for the environment, hotel owners, real estate sharks, and land mining mafias were encouraged to set up business here and this has spoilt the ecosystem of the state.
Wetlands and lakes, which is where the floodwaters should have taken refuge have all given way to concrete structures. “If the government does not form committees and involve more officials to conserve the environment, all the highlands, Midlands and coastal plains in the state will suffer damage of increased magnitude due to unjustified human intervention,” opine some of the residents of Kerala.
Three Decades With a Cop
Lalitha Sai and her Husband- Just Married
Life was not easy,
Life was also not bad,
Life had everything,
Life did lack something,
Yes, this is the life of a cop’s wife!
Our marriage is close to three decades now. Back in 1990, (June 13) I did not know what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I had to be patient and have a lot of understanding with a grumpy police officer. He too warned me that life would not be a bed of roses.
Lalitha Sai and her family after 25 years of marriage
But was he actually grumpy? Were there thorns? No, his heart was one that would melt with the warmth that glowed from within me. His spells of anger would fizzle when his eyes meets mine, full of fear of having incurred his wrath.
Beneath his hardcore exterior were streams of love in which he still bathes me ceaselessly. I bore him two precious jewels which he cherishes from the bottom of his heart.
But his call of duty was his priority. He was married to his job. There have been many a celebrations (marriages, birthdays and outings) without him. His absence has made us wince with pain, cringe with shame, and cry out loud for want of love. But, his duty had always been his priority.
Still, the man did turn the family livelier.
There were difficult times, best moments, lovable minutes and tearful seconds. But in all we were united as a family. To the best of my effort I tried to steer him clear of any family problems and tried to give him peace. But, he would not move away.
He has held our hands,
…in times of need,
…in times of physical pain,
…in times of mental stress,
…in times of illness,
…in times of delusions,
…in times of joy,
…in times of pleasure!
He molded every one of us to be independent and a leader too. He gave us all the space whenever we needed it. He taught us to focus on the good and not the bad.
Though there were times of regret about marrying a cop, I still think it is the best decision I have ever taken in life. For, he has been a real inspiration to his engineer son, doctor daughter and journalist wife.
In my view, I also think that though he had misdirected his official stress on his loved ones at times, he has always made it up with all of them.
I would be thankful if he can, to all his intimate relationships, give more patience and diligence and make them his priority. I thank God for making us a family and giving him to me.
If not for him I would not have known love, affection, compassion, interactions, build communication skills, leadership qualities and interpersonal skills. May God bless him with good health and mental stamina to take care of all us for many more years to come.
My wish, as always: Whenever Nature thinks it is time, let me be the first to leave so that I can welcome all of them one by one till they reach the feet of the Almighty. For I know not how to live without even one of them.
How has your married life made you feel, after all those years of togetherness?
This is an original post for World Moms Network written by guest poster, Lalitha Sai, in India.
Lalitha Sai, Journalist, India
Lalitha Sai, is a writer based in Chennai, India. She is happily married to a police officer. Her son is an engineer in Europe, and her daughter is a doctor in Chennai. She has 25 years of experience in journalism and has held posts of senior editor in the leading news dailies of India, “The Hindu” and “DT NEXT”. She focused on women empowerment in her articles.
She is now working as the head of operations of content releases in a private company.
THE BIRTH OF Siddhārtha Gautama
6th Century BC:
The old nurse looked at her radiant Queen, Maya Devi. She still had the same sweet smile on her face, and nothing seemed to have changed since the day she was born, the day the old nurse picked her up as an infant. Pregnancy only made her glow more like the full moon. She still insisted doing things her way in that same charming captivating way like now, when she went bathing all by herself in the Puskarini pool, even though she was about to give birth in a fortnight. Her nurse watched helplessly as Maya played in the pool, with her friends amidst the pink and white lotus flowers. The nurse sighed, and got up to ready the sleeping arrangements for Maya. Maya had wanted to leave for her father’s home for birthing her child as was the custom of those times. But instead of leaving earlier by a month, she spent more time with her affectionate husband, King Suddodhana, the leader of the Shakya clan. On the way to her father’s place, she wanted to spend the night at the beautiful garden in Lumbini, which meant ‘the lovely.’
Just as the nurse was about to walk away towards the tents, she could sense something waswrong. She turned to see Maya’s face contorting in pain for just a moment. Or did she imagine it? She squinted her near-sighted eyes, and watched intently for a longer moment, and noticed the same expression again. Maya met her gaze, and the nurse knew it was time. She waded mid-pool and quickly helped her out of the water. Maya insisted on walking all the way to the tent without support, wincing during every contraction, supporting her hips with her arms. She did not reach the tent. She took a quick detour and halted below a strong and sturdy sal tree, under the full and bright moon of the first lunar month Vesak, of the New Year. She rested for a moment, as her womb contracted in divine agony. Her nurse held out her hand, but the all-time-self-sufficient Maya supported herself by clutching a branch, and birthed her handsome Prince, whom she named Siddhārtha, the one who achieves his goal. The Gods from heaven showered a stream of lukewarm water to clean the baby, and then another cooler shower. She thanked the Gods silently. As she gazed lovingly at her just born beautiful new baby boy, Siddhārtha walked seven steps on the lotus in the pond, as the lore goes.
Nativity Scene: The Birth of the Buddha
Maya passed away 11 days later, leaving Siddhārtha in the hands of her sister Prajapati, who was also the second wife of her husband. Prajapati’s motherly love for Siddhārtha never made him realize the absence of his birth mother. The court astrologers predicted that the Prince would either become a great saint of modern times or a mighty Monarch.
As the story of the Buddha goes, Prince Siddhārtha abandoned the palace and the kingly riches in search of meaning for life and wandered away to the forests, at the age of 29. Through the strictest of penance, he eventually attained Nirvana or enlightenment at the age of 35.
Just before passing away at the age of 80, Buddha told his primary disciple and cousin, Ananda, that Lumbini his birth place would be one of the 4 holiest places which would attract Buddhists for all time.
LUMBINI, BIRTH PLACE OF BUDDHA, UNESCO World Heritage site
2500 years later today, the Lumbini garden remains so, as predicted by Buddha. In my eternal quest for all things Buddhist, I was taken to the serene land of Nepal, which is adorned by the whitest and most beautiful Himalayan Range to the north, and by the rather nondescript town of Lumbini to the South. I won’t go into details of how to reach Lumbini by road/air, where to stay once you reach there, or the best things to do there. You can find all of that in travel websites and travelogues written by travelers and tourists who have visited the place before me and who would visit after me.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
For the travel-lusting curios, however, I am going to briefly share my experiences of visiting the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini. This temple is housed inside the Lumbini development complex which also has the Monastic zone and a Lumbini village zone. In 1978, many nations came forward to build monasteries depicting the evolution of Buddhist culture in their countries and I am going to share a few pictures of those different monasteries below. To confuse you further, when you visit, there are many gates to this complex, depending on how you plan to enter. Whichever of the 9 gates you choose, be sure to cover all the monasteries. They are absolutely lovely and unique and give you a flavour of their own respective countries.
A few of the monasteries below …
The Thailand Monastery
One of my favorite monasteries. It stands magnificent in snowy, pristine white glory; embodying purity. It is very well maintained with manicured lawns and neatly trimmed trees.
The insides of the Thai monastery is also very beautiful. The decorations of the Buddha, the culture reflecting in the ornate decorations, information on neat bulletin boards, and so on – all gave a very nicely organized monastery.
Insides of the Thai Monastery
The Cambodian Monastery
This monastery reminded me very much of the Angkor Wat temple in its looks and structure. It is still work in progress with construction work going on, and dust billowing towards us, in the heat. We were forced to make a hasty retreat to the other monasteries, though this breath-taking beauty did not stop beckoning us…
The Myanmar Monastery
The Golden monastery from Myanmar decorated with green and gold paint, and a maroon balustrade to match, was a splendid sight from outside and inside too. It is a replica of the monastery in Yangon. My husband’s bucket list grew, with Myanmar as one of the places to visit, before the end of this year, as we breathed in the sight of this beautiful monastery.
The German Monastery
As we kept walking, we came across a circular lake, and on one side there is this beautiful German monastery called, ‘The Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa’. Do not let this humble, yet beautiful monastery mislead you, for you are about to witness wonder inside it.
As we entered this monastery, we were slowed down. There was not enough time in the world, to complete admiring the beautiful murals on the walls. There was a prayerful atmosphere which the monks tried hard to maintain inside the prayer room. It was simply splendid. I recommend, you sit down for a few minutes to meditate here. No photography is allowed inside, for which I am thankful, because our senses were already assaulted enough, just admiring the murals inside.
Inside the German Monastery
At times, I was so glad for these “No photography” signs because Nature was giving us a chance to just sit, allow the beauty to descend into you, both in a way of the senses and also into the heart. No more thinking about Portrait mode or Normal mode or other modes, light exposure, and all those umpteen photography things which my husband and son keep discussing about, but just a mind which needs to calm down, and a heart which needs to look inward.
Colorful Murals Inside the German Monastery
And we moved on, because a noisy group of tourist arrived and were discussing with the care taker, as to how they could seek permission to take pictures inside the prayer room.
The International Nuns Temple of Nepal
On the right side of the International Nuns Temple, you can see that there is a place of stay for the nuns from Nepal, and is maintained by the Government of Nepal. It has a long courtyard where footwear was not allowed, and as our feet were getting burnt, we were reminded of childhood memories of playing hide and seek with our cousins, during summer break, on the hot terrace at midday. We had to make a hasty retreat this time too, because we could not bear the burning of the hot grounds on our naked feet.
(*If I did not tell you earlier, you are requested to leave your footwear outside most of the monasteries, as a sign of respect and cleanliness.*)
International Nuns Temple in Nepal
The Singapore Monastery
This was closed and we could not learn much about it. So we resorted to taking pictures of it and us.
The Author and her son in front of the Singapore Monastery
The Chinese Monastery
The Chinese have built the biggest monastery in the complex. It is very well maintained and organized with a lot of information displayed. There was so much to assimilate about the culture and history of Buddhism in China and about the monastery itself.
The entrance of the Chinese monastery is guarded by their traditional ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ and other deities. There was even a Maitreya Buddha at the entrance. This is a very beautiful and colorful monastery.
Guardians of the Chinese Monastery
Though the entrance looks not so huge, the courtyard was heavenly. The visitors who entered never felt like leaving. You would also notice that the entry and exit of the monastery is structured such that it makes you circumambulate in clockwise around the Buddha which is a holy practice of Hindus and Buddhists.
Courtyard of the Chinese Monastery
World Peace Pagoda
We were then directed towards a path by one of the tourists, saying it led to the Eternal Flame, The World Peace Pagoda and the Maya Devi temple. They are all in a straight line.
Inside The World Peace Pagoda
As you walk on this path, you can find the golden Bodhisattva statue glistening in the sun. It is a fairly recent addition, in 2012. It is supposed to personify that image of the infant Buddha when he took the seven steps on the lotus, as soon as he was born.
Golden Bodhisattva statue
The Maya Devi Temple
Our walk brought us to the Sacred Zone at the Maya Devi Temple. There was an ambience of tranquility in the atmosphere. But something else was also missing. I couldn’t quite sense what, yet. There is a pond beyond which the temple stands tall and majestic, in white serenity. It felt that the temple was celebrating Buddha’s mother rather than the Buddha.
Maya Devi Temple
There are rows of small stupas outside the temple. Excavations seemed to be happening continuously since the discovery of the Ashoka pillar in 1896.
King Ashoka in the 249 BC is supposed to have originally discovered Buddha’s birth place and built this iconic pillar with detailed inscriptions and the various stupas around it.
Details – The Ashoka Pillar
Around the temple building, there are numerous small stupas and they have been archaeologically dated back to the second century BC.
Archaeological Ruins Around the Temple
We entered the temple, and began walking on the wooden floor, following the signs. People were throwing coins below into the ruins, as offerings for good luck. We stood above and gazed from the railings, there were coins from different countries. As we kept walking, we finally reached the Marker Stone which marks the exact spot where Buddha was born. Devotees were praying, some tourists were gazing intently trying to capture everything in their memory, as you see, photography is prohibited inside the Maya Devi Temple. The path further leads to the Nativity sculpture where you can see mother Maya Devi holding the branch of a Sal tree and Buddha standing on a lotus. As we walked beyond, the path led to the exit of the temple.
The sun was very bright and almost scorching, and glared my eyes, because the temple was very dimly lit, like the insides of a movie theatre. I waited for a moment, for everything to sink in. Everything seemed like nothing.
I noticed the colorful prayer flags in the garden outside. There was a small pond, and a few monks were sitting around a tree, chatting. There were benches for tourists, and some were meditating on it.
I got the feeling that perhaps it was time to leave.
What did I seek in Lumbini?
As we made our way towards the exit, we halted for a drink of water at the watering pool. A few monks were filling up their plastic bottles too, and we waited patiently for them to move. It gave me a moment to reflect.
When we made this journey, all the way from Chennai, South India, what did I anticipate to find? I was allured to Buddha’s birthplace, but I couldn’t find him here. Lumbini is no doubt a very important and holiest of sites for followers of Buddhism and even followers of other religions and I appreciate the beauty of the Lumbini development zone and commend the effort of the Government to preserve this as place of value and heritage.
However, as I fill up my bottle, with the cool water from the tap, I wonder, “What did I get, which I sought from this visit to the birth place of Buddha?”
Did I get enlightenment like Buddha? But did I seek that? I don’t even know what that means…
Did I seek to find Buddha somewhere hidden in the beautiful monasteries constructed by various countries? Or somewhere near the Marker Stone, which claims he was birthed there?
I was not seeking his physical presence – surely not!
Was I seeking to find some meaning to the strong presence he left behind in this world? Perhaps…! But what of it?
Well, whatever I was seeking or not, I surely was trying to find some essence of Divinity in all of this. One could call it peace, or bliss or a meditative calm or any other word… and it all can be identified with something akin to Divine. But I was vaguely disappointed. I felt generally at peace at a superficial level in some of the monasteries, but I still was trying to figure out what I was searching, assuming that I would know once I found it. And here I was experiencing an anti-climax of having found nothing at all.
My water bottle overflowed and I sensed an impatient monk behind me who was being fidgety with his bottle, tapping it against the railing of the water taps. I closed my bottle and allowed him to use it. He smiled his thanks but I did not have the energy to smile back. I was drained by the heat and my own contemplation.
We walked back along the long path leading to one of the exit gates, each of us silent in our hearts and in our own world.
Long after I came home to India, and decided to write about my experience in Lumbini, I felt emotional about not having experienced Buddha’s presence. I just did not feel him or find him anywhere in Lumbini. It felt like ‘time’ had trapped all of Buddha back in the 6th century BC.
It just felt like memories of Buddha lost in time, accentuated by celebrated tales, and an active humanity in the future which tried to relive the enlightenment of a single man (or God) of the past.
The Ethos of the Heart
As I was wondering about my experience, my friend texted me and offered to have a Heartfulness meditation session, where one meditates on the source of light in the heart. I could not say no. After the session, I felt lighter and peaceful in a general way. Later, I remembered something I read long ago, written by Daaji, the Global Guide of Heartfulness. This seemed to be a fitting climax to my experience.
“Imagine for a moment that we don’t have to go anywhere, or to do anything, except simply sit wherever we are, and allow ourselves to be found? Imagine that heavens are waiting to enter our heart, right here and now! What a powerful concept! How do we make this a reality and allow ourselves to be found? How do we create such a state where the higher presence naturally settles within our hearts?”
He goes on to explain as below …
“The answer possibly lies in cultivating the seeds of contentment within our hearts…
It starts with a simple suggestion that everything we need is already present within us. All the love of the world, the beauty of life, the seed of perfection is present in our heart represented as a source of light. This suggestion is strengthened through actual experience in meditation, as the idea of light leads to a feeling of an inner presence. This inner presence becomes a reality as our consciousness expands, and we become aware of a wholeness of being. When we begin to experience this state of wholeness and perfection at our core, the clouds of discontent and ignorance start to dissolve. The heart regains its light and innocent nature.
Under such circumstances, the egoless heart, the humble heart, automatically draws the heavens towards itself. Such a heart is perfectly adjusted to its external circumstances. It creates heaven around itself.”
Full article here.
I felt light instantly. This seemed to be the missing puzzle to my experience-jigsaw. I had read this article almost 2 years ago, more or less agreed with it, and swiped away to the next article, devouring words and ideas. But the joy of the pudding is not merely in the eating, but in the conscious experiencing of the taste, or the sweet of it. The Universe is so vast, and the world of learning and experiencing is also as broad as the Universe and perhaps even more so. As the human soul tries to imbibe everything or parts of the universe in a quest which is directed external – to new places, new understanding of the senses, and new knowledge, there is something limiting to that, as the façade never fully lifts.
As I try to understand what he meant in the article, I also realize that perhaps humanity is unconsciously seeking an ethos of that content heart, which satisfies itself with everything within, which knows with confidence that indeed the Universe is present within.
What do you look for, when you visit holy lands? Tell me, your experiences …
Photo Credit to the Author.
This is the first in the series of articles by #WorldMom, Purnima from her travels in #Nepal.
You can read the series of articles from her travels in #Bhutan here.
Flipping through my travel diary of some years ago, brought me to this entry. Dear reader, I, as a mother, if you have ever come face-to-face with logic-defying moments, while preparing for travel, do read on…
Others have “aha” moments. I make do with “What on earth am I doing?!” ones. Such a moment happened to me last evening, as I filled a clear plastic bag with salt and put it into my handbag.
No, dear reader, I haven’t completely lost it. Salt hasn’t become the new currency. Nor am I on some kind of strange detox that calls for the everyday kitchen ingredient. The salt owes its presence to the leeches. “Which leeches?” you ask. The ones that inhabit the roads from Bagdogra, West Bengal, to Darjeeling, and further to Kalimpong, and Gangtok in Sikkim.
It happened like this…
I called up a well-read and senior neighbor who is rumored to be the inspiration for the Lonely Planet series. Her expertise in all things related to travel, is legendary. So I thought of requesting for her travel-tips before setting off on a 19-day vacation to the afore-mentioned places. And our pleasant talk stopped to a halt upon hearing of the leeches that live in these regions. “No stepping on the grass during breaks in the long car journeys” she said, “And wear your footwear when you need to respond to nature’s call”, she added.
I repeated this to my family. Abhishek, my cautious 10 year old, knows all about salt and leeches. He was convinced that hordes of these blood-sucking fellows were eagerly waiting his visit to their home, ready to pop out of the grass at the first onset of rains, which is once every day or so. He would imagine them falling upon unwary tourists (us!), with maniacal shouts of laughter (o.k. so I made up the last part!).
He looked at me with a knowing look. Turning to his father, he said, “Mamma will carry salt in her hand-bag”. Not asked. Not requested. Simply declared. After all, past experience has shown that Mamma does indeed carry a mini universe in her hand-bag, all for the express purpose of being able to keep him healthy, happy, comfortable, safe, cut-free, and non-bored.
Is there a term like the last one? There ought to be; parents know all about how much it takes to not have a child say those dreaded words, “I’m bored!”
Why not follow the “Prevention is better than cure” dictum and simply avoid presenting one’s blood to leeches? “Sure” responded Abhi, “I’ll wear my shoes at all times. But you will carry the salt too, won’t you?” Yes I will. Is there any doubt? And so the evening found me trying to fit in a bewildered guest of my kitchen into an equally bewildered handbag.
“Just look at me, I’m already bursting at the seams” declared the harried handbag.
I looked. My money pouch stared back at me. Next to it was my cell-phone, a handkerchief, a comb, my address book (yes I still have one of those antiquities), the house keys, a tiny box of cloves and cardamom, two pens, some sticky-paper and my “usual travel-bag” containing credit cards, the airline tickets, Abhi’s passport, frequent flyer airline cards, photographs of family members, photos of my gurus, my driving license (which is a handy identification document but otherwise completely useless as I don’t drive), some hygiene essentials, a taxi and rickshaw tariff card, some “carry at all times” pain killers, band-aids, an emergency “looks-fixer” kit with a mirror, bindis, safety-pins, 2 tiny vials of perfume, a lipstick, a pair of earrings, a tube of lip balm, hair clips and hair-bands, and finally, the little tag that was tied around Abhi’s neck at the nursing home where he was born (I know, I know! But am sentimentally attached to it).
Next to this nestled the vacation-specific mini-bag that had a torch, a scarf, some anti-nausea medicines for Abhi, some tissues and plastic bags (to wipe up the mess if and when the above-mentioned medicines failed, which they usually do), a tiny box of pepper powder (helps digest oily food, I swear!), some soothing ointment for the skin (mosquitoes and assorted insects like to make a beeline for Abhi and greet him like a long-lost friend.)
“Where’s the calendula”? The irritated boy rubbing his red arms will invariably ask, within twelve minutes of venturing outdoors. And last, a bundle of assorted toffees and chewing gum for the family.
I looked at the handbag in one hand and the bag of salt held in the other. Time to say goodbye to something…
Out came a bigger handbag from the cupboard. And the residents got transferred into a larger home. My husband saw the activity and admitted that he was relieved; he had plans to make me carry the digital camera in the handbag. “And the hotel allotment papers too”, he added smiling sheepishly.
I picked up the new handbag and sighed. “Oh well, my shoulders and arms will look more defined by the end of the trip” I muttered.
At dinner, Abhi asked, “Did you take enough salt?”. “Enough for an army of leeches”, I smiled. Watch out jungles, the Mukherjee handbag is here!
How fast can the years rush by?
Imagine putting your eyes to a kaleidoscope and marveling at the beauty of the image. Now, just a tiny flick of the wrist and the image shifts and coalesces into something completely new. Beautiful, but new. That is the feeling I have each time I get off the phone after talking to my rapidly-growing teenage son, studying 1800 kms away…
Image 1: Abhi at 6 – Ma, I can’t read this book. What lovely pictures! Will you read out one story?…One more, please?…One last story, Ma, promise!
Image 2: Abhi at 19 – Ma, did you read the book I recommended to you?
Me: (sheepishly) Nope, been too busy. But will soon begin.
Abhi: (a trifle exasperated) Ma, promise me you’ll read a chapter today – it’s excellent! I’ve been telling you for ages!
Me: I promise…
Image 3: Abhi at 7 – Ma, I forgot to wear the hoodie jacket. I was having so much fun at the winter carnival! I won’t catch a cold, hopefully.
Image 4: Abhi at 19 – Ma, when will you begin to take your own advice on health? Why are you working so hard? And the next time you are unwell, you are not accepting a new assignment!
Mom with sonny boy with their favourite stray at Gokarna beach, summer of 2017
And so on it goes…My heart turns into a happy mush with equal parts of pride and nostalgia, each time I listen to the oh-so-mature and earnest young man. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the voice by my side chattered excitedly about a hundred random things? Today, the deep voice travelling through all the distance between two cities, tells me the little chick has turned into a bird that can fly on its own.
Motherhood seems like an enchanting journey with twists and bends that are unpredictable and inevitable. No one tells you that one fine day the roles of parenting will get neatly reversed. Or that the constant flow of questions and words of the little one will one day taper down and that the ever-burgeoning timetable of your young one will need you to schedule calls. That you will watch and marvel from a distance while your teen will deal deftly with the demands of life, surprising you with his or her decision-making abilities.
Enjoying the kaleidoscope:
The temptation to step in, to answer the question directly, to supply the ready solution, is still there. But these days, I have learnt to wait. To answer a question with a counter-question. Notwithstanding the vagaries of distance and time. To be patient as he figures out the right solution.
In other words, I am enjoying the kaleidoscope! ☺
Enjoy the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope!
A few weeks ago, I found myself rubbing a strained back, while contemplating a few dozen cardboard boxes, spilling with myriad possessions. My family and I had just shifted residence and while the bigger home was welcome, the sense of being uprooted, was downright disturbing. Over the days and weeks, while I got back to arranging cupboards, emptying out the boxes, and deciding what went where, there was an almost palpable sense of shaping and creating a living space imbued with warmth. A feeling that this apartment was slowly but surely turning into “home”.
That got me thinking. What is it that binds the woman so closely to the sense of “being home”? Why are bachelor pads the butt of jokes, almost as if they can’t be anything more than functional places of stay? And what is it with mothers, that transforms a space with walls and ceiling, from house to home?
Keepers of memories:
“You can’t possibly throw my old soft toys” was the plaintive wail over the phone, from my now grown-up teenager, studying engineering, hundreds of miles away. The tall, bearded young man can dismiss tech troubles and maths equations with ease, but will turn into a 7-year old when confronted with the threat of parting with his precious old buddies of childhood. While I laughed and assured him his dear Spiderman figurine and other assorted ‘friends’ would continue to live with us, part of my mind wondered about how easily mothers slip into the role of “memory-keepers”. In my family, I get to be the person who decides about the keeping of old birthday cards, letters (yes, we still have those!), hand-written notes and little reminders of days gone by. And so there are three burgeoning bags labeled “Sentimental keepsakes”, holding varied treasures such as a favorite insect-print shirt of the sonny-boy when he was a toddler, a teddy-bear with a missing eye, painstakingly created art projects and more. I guess being the protector of the little tangible reminders of precious reminders comes with the territory of being a mom.
Strands of love:
Bidding goodbye to the previous apartment was very difficult due to the myriad of experiences and special moments that had enriched our lives for 16 long years. Would this new home hold a special place in our hearts too? I sighed and realized that when a family lives in various places in succession, no two homes can ever hold the same position in the heart. Each place is linked to a distinct palette of memories. Children are born and they grow up, moving through the years with frightening speed. Our parents leave us, moving from the earthly plane to a higher and better place. We shed our hair and gain some pounds and our faces reflect the battles lost and won in the arena of the world. And our children leave their homes, to find their own wings. Amidst these milestones, big and little, the home remains our sanctuary, the shelter where we return to find ourselves. And so, woven in our homes are strands of love and laughter. Of care and sacrifice. Of sleepless nights and faith-filled days. And again, mothers seem to gravitate towards this process of “weaving love” almost effortlessly.
Mothers are often, thus, the binding factor, transforming houses into homes. It does not matter whether the mother is the caretaker of a child with special health-needs or the mother of a potential Olympian athlete, or the mother of a daughter in a country where females are routinely treated as second-class citizens, or the mother of a little child, living in a refugee camp, trying valiantly to use lullabies and a rag doll to create the illusion of a home for her little one. Home isn’t a space alone – it is a physical space that is imbued with the most sublime of human feelings and emotions. It is the sparkling magical reaction between a safe dwelling place and a mother’s love.