A cold, wet Saturday morning. Despite what Salinger said about the foolishness of taking the weather personally, I was still grumpy as I drew the curtains shut and resumed work at my desk. Wet, grey skies are not a salubrious sight even when one is healthy, much less while recovering from the flu.
And then a sudden sound outside my balcony door that could not be dismissed. A scratching and a call that grew persistent. I opened the curtain and looked into the face of a large white and grey cat with shades of calico, hazel eyes, bushy tail and a little chain around her neck. I had often seen her around the neighbourhood, besides a regal black cat which might have had at least one Persian ancestor, a perky young tabby, and a fat striped cat with a perpetually bored expression that was almost human.
I wiped away the mist from the glass and looked again. My visitor leaned in from the balcony grill and meowed loudly, looking straight into my face. I was delighted. It appeared that she was stuck in the cold and wanted to be let inside. But an unopenable door and a balcony lay between us. I waved to her. Sorry sweetheart, you had better go home, I said. As though on cue she turned and rushed away into the rain.
It reminded me of how during the Chennai floods in 2015 when all of us were stuck at home without electricity and transport, the resident ginger Tom of the complex came to our flat demanding milk and food, unaware perhaps that we were vegan. He looked contemptuously at the organic biscuits that I offered him but nevertheless made himself comfortable on the living room carpet.
In this cold city where dogs of every kind abound, I had watched these cats for long but I never knew that they had caught me watching them. How had my feline friend guessed that a cat-lover sat working behind that thick curtain? I wish I could have told her how much her short visit had cheered me up, like a patch of sunshine that lit up a grey, wet Saturday morning.
I met Geeta didi in unusual circumstances. We were introduced by a detective who was verifying a man’s matrimonial profile on a website. Both of us had been approached simultaneously by the fellow whose simplistic demeanour and doctorate degree masked a pathetic stereotype found on such sites – a loser who chatted up women online under the pretext of pursuing an alliance. We dismissed the creep within the first thirty minutes of conversation and blocked his profile as we continued to talk about life, careers, studies, love, marriage, friendship, rituals, customs, food, relationships…we talked for three hours on the first day, a conversation which would run into weeks, months, and eventually into seven years. She was not much older than me, though she was far wiser. Within a week of having met her, I had started calling her ‘didi'(elder sister). She loved it as she did not have sisters of her own and cherished her close female friends. In retrospect, she was never just a friend. She was always my sister. I realised it when she passed in August.
Being an only child who grew up surrounded by more books than people, I never knew what it meant to have a sibling. I could not connect to the cousins whom I saw once in a few years and disliked having to address older cousins with suffixes to their names. For those old-fashioned, charming terms: akka and anna, didi and bhaiya, they made sense only when one actually considered the person as an elder sister or brother and hardly fit people who were practically strangers. In all the seven years that I knew Geeta Didi, I never saw her in person. Yet I always thought of her as my sister. Di, Didi, Deedu…I could never think of her simply as Geeta. Just like tying a rakhi on his wrist can make a boy into a brother, a bond of sisters could be formed over endless online chats, emails and phone calls.
She was perhaps one of the most educated women in India with a doctorate in medicine, a masters degree in computers, more than one postgraduate management diploma and a masters degree in business leadership from one of the IIMs. Ambitious and successful, she celebrated the traditional roles of an Indian woman in all aspects of her life. A beautiful, intelligent, kind, affectionate and compassionate woman who loved life and the people around her, and was in turn loved by everyone who knew her. To know her was to love her.
Coming from Punjabi and Tamil backgrounds, we were two very different people with diverse interests and worldviews. She was not particularly interested in literature and often teased me about my love for classical music. Once when I pinged her, she responded casually with ‘ennadi’, having picked up the Tamil word from somewhere. I felt a thrill of joy on hearing her address me in Tamil, even though the term is not something that I am familiar with in real life, for it is colloquial slang that people rarely use in regular conversation. It was a beautiful moment which made me wonder for days afterwards about the significance of how language affects our interactions with the people around us, especially with those who are close and dear to us. Coming from a pan-Indian family with cousins and in-laws from across the length and breadth of the country, most of my communication with my extended family tends to be in English. Yet, there is something sweeter about talking in Hindi and also in Tamil, though I have not been able to analyse why. Strangely it is Geeta Didi whom I feel like asking about this. She loved analysing things, taking apart the pros and cons of every aspect of a statement or concept.
When we first started talking, three of us – Geeta Didi, D my good friend and colleague and I were looking for matches, three very different women looking for three very different kinds of men. Both D and Didi eventually found the kind of partners they were looking for (D wanted a rich man who came from the same village as her ancestors did and Didi wanted someone who was goodhearted and culturally compatible) and were happily married within the next two years. While I kept an eye open for an intellectually compatible partner – a quest that I gave up on last year, having decided that it was more value-adding to work on my novels than spend another ten minutes of my life talking to yet another guy who bolted at the mention of metafiction. I never mentioned my decision to Didi. Earlier this year when I congratulated her on her fifth wedding anniversary, she wished me once again that I might find the right person soon. I hid my reply behind a smiley, unwilling to upset her by sharing the depressing reality that there were few single literary men of my age, and the truth of Dame Muriel Spark’s words that literary men did not want literary women but girls.
In between the last two years when she was being treated for cancer, there was a period when the doctors felt that she was completely cured. She had started making plans to resume work when the malady returned. Even while undergoing the painful chemo treatments and hospital visits, she took time to advise me over chat messages, sending me recipes for French and Russian salads, urging me to eat well and take care of my health. She was always there on the other side of the chat, ever ready with advice, love, a listening ear, a virtual hug.
I did not post the gift that I got her for last Christmas – a tiny painting of two sisters, for I had intended to visit her and hand it over in person.
I got the message that she had passed on the first day of the study holidays. The lines blurred as I read them, evoking a sharp, searing pain in the heart. It was the last Sunday of August and the bees buzzed loudly around the table where I sat in the garden. I reached up to pick a flower and set it on the table imagining that it was an offering to my sister. A wonderful human being who lives on in the minds of all who had known her. I tell myself that this grief shall eventually pass, and what would remain is a feeling of gratitude that I had the privilege of knowing her, besides the joy of having known what it meant to have an elder sister of my own, if only for seven years.
“How do you know when you’re in love?’ she said.
‘The traffic improves and the cost of living seems very low.”
I had long given up all hope of ever finding the perfect man when I finally met him. He told me in gentle, erudite tones that he found ‘re-reading Muriel Spark to be pure gold’.
I murmured that I adored Dame Muriel, trying to control my eyelashes that fluttered as they drank him in. With tired face and messy hair, he was no Rupert Brooke. But he had the widest smile, kindest expression, and gentlest voice that made mundane pleasantries sound like poetry. Every glance, every gesture, his every word was pure gold.
I wished myself six years back in time when we might have walked into each other on a cold winter morning in another, my part of the world. I wanted to walk with him along the banks of the Cherwell, listening to the birds and talking about Dame Muriel’s fiction – the possibilities bloomed in a vision of pure gold.
I felt neither regret at parting from him, nor longing to turn back once, though I spied him from the corner of my eye and thought that he looked like an angel in a crumpled cerulean shirt, as our eyes met inadvertently for a fraction of a second before I turned away. I had lived a lifetime within those few minutes of pure gold.
He vanished from my thoughts as I talked with my friend afterwards. But later as I walked by the Cherwell, he beamed at me from the dappled autumn sunlight, and I heard him in the whispers of the breeze that caressed my face. Imprints on the mind and heart, impressions of pure gold.
By the banks of the Cherwell, I sat down and wept, more out of joy for having seen him than because I knew that I would never see him again. The moments with him brought the joy that descends upon a girl when she tries out a diamond tiara that she can ill afford to buy. But those moments were enough, for they were pure gold.
There is always the next life, as my friend Millie would say. In my next life perhaps, on a joyous spring or balmy summer day, I will walk with him along the banks of the Cherwell with the birds singing to us as we talk about the novels of Dame Muriel. I can see those moments from across time and space, all of them will be pure gold.
As an empath, I can feel the presence of psychic energy within and around me. I am extremely sensitive to energy vampires, and it is easy to spot ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people by a simple parameter of whether they try to subtly steal psychic energy. Though it is not always that simple or obvious. Often people close to you can unconsciously drain you of energy. I have also had several encounters with strangers who are so energetically evolved that they naturally radiate warmth and positive energy.
I had a curious experience in early July this year. A group of us were at a pub celebrating the completion of a course, and I was talking to a poet who was the first person I had met on the course – as a team of two, we had exchanged our first assignments and introduced each other to our cohort. As we recollected the memory, a woman who had been standing close to us chipped in, ‘and then it all went downhill’. She said it a smirk indicating that it was a joke and we laughed politely. ‘It all went downhill, downhill’ she kept repeating again and again. As a sentimental person who believes in the power of words, I found her words distasteful and inauspicious. I reversed them mentally, and yet they still left a bad taste in the mind. There is no point in being polite and positive to such beings who wish ill on others, even in jest.
I finally did a meditation invoking Archangel Michael to cut away the energetic cords with her and placed a mental mirror between me and her. I don’t expect to see this woman again. But if our paths were to ever cross again, I will make sure to avoid her in order to keep free from her negativity.
So Mary-Jane, whether you read this or not, I have cut the cords of any friendship that may have existed between us and placed a mirror shielding me from your ill-wishes. Everything that you said about ‘it all goes downhill’ reflects and returns right back to you as many times as you said it and as per the law of karma, three times over.
I was talking to an elderly lady whose late father had been an officer in the British Raj. In his library, she had come across a book about a certain Indian politician of the past century. She spoke highly of this man and assumed that he was still regarded as someone on a pedestal in India. Now I had grown up listening to several school speeches on his many virtues. The teachers composed and sang songs about his greatness. As idealistic undergraduates, we had once celebrated his birthday in the hostel. Roads around the country are named after him. My great-uncles named their houses after him. I had been repulsed reading the vitriol spewed on him by a foul-mouthed leftist poet who sang the praises of his contemporary leftist politician in the same breath. Then I had chanced upon the truth about both of these politicians who had been hailed as leaders in their time and wasn’t sure who was the worse of the two.
Naturally I did not mention any of this to the lady. I merely said that notwithstanding the ideals that fake historians had attached to his name and his many statues, everyone now knew who and what he really was and the chap who once had something of a halo about the very mention of his name, had very few fans left in the country. At which she looked nonplussed.
Reminded me of a poet who had been one of my heroes in a past life. I never cared much for his pedestrian prose, but his poetry had once connected to me like nothing else had. Through the influence of my Professors and classmates, I had come to see this poetry too for what it was. A few years ago, I used to attend literary festivals across the country just to hear him speak, though I stopped after the third one, having found that his interviews focused more on personal anecdotes rather than literary discussion, besides being tediously repetitive. Recently I was sitting in a pub with friends and someone mentioned that this poet was speaking at a venue a few hundred metres away. It didn’t seem relevant anymore, after being exposed to the work of a hundred other writers, better and greater than him.
It appears that there can be no heroes in the age of the internet.
When this came up on my playlist today, I was reminded of M, a dear friend from Jordan with whom I share a mutual affinity for this song. We call each other lightworkers, though I have a long way to go to be called one, yet. As an empath, I tend to enclose myself in a bubble and block out the world to protect my energy. While she is an open, friendly soul radiating positivity and good vibes. Who warms up to everything and everyone around her, reaches out naturally to pick up and cuddle babies when she sees them, and who wouldn’t think twice before walking up to a stranger in trouble to offer help. She is a supremely talented writer and though her poetry does not rhyme it still feels like music, the words gushing forth like water from a spring, and reminds me of pearls scattered across the page.
I wish there were more people in the world like her. I wish I were a little (just a little) more like her. One of them real lightworkers.
This poem that popped into my mailbox today suited the season (late summer – early autumn) and the weather.
If space and time, as sages say,
Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
Though sages disagree.
The flowers I sent thee when the dew
Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
Yet let them be divine.
“Human beings are difficult,” he goes on. “We’re difficult to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other and we are mysteries to ourselves; we are mysteries to each other … Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are?”
Amit Chaudhuri, Why television writing has become the new home of verbal complexity
A few months ago, I looked up Big Bang theory after a gap over three years and was unpleasantly surprised – The geeks have mutated into sad stereotypes, science references have made way for silly discussions on relationships, Sheldon has lost almost all the quirks which once made him unique and the subject of scholarly articles like this one – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/07/amit-chaudhuri-praise-difficult-language, Raj is made to link up with an older charwoman(!) and the humour completely lost in the transition from a well-written sitcom to an average soap. Reminded me of one of the best lines ever written in a self-help book – ‘Burn the Television’.
” Their voices were melodious and unsentimental, almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without straining, have experienced levitation.”
J.D.Salinger, For Esmé with Love and Squalor
We were talking about the song of Amairgen among other things in the pub, and a friend forwarded this to me soon afterwards. While the liberals oppose the teaching of Sanskrit in Indian schools, this happens elsewhere in the world.
By “editor” I suppose you mean proofreader. Among these I have known limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semicolon as if it were a point of honor—which, indeed, a point of art often is. But I have also come across a few pompous avuncular brutes who would attempt to “make suggestions” which I countered with a thunderous “stet!”
I enjoyed this article in which the author refers to copy-editors as “irritating, pusillanimous time-wasters. Primitive, mindless creatures whose instincts drive them, antlike, to make slavishly defined changes.”
Two copy editors whom I worked with were all that and more – pathetic characters who tried to justify their work by mangling the prose beyond recognition and who took sadistic pleasure in making uncalled-for actual edits in the text, when all they had to do was simple proofreading for spelling and grammar. Thankfully my editor rejected everything done by the first, while the second still managed to inflict some damage to the prose in the process. Yet another lesson in publishing, to avoid superfluous over-editing by presumptuous copy-editors.