To be able to wake up at a decent hour so as to not rush in the mornings is a boon in itself. I haven’t done that in years. For me mornings typically entail only of going from a half-sleepy state to an I’m-running-late-I-have-to-hurry state within half hour of opening my eyes. I’ve wanted to change this time and again, and make it a custom of relishing the whole waking up and starting a whole new day experience. I kept putting that task off to the proverbial ‘tomorrow’, however, to get those few extra minutes of sleep bestowed upon my nightly slumber accomplishment slate that sometimes ran into the double digit hours.
You see, it’s not that I am incapable of doing that for whatever reason; it’s merely that I am extremely lazy. Even this morning I woke up at 430. Yes, that early – without forcing myself, without any alarms, without anyone trying their best to get me out of bed, without any pressing work to be completed – I opened my eyes and felt fresh as a daisy even before the sun kissed the city’s skyline. It happens, rarely. Nonetheless, it was futile because I ended up spending the next few hours in bed tossing and turning contemplating how to best utilize the extra hours. And, before I knew it, there went the said extra hours bidding me goodbye. Frustrated with myself for neither dozing off nor spending the time wisely, I went back to sleep after I spotted sun’s magical rays win its sweet quarrel with the window shades. Heights of laziness, no?
What I want, though, is to be able to wake up at a reasonable hour, maybe make my breakfast, maybe meditate a bit, maybe spend a little time reading to get my mind into a calm state, maybe just sit by the window and watch the rain or snow fall, maybe do some low intensity exercise, maybe listen to some soft music, maybe this, maybe that – basically do whatever my whims are at that particular instant before I earmark the last half hour for showering and priming. I’ve realized when I do this I am much less cranky than if I were to madly go about getting ready robotically.
And to head towards that path, I think I have taken the first baby step.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to assimilate some of the above mentioned acts to my otherwise mundane morning routine. The caveat here is that I get out of bed at my regular hour, not a minute early, and do all that I fancy before heading into work. Of course that means I end up at the office later than most people. Thankfully, work hours are flexible enough and I login in the mornings, along with fulfilling my other impromptu wishes, to finish up anything that may require immediate attention.
While this takes me one step closer to my goal, I don’t want to set the tone this way.
Next, I want to slightly tweak this pattern to accommodate an early-to-rise practice. I want to be active an hour or two before my current schedule and go around doing whatever I’ve been doing the last few weeks. Is this too much to ask? Why does my heart fervently desire it while my mind/body puts up a fierce battle every morning as if it’s starved of sleep? How much time before this gratuitous scuffle settles? Hopefully, not long…
Page after page you turn the stained corners to delve deeper and deeper into the world that the book is gradually unfolding for you. It’s delightful, to say the least. It’s all that you’d hoped it would be, and some more. The people, the places, the situations – everything so colorful, so intense. The more you read, the more you want to read. The words, each and every one of them, woven so ingeniously into a story genuinely resonate with you. It puts you in an intense meditative state every time you immerse yourself into it.
But suddenly, something changes…
You stop abruptly, forgetting the story, the characters, as if somebody, out of the blue, questioned you about the dwindling appearance of the book in your hand. And you wonder why it doesn’t look minty fresh as it probably should.
Memories of the past dance in your mind’s eye as you take upon yourself the endeavor to pursue the story behind the story.
You remember – not a day or a specific date – but a vague picture of yourself walking out of a bookstore in your beloved city with this treasure in hand. There were other ones too, you recall, but this one… this one was somehow special. Because while the others calmly gathered around in your bag patiently waiting their turn to be dotingly picked up to be read (days, months or even years from now, who knows when), this one was an instant winner.
You remember opening the book so you could get started with reading this new found piece of word art during your commute home. As the train chugged along, you daringly dove into a sea of newness. You were blissfully unaware at that moment in time though about other plans that the universe was putting in place for you. After only a few pages in the train stopped and you closed the book.
You remember walking home that evening with this book in hand. The sky was pouring down, yet somehow, you seemed to have lacked the sense to put the book in a safer place. Perhaps under your jacket; perhaps in your bag. In hindsight, you are able to come up with ample ideas as to what you could’ve done, but back then idiocy had prevailed. Hence, every page, every corner got drenched in the rain.
You remember reaching home and religiously trying to dry the pages back to life. After spending a lot of time near the heater and after soaking in the afternoon sun sitting by the window for days in row, the book was somewhat fine. Alas, by then, though, you’d moved on to the next one only to put this on some seemingly invisible shelf of the over flowing bookshelf.
And it had been forgotten for years to come, until one day you finally set your eye on it.
Now, along with the story behind the written words, every page, every corner of this book has a story of its own to tell. Of the handful of minutes that it triumphed over the others by being chosen first. Of the once in lifetime experience of lashing clouds. Of being drenched. Of being stained. Of, finally, being rediscovered and relished, after years. Of being remembered as the pregnant book.
If I were honest with myself, I would happily declare that running isn’t one of my favorite activities. It’s tedious even at its best. So, it came as a huge shock last week when it seemed like it was drizzling out and I still got ready to go for a run. K repeatedly requested that I not go if it was raining. He was sick, and he was concerned I would be more prone to catching the bug if I got dripping wet in the cold conditions that prevailed outside. I assured him that I would come back up in case it was pouring down hard. What better pretext to skipping the jog than nature being the roadblock? Even as I was putting my shoes on, you see, I was playing out an excuse to return within five minutes of heading out with a solid justification.
My plan, however, went off track.
When the first drops of rain hit me as I stepped out, I knew I was going to embark on a journey that was so unusual for me. For years, I have seen people out for a jog in the rain or cold and I’ve wondered what kind of perseverance they must possess to make them do such a thing. And that evening, even if it were just for those few meager minutes, I was one of them. It wasn’t going to be an everyday thing, I knew that. It was a solitary event, I could feel that. But, for then, that was enough to keep me going.
I ran in the cold. I ran in the rain. I ran as the chilly air of my beloved city caressed my already red cheeks. I ran as the spongy shoes let in the water from the puddles that I futilely jumped over. I ran enough to make my body feel hot even in that frigid weather. I ran enough to feel invigorated for days to come. I ran even when the songs stopped playing on my iPod. I ran even when I ran out of things to carry on monologues in my mind.
I ran and I ran and I ran.
Upon the beginning of yet another week the snow falls, soft yet heavy. The weather seems resolute to beat my Monday blues. Everywhere, everything is sheathed in white, leaving me to experience a deep sense of calm in this morning hour of hustle and bustle. I can sit still on this windowsill all day long with some hot cocoa to sip on every once in a while and a book to distract me when the dazzle of the flurries becomes too bright to watch devotedly. Nevertheless it’s Monday, and duty calls.
As I head out, I am instantaneously made aware of the fact that I am not going to be spared of the fervor of the stormy sky. The glittering of the light flakes caught on my dark ensemble creates a new style that I’m happy to flaunt as I tread the familiar streets. I take the first few steps vigilantly, looking down and avoiding the patches of black ice so artfully hidden here and there or the puddles of slush stagnant in disarray.
Suddenly a huge block of snow falls a few feet in front of me as the wind forces it down from its resting place (was it one of the tree branches or was it from the top of one of the edifices nearby?) and addles me for a brief moment. And that flash in time is enough to erase my conscious restraint on my strides. I move, now, more freely.
I can’t see, but I can feel a thin layer of white covering my hair. The little flurries melt, and the tiny droplets trickle down my hair reaching my scalp or the back of my neck or, tingling me as they go. I wonder if my grey hair is visible anymore or if the snow has masked all of it successfully. Who needs hair dye to hide the grey when you can parade a head full of sparkles this way?
The walk, however long, doesn’t seem so. As I enter the office building, I vow to go to the nearest window every hour or so to marvel at the falling snow and sigh in pure contentment. But the day passes and my next glimpse of the splendor is only when I step out in the evening. The biting cold air hits my face as I open the door and dash into the road.
And off I go to live and write another chapter of love with my beloved snow.
Words gallop through, wanting to be penned. A memory that I may have noted down, a phrase that I may have picked up and am eager to use, a story that I may have reflected upon and decided should take form, a poem I may have mindlessly scrawled as I was sitting on the beach, an epiphany I may have had hiking through the hills. Words, words and words. Free flowing, like the ocean water, like the mountain breeze. When I sit down to weave them together, though, the mind goes on an endless loop trying to find logic behind the seemingly haphazard thoughts. Whatever be the form the words take, in the end everything gets tangled and twisted, and the gibberish that then emerges the mind deems bizarre, not worth jotting down.
And hence silence triumphs overall.
It starts with days; days turn into months; and months tally up to years. What was once familiar and effortless with time becomes alien and arduous. Sometimes, the mind goes wild with all the words ambling through it that it wants some sort of direction, something that can pull it away from the circle that it keeps traveling trying to find the beginning or the end. That’s where the heart steps in. The heart, try as it may, fails, time and again, and helplessly watches the mind’s pursuit of sense. It squabbles with the mind about desires and wants; pushes the mind to just go for it without any qualms. It struggles and strives, and, once in a blue moon, emerges victorious.
And that’s when the words get to see the light of the day. At this moment of gratification, the mind hopes to be swayed more often than not, and the heart wishes to prevail over and over again.
And the clash continues…
We have a beautiful porch to the back of our home. It’s not a large area, it’s a tiny space. But sitting there, looking into the backyard filled with tall Pine trees, imparts a deep sense of peace. In fact, it is one of the main reasons behind why I chose to make this house our home instead of any other that we’d seen when we moved years almost three years ago. I still remember the excitement I felt the first time I walked in and discovered this place… it seemed magical.
Right away, I could picture myself hanging around there on a nice summer day, possibly reading a good book as the breeze graced through gently. Or just sitting there gazing into the thick woods as the spring brought back greenery all around. Or having an amusing conversation with K while sipping on a cup of coffee. Or merely taking a nap, letting the lull of the afternoon lure me into a sweet slumber. Or lazing around there while the sun blazes down, listening to the songs of the million birds that seem to be chirping outside. Before I knew it, my mind drew up myriad possibilities of how I would enjoy living here and I leaped into my world of dreams.
After moving in, the first thing that we bought was a Hammock to hang in the back porch. Both of us had pretty much fallen for that idea as soon as it had taken shape months ago. So there was no question, no debating, no waiting. We went, we bought. Then we got back home and set it up, making it one of the most beloved and sought out corners of the home.
We spend quite some time there on warm hours of the year. Weekdays mostly are out of the question, unless we make it a point to get home early and relax before hitting the bed. Otherwise, we pass time there on all those weekends that we are not traveling one place or another, doing all that I’d imagined we’d one day do in that space, and more.
Lying down on the Hammock and letting the gust of wind weave a trance is delightful in its own way. I’ve splurged hours there, in that cozy corner, reading on numerous evenings. Friends have joined us, now and then, to unwind… clicking of beer bottles as everyone settles in, crackling of the milk that boils in the kitchen getting ready for coffee or tea to be prepared, playing music to create a pleasant milieu, echoing of laughter as someone tells a joke… those walls have seen a lot of happiness being shared in various occasions.
Last year, once tickets were reserved and I eagerly awaited everyone’s arrival, I started envisioning the times they might spend in the back porch. I wanted them to bask in the glory of the porch as much as we had done so far. Perhaps they will come to appreciate this little area and use it during the day as and when they pleased. I hoped that it would give me chance to write and add chapters to the memory book that I held so dear. That space, however, went mostly unnoticed during the months of their stay.
Daylight hours were consumed indoors by completing chores or by watching tv or by going for walks on a nearby trail. And evenings and weekends we mostly traveled, leaving little time to none to spend at home. The only stint that they opened the door to the porch for was when it was an especially hot day and they saw an opportunity to use the sunlight to dry clothes. K and I pushed the idea of sitting there and relaxing every now and then, but after a few nods it was instantly forgotten.
So, one evening, as soon as we came home, K declared that we would have that night’s dinner on the porch. While the idea was met with a little resistance, we got each person to agree soon after and preparations were made. Everything was setup on the little table outside and we all gathered around, with plates in hand. It wasn’t easy to fit in so many people in that space, but it wasn’t impossible either. We adjusted, we settled and we started dinner. Conversations went on and on, as they did on most of the nights during supper. All of us were having a good time.
Suddenly, I realized I hadn’t carried the keys out with me. With colossal optimism that someone else remembered to get the keys with them, I looked at my SIL and presented my question without anyone else noticing. All that hope for nothing; it was hanging on a thin rope and the rope gave away. Before she could mouth her answer to me, her eyes, lucidly, conveyed that she doesn’t have it either. Quiet still, as to not panic the elders, we both looked at K, and let him know that we were possibly locked out of the house. While he sat there conjuring brilliant plans to get us in, I walked over to the door, again with big fat hope sitting on thin slab of glass, and tried to open it, expecting it to not resist… who knows, maybe the knob on the inside wasn’t turned to lock position before the door was closed. Alas, that effort was rather otiose.
And now everyone knew.
I tried picking the lock with a hairpin that someone had handy, which didn’t work. In those few minutes, K let me and SIL know that he left the big glass leading to the living room unlocked, and he could get in from there if it came down to that. So, now with the escape plan was now established amongst the three of us, K decided to hold on to it and not let the others know that there was a strategy in motion.
There was not as much dread as I expected, but a few of them, especially the ones who challenged the dinner plan in the first place, were now extra eager to get into the house. Points were thrown around as to what could be done – what about spare keys, wouldn’t any of your friends have one? how about calling the police, would they be able to help? well, we can easily do what police may do if we were to call them – break the glass on the door above the lock and unlock, we will be in, shall we do that? what about getting in through one of the windows, would we be able to pry it open?
We let continue the discussion into despair. How so callous of us, right? Some of them were certain K had a plan in mind and hence he was quiet and not participating in offering suggestions, while the others were sure we were doomed and would spend the night freezing outside. And it went on like this for a sometime, panic was starting to strike hard.
A few of them were so keen on charting a fail proof plan to execute soon that they missed K walking out of the porch into the backyard to enter the house through the unlocked door to the family room. And only when we saw him walk towards the porch door from inside that we all came back to normal and started to calm down.
Each second leading up to the end was well worth it, even though not every last person who had dinner with us on the porch that night may agree. It was super intense, but it was equally entertaining, at least to some of us.
Growing up, dinner time was not of much significance.
We lived in a joint family setup – with my paternal grandparents, and, sometimes, my uncle and his family – until my teens. Dinner, or any meal for that matter, was served to children first, along with maybe the men in the family, while the women, especially the daughter-in-laws, cooked and served and cleaned before they got their chance at relaxing and enjoying the food. And it was more of getting a chore completed than a pleasurable ritual of sort – we would all sit and finish the food that was on our plates, sometimes complaining, sometimes merrily, and hurry up to get it out of the way.
As I entered my teens, my parents moved us out of the joint family setup and we, the five of us, were now on our own. Still, we never ended up making a memorable tradition out of our mealtimes. If Appa were around, TV would be on, indubitably. And all of us would plop ourselves in front of the idiot box while munching on the food bites. If Appa weren’t around, Amma would have us sit in the kitchen, and it would either be us chatting away letting the food get cold or us silently chewing with only a few words exchanged here and there. Regardless, there was no habit of sorts; it’s just what suited our whims day after another, with no set norm.
Years later, I started living on my own. Now, I had roommate(s) with whom I shared an apartment. Again, in those years nothing changed much. If we were eating at the same time, roommate(s) and I would maybe sit together in front of the tv and eat the food. Else, we ate when each of us fancied and did what we wanted to do. It worked extremely well for this setting though, since we each had our own schedules and moods, so didn’t make much sense bothering others around to adhere to the same. Around and hungry at the same time? Great, we ate together. But there were no issues if it didn’t work out either.
A handful of years of living with roommate(s) gave way to me and K moving into a place that was our home. We started living together, just the two of us. We filled our space with our little quirks and customs we thought was important to us. And the only request K ever had as we started building our own traditions as a family was that whenever we had a meal together, we should make sure that the tv isn’t turned on, hence helping us concentrate on the food and eat well, and also giving us time to connect with each other without any major distractions. I happily gave in to the request; it was something I was not used to and I was looking forward to experiencing it his way.
So, ever since then, we have always made it a point to focus on the food, and each other, while having our meals; we seldom turn the tv on. And I must say, I immensely relish this time of the day. Most of the evenings, we cook after we head back home and then eat after we finish cleaning the kitchen. Most times we talk, generally about the day’s happenings. And at other times, we eat in silence. Even in that quietness, though, rings a calming melody. And all that I cherish, thanks to K.
Last year, we played hosts to a number of guests at our place for the majority of the time. My mother, K’s parents, sister, brother-in-law, cousins, aunts and uncles – all of them traveled all the way from India to spend time with the two of us. And with so many folks around, meal times became even more delightful. I am not sure if K mentioned our practice to them or if they follow it as a family as well, but right from the beginning we all started dining together. No exceptions were made.
Roars of laughter would rise as someone shares a funny anecdote. Polite arguments would arise as someone brings forth a controversial discussion. Tunes of more than one person talking at the same time would have the rest of us in splits. High-pitched voice would be heard as someone is vying for attention from another person across the table. Sentences would be spoken and repeated, for some were hard of hearing, while others (like K) sometimes followed selective hearing in an overly sincere fashion, much to the exasperation of others.
Silence, though, would only fall when someone decided to talk about a heart wrenching incident from the past. Illness. Death. Family problems. Broaching these topics was never easy but it happened from time to time. Be what it may, in those moist eyes of the person recalling the horrific episode, one could invariably spot the reflection of all the other pair of eyes around the table. Silence would break with every pair of eye expressing a million words of consolation. Silence would break with every heavy breath. Silence would break with those first words of request of change in dialogues, reverting attention to some lighthearted chatter.
Suppertime was my favorite time of the day during the eight or so months last year. Even now, months after their departure, every time I walk over to our dining room and look around, I can distinctly see the happy faces; I can close my eyes and hear the voices clearly, as if everyone were still around. And it never fails to bring a big wide smile on my face.
Needless to say, this is the one ritual that I am sure I will follow zealously for years to come.