Enchanted Mind Games

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( Photo from the Internet for Illustration only)

The mind I love must have wild places,

a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass,

an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two,

a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of,

and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind” ( The Journals of Katherine Mansfield, Knopf, 1972)

For darkness restores what light cannot repair

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! –
powers and people –

and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.

I have faith in nights. ( Rilke)

Wise Ones 6 #

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# “Har fikr ko dhuen mai udata chala gaya”   ( Translation: I blew up in smoke every concern/worry and moved on )

# “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” ( Hunter S Thomson)

The Humble ‘Bhujiya’ Sandwich

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( Photo from the Internet for Illustration only)

This is a very popular Indian snack.Its spicy, deep fried and made out of ‘besan’ ( gram flour) and spices.It originated in a city called  Bikaner, in the state of Rajasthan, in Western India.Its reach is of course not just pan-India, but global, what with we Indians to be found everywhere these days 😀

I have a visceral connection to the ‘bhujiya’. I guess anyone who has stayed and studied in a hostel would have such a connection. This was what that sustained me and my friends, while we were students of Jawaharlal Nehru University ( JNU), New Delhi, through the terrible, mass produced food served in the hostel mess. I stayed in the Ganga Hostel for girls and I think, it’s mess was the worst. Most of the girls’ hostels’ mess were pathetic   I think, because the boys would regularly terrorize the mess warden/manager/cooks/serving staff 😀 While we girls usually stuck to a little polite and non-invasive cajoling that didn’t have the intended results 🙂

The ‘bhujiya’ was liberally doused over the staple rice and ‘dal’ ( a watery lentil soup) because the vegetable curry would taste like what a friend of mine called ‘cat crap’. While the vegetable curry changed everyday, the cat crapiness never went out of it!

The real glory of the ‘bhujiya’ was its tremendous potential in perhaps one of the best sandwiches I have ever had till date.One could make it anytime because it was so simple. The ‘bhujiya’ sandwich was spectacular because it was fashioned out of stolen ( from the hostel mess) or borrowed ( from fellow ‘bhujiya-ites’) or leftover ( a true hosteler always had a friend who would keep breakfast for her/him and which would be normally be eaten at midnight). The essential ingredients of this sandwich were bread, butter, ‘bhujiya’, chopped onion and tomato ketchup.The bread was buttered, sprinkled with ‘bhujiya’ and chopped raw onions and liberally doused with ketchup. If by any chance there was leftover ‘aloo bonda’ ( deep fried mashed spicy potatoes coated with gram flour), a highly popular ,un-healthy, calorie ridden breakfast option,the sandwich turned gourmet, with the ‘aloo bonda’ being squished in between the bread.Hail awesomeness!

Amongst my friend circle, we had two types of the ‘bhujiya’ sandwich. 1) The ‘Kissing’ sandwich, which didn’t have the chopped raw onions. 2) The ‘Non-kissing’ sandwich , which had chopped raw onions. The distinction was based on whether one had a boyfriend and thus was smooching, to not having one and fantasizing about the then Imran Khan 😀 For you see, raw onions have an extremely pungent smell and thus taboo for kissing 😀 Somewhat like Jackie Kennedy’s apparent grudge about Aristotle Onassis smelling of onions or garlic( I forget which)! The ‘bhujiya’ sandwich thus was a barometer of one’s love life 🙂 I always had the ‘Kissing’ sandwich and was teased un-mercifully by the mates 😀 But my preference was more due to the fact that I can’t stand raw onion than an erm prolific love life 😀

Much later, I would spot the ‘bhujiya’ as the preferred companion to booze in parties thrown by friends.Many such parties were/are painful because some drunk usually starts singing which really, really puts me off!The other drunks cry, clap and egg him on to unspeakably, horrendous heights of torture .In such situations, I am very comforted by the ‘bhujiya’, its familiarity and no nonsense look and taste 🙂

Well, time to say ta-ta, guys.Here is a song from a Bollywood movie released while I was in JNU.Stars the legendary Amitabh Bachhan.It was a huge hit & I totally loved its cheesiness 😀

Brief Encounters With Che Guevara

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Sometime back, I came across this book, ‘Brief Encounters With Che Guevara’ by Ben Fountain, in my favorite bookshop i.e Midland Bookshop (Shop No-20, Aurbindo Place Market, Hauz Khas, Near Green Park Church, Delhi). Years and years of buying books from him has made the owner a friend of mine too. In fact, a month back or so, he gifted me with “The Search Warrant’ by Patrick Modianao ( who I hadn’t read till this book) stating with a smile that ‘Aap junooni ho” .( Translation: You have a madness for books & reading).

Well, I hadn’t really heard of Ben Fountain. Its the book’s title which caught my attention. Anything about Che Guevara, who is a hero of mine, naturally grabs my interest. I shall give you a peep into my world of Che, but before that let me tell you about this truly brilliant book and exceptional writer of its short stories. I have a great respect for short stories’ writers possibly because I guess its a gift to be able construct a setting, character, plot with such few words! A childhood literary diet rich with Hemingway, O.Henry, Katherine Mansfield,Oscar Wilde etc reinforces this respect.When Alice Munro won the Nobel Lit in 2013 for her contribution to short-story telling, I whooped, danced around and kissed my copy of her magnificent ”Runaway” in tribute and celebration 🙂

Back to the current book.’The Guardian’ marvelously  states the “use foreign settings as more than just fragrant backgrounds””,by Ben Fountain, reminiscent of ”  Graham Greene, whose “quiet American”, Alden Pyle, stalks these pages in various guises”. We are taken by the author several times to Haiti,to Myanmmar, to Sierra Leone, to Colombia. To states  which have been witness to social and political upheaval. To societies which grapple with transformation and change.  To the people who walk in these states and societies similarly as they walk down the alleys of their human souls. The stories are told from what many call an ‘American’ perspective.But I disagree.They have been told from a very human perspective.

There are eight short stories, out of which three really hit me in the guts. The first, ” Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera”, an ornithologist , John Blair, is held hostage in the Colombian rain forest by rebels.His interaction with them reveals that his captors’ commitment to the cause is eclipsed voluntarily by their contrary nearness and bargains with the ‘capitalistic’ big business!  The rebels strike a deal for the lumbering rights to the mountain.The logging would mean the extinction of several species  that Blair has discovered while in captivity. When he protests, Commandante Alberto, the rebel leader, forces Blair  to return home with the visiting American delegation. Blair refuses to leave but the leader insists, saying otherwise Blair would be shot. On the way out of the jungle, the businessmen ask how it feels to finally be going home?

They were rising, rising, they might never stop – Blair closed his eyes and let his head roll back, surrendering to the awful weightlessness. Like dying, he wanted to tell them, like death, and how grieved and utterly lost you’d feel as everything precious faded out“.  I couldn’t help but liken it to the dying and the end of idealism. Fountain writes “thirty years of low-intensity warfare had given the rebels a heightened sense of the absurd”. I guess that’s what ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ are thought of as today.Absurd!

 The second story is “The Lion’s Mouth,”  in which a disillusioned aid worker, Jill, makes a Faustian bargain to become a blood diamond smuggler for the ‘greater good’. Set in Sierra Leone, the story delves into the complexities of aid in damaged societies.The moral ambiguity ,told relentlessly and un-flinchingly, troubled me a lot. I questioned myself about the way I would have behaved in such a situation.I confess to being surprised with the answers.Maybe, you would be too ?

The third story ” Brief Encounters With Che Guevara” has five sub-stories.All of them talk about a writer’s interactions with people who were  in some way connected with Che ( a reference point/touchstone). My favorites from these five are ( a) ” Death In Bolivia’, (b) ‘Comrades-In Arms’ and (c) ‘The Consoling Voice’.

I would highly recommend this book. It has a lot of dark humor and  a very  grandiose, baroque sort of flamboyance in its detailing.The author laments the  hypocrisy, questions the choices to resignedly accept the powerlessness to set things right. An idealist, most certainly Ben Fountain is.But doesn’t look at the world around him through rose-tinted glasses.Which is brave.Very, very brave.

Well, okay, guys, do read the novel, if you are so inclined 🙂 And, yeah, some pics to show my Che-ness 🙂

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(  Books and spiral bound articles/newspaper clippings etc about Che. One of the spiral bound books is ‘The Motorcycle Diaries”, photocopy of my original copy. I gave my copy to my guy some years back to introduce him to Che. I never part with my books.So he understood the significance. Of Che & my gifting it to him 🙂

I was once stopped by security at the New Delhi domestic aiport. I was dressed in my Che T- shirt and torn jeans with an embroidered patch that said ‘Vive La Revolution”.I was also carrying my Che laptop bag very proudly, having just bought it then. The young  security officer couldn’t really answer my polite question as to why he had singled me out for a random security check. Instead, he looked very warily at all my Che gear. At the iconic image of Che immortalized by Alberto Korda 🙂 I thought I should tell him about Che and what he  stands for, what he fought for.But I didn’t.

To me , Che Guevara  represents three things which I value. Freedom, courage and the absolute inability to put up with any kind of injustice. When I fight for children or old aged people or animals or anyone that is defenseless, I am following Che’s ideals.

Time to call it a day, guys!

Goodbye, Jill

How does one come to terms with grief?Of losing someone you loved dearly? To realize that you will never see her again? Never feel the warmth of her gaze on you again ? Never hear her happy excited bark when you walked into the house ? Never feel her cold nose pushing against your face in the mornings ever? Never hold her paw which  she trustingly put in your hand again ? Never have her slobber over you again?

 I  am hurting so much today. My heart aches once again.Its a heart ache I have never got used  to, although I have gone through it many times before in the past.

I lost my beloved Boxer girl, Jill, early this morning.Jill was rescued and adopted by me  five years back. She was a very, very beautiful white Boxer with a star of her forehead. She had three legs and her right hind leg was mangled beyond repair.Perhaps, that is why she had been dumped by her previous owners.

I won’t dwell much on her past. For it angers me and fills my heart with hate.And Jill would not like that. She taught me many things; the biggest was forgiveness.Like she forgave her previous owners or those who had hurt her.She did not close up and loose her faith in relationships. Rather, she was strong enough to battle terrible physical and mental abuse to emerge a winner.A dog who loved  wholly and tenderly. And one who always had a big, goofy smile on her face.

 In the last five years, Jill led a grand life filled with pizza, cakes, walks, huge meaty bones, balloons,music, laughter, fun and a firm place in my family’s heart. It was lovely to see her  fiercely chase the ball with my other dogs.It was also heart warming to see them treat her gently and maker her ‘win’.

 Last year, when Jill had gone with me to my parent’s home during the summer vacation, she  stayed back with them. She fell in love with the huge garden there and the joy of chasing squirrels was too much of a temptation, I guess. I am glad that I left her there. She saw flowers bloom and also went to the beach in Puri. Apparently, she was gleeful chasing the waves 🙂 And yes, she gave my Ma company, eating all kinds of ‘pakoras’, ‘bhajjis’, ‘chuda -matar fry’, ice -cream ,chocolates, cutlets etc 🙂

When Jill died this morning, her head was in my Ma’s lap. She was surrounded by people who she loved and who loved her back. She left us hearing my Ma chant the ‘Maha-Mritunjay’ mantra for her. In Hinduism, it is one of the most powerful mantras.(‘Maha mrityunjaya’ is a call for enlightenment and is a practice of purifying the karmas of the soul at a deep level).

त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम् उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात्” Translation :We Meditate on the Three-eyed reality Which permeates and nourishes all like a fragrance. May we be liberated from death for the sake of immortality, Even as the cucumber is severed from bondage to the creeper.

I am reminded of Jeanette Winterson’s ““You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”

I will always have a Jill shaped hole in my heart.Every  pet-parent who loses a fur baby finds a way to laugh again. The timbre begins to fade. The edge dulls. The hurt lessens. Every love is carved from loss. Mine is. Yours will be , perhaps. But we learn to live in that love.

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Jill’s special Look 🙂

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Look at the star on her head 🙂

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She is wearing my Led Zeppelin hoodie 🙂

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With her great friend Bruce.This is on the train from New Delhi to Odisha.Vacation time 🙂

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Jill loved listening to Pink Floyd with me 🙂 Wish you were here! Thank you for your gift of un-conditional love…for teaching me that the only disability in life is a bad attitude…for inspiring me with your amazing will power…for healing me with your trust…for rescuing me, actually. Goodbye, my baby.Run free over the Rainbow Bridge ❤

Amrapali & Me

One of my names is ‘Amrapali’. Actually, my name is three,difficult, long-ish words along with a long-ish surname too. My Dad decided to shorten it because for admission into kindergarten, it was a pre-requisite that the child had to be able to write down his /her name and also say it with reasonable clarity and confidence. My Dad , perhaps, was terrified that I ‘d flunk the test..and he’d have to deal with an extra year of me at home! I was, I guess a little too mischievous 😀

‘Amrapali’ was chosen by my Ma, which comes from two Sanskrit words, “amra” (mango) and (“pali”), which means leaves. This is usually interpreted as “(a child) of the mango grove”. My Ma was greatly impressed with the story of ‘Amrapali’, who was a woman of great beauty. She became a well known courtesan of Vaishali, in Ancient India, and it is said that she did much to increase the prestige and importance of the city.She was very intelligent and had a great yearning for truth. When Buddha came to the area, she went to hear him. It is said that he was struck with her wisdom.During this first encounter, Amrapali invited Buddha and his disciples to dine with her; an invitation he accepted despite the advice of others who thought he should not go.Having heard him talk, she gave her lands to him and his followers. She became a disciple of the Buddha . She proposed to the Buddha to take her in his ‘Sangha’ as a ‘Bhikkhuni (Nun), but the Buddha refused to do so. He told her that there was no arrangement for ‘Bhikkhuni in the ‘Sangha’. Only ‘Bhikkhus’ (monks) were allowed. Amrapali asked boldly why the arrangement was like that. The Buddha replied that a woman could break the sanctity of the monks. Amrapali again argued with courage whether the monks of the Buddha were so weak that they could break their vow if in touch with a woman? Buddha could not reply and took the most beautiful woman in his Sangha. It  is said  that Amrapali   attained the status of ‘arhant’  or a perfect person. ( Read about her here :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amrapali )

One of my Ma’s favorite films was also  ‘Amrapali’, starring the legendary Vyajanthimala & Sunil Dutt , 1966 :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amrapali_%28film%29

I asked my Ma as to why she chose this name for me.She told me that she found Amrapali to be very strong and independent.She was also a woman of rare courage.That is ,not only did she dare to question the shackles and thinking, which dominated a traditional male dominated society but she also dared to follow her convictions.She was fearless in her approach to the Buddha. And she was equally fearless when she gave up female vanity and ego to become a ‘Bhikuni”.

Sometime back a Facebook friend told me that I would look nice even with my hair/head shaved. That got me thinking, whether I am courageous  like ‘Amrapali’ whom I am named after ? I can only say that I try to be.And Budhha tells me “He is able who thinks he is able” .  What about renunciation ? I am reminded of  Thiruvalluvar,Kural “Cling to the One who clings to nothing;And so clinging, cease to cling”.

 Must tell you about my my favorite ‘Amrapalis’ :

1. Mango :Amrapali is a mango  variety introduced in 1971. It was developed as a hybrid variety of ‘Dasheri’  and ‘Neelam’ by the  Indian Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa, Delhi. It is sweet, fleshy with a heavenly fragrance 🙂

2. Jewellery : ‘Amrapali’ jewels is a major weakness of the accidental sufi’s. The designs are well, just divine 🙂  Read about it here : http://www.amrapalijewels.com/index.php

Time for my afternoon Darjeeling tea, now 🙂 Adieu, guys! Listen to this: