A Barbie she was not

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This afternoon mom and I strolled about the busy corridors of Phoenix mall. I was embarrassed to realize that I was tired while my mom frolicked about, always a few paces ahead of me. I noticed a little boy wreak havoc lying flat on the ground, stomping his hands and legs and screeching his throat out. It was obvious he was demanding a toy from the toy store which his parents refused in the beginning but gave in soon after the theatrical blackmail. My mother elbowed me and said, “you were just like that.”

Yes. That was me twenty-five years ago, strolling in the streets of Varanasi, walking a step behind my mother holding the loose end of her saree.  The streets were illuminated by the glittering lights of the shops and perfumed by the exhaust of power generators running in front of each shop. There was a whiff of winter in the air. My parents shopped for lamp shades, wall hangings, Diyas and innumerable such things for the festival of Diwali. I remember I felt bored and tired of the lights and the smell of petrol and was waiting for the turn of cracker shop with the same desperation as of those times when father watched News or a Test Cricket match on the television and all I wanted to watch was the advertisements of soaps, toothpaste, and health drinks. The jingles were so much happier than the monotonous commentary of Doordarshan News or a Test match.

My parents were still haggling over the price of a sack of earthen diyas when suddenly I noticed in a neighboring shop a big box containing a Barbie dressed as a Doctor in a pink tunic and a white overcoat. I walked up to the shop for a closer look. The Barbie set consisted of little pink stilettos, a mini comb, a medical briefcase with a red cross, a little silver clutch bag and the most pretty shiny silver blouse and a blue mini skirt as a change of clothes. Wow!! I whispered to myself. This Barbie is a doctor by day and a beautiful party loving girl by the evening. I wanted it. I craved it.

My constant urging was just a white noise to my parents’ ears initially. When I roped in their attention by means of head banging on the road and pulling my hair skywards in order to lift myself up, Father checked something on the back of the box and came back a quick, insensitive statement, “chheh!!  bad quality”, and reasoned with me that I already had better dolls back home. I did possess a couple of them. They were the Indian dolls with tightly plaited black coarse hair which did not match up in my eyes to the Barbie’s blond, soft and flowing hair that could be combed and tied in a ponytail or left loose. My doll was a chubby kiddy doll. But Barbie!!  Oh, she was a petite, beautiful young girl.

I wailed my eyes purple but my parents were not of the sort to pay much heed to tantrums. I would dream about the Barbie and she would tell me that she is waiting for me but the shopkeeper wants to sell her. “Lot of children picked me up today. You must have me quickly before they take me away.” How my parents could be so heartless, I would think. As I endured my period of mourning over the lost love – Diwali festivities not being able to lift up my spirit – my Mother took up the task of putting together a new dress for my old, fat and ugly doll. I refused to look at it while mother sat on her sewing machine and created a doll outfit. I accused her of not being my real mother. “Listen Kid, in this life you are stuck with me” – she would respond wryly with a lopsided smile. Like the first sprout breaking the earth, it was all coming back to me; that which was buried under the debris of new memories, ambitions, failures, successes, first kisses, heartbreaks and most of all – Age.

I found myself still pinning for the Barbie doll a week later on my birthday. I had woken up to the aroma of sweetened dough and vanilla at 4.30am. Mother was baking the cake for the party in the evening. The smell is still so fresh in the memory. She kissed me happy Birthday and I pushed her gently away. She showed me the packet of chocolate toffee that I would be distributing in my classroom later. She told me to go look in the almirah what father had got for me. I squealed with joy presuming that it was the Barbie. When I opened the almirah my ear to ear smile lost its strength. It was no doll but a dress. An orange flared ‘Frock’ with puffed short sleeves and white laced hem.

Fresh tears began rolling down my cheeks. I cried even though I was pleased with the dress. I made one last attempt and said – “It’s my birthday. All children’s parents give them what they wish for. Why don’t you? Are you not my parents? Am I not your ‘darling’ daughter?” My mother sat me down gently on her lap. She wiped my tears and uttered calming, soothing sounds as I hugged her tightly and sobbed inconsolably.

When the vehement cries reduced to feeble whimpers, she produced my old, rejected doll.  Only that she was all decked up in new clothes. She wore a green brocade blouse and a full-length satin royal blue skirt. Her hair was tidied, although still plaited. But the plaits were adorned with silver strings crossing over and under each knot. She had studs in her ears which were nothing but little shiny bindis stuck to her ear lobes. She also wore a necklace that mother made by breaking the linking chain of her old jewelry and introducing tiny black and gold pearls in between. She looked all shiny and beautiful. My mother then motioned the doll in sitting and sleeping positions alternately which made her eyelids open and shut. Her blue eyes now revealed and now concealed. The Barbie couldn’t do that, I realized.

I remember later that evening when my friends came over for the party, one of them who was more of a rival, showed off her Barbie doll. And I showed her mine. She said that her was brand new and was ‘impoted’. None of us knew what that actually meant, only that if it is impoted no one else could touch it. I said, “Well my doll is a real girl. She sleeps and she cries and she talks to me. She is like my sister.”

I made up a hell of a story of how my doll was born and what struggle she went through when one of her eyes won’t open and it looked like she was winking all the time. I told my friends how she burned the hem of her old dress while cooking on my kitchen set. And how bravely she doused the fire with the water stored in the little yellow plastic pot.

“She has read all my storybooks along with me and she has become so smart, she is going to be a doctor. See, her doctor’s bag!!”  I revealed a small white box with a handle and with a red cross on its surface.  Earlier that day after coming back from school and having a brief lunch, I scurried back to my room. After a while mother had come to check on me and found me struggling with a match box, white chart paper, red sketch pen, adhesive, and scissors. With her help, I had created the exact same doctor’s bag that the Barbie pack had. My ear to ear smile had returned.

Funny thing is, I still have that doll shelved on the display unit of my living room. I had stopped noticing it since, I can’t remember when. She still wears the green and blue dress that mother had made 27 years back. It’s battered now; faded and dusty.

I was drawn back from the memory lane into the mainstream of present-day by my mother’s insistence on buying for me a saree on display that I could wear for Diwali. I hugged her warmly and tightly for several moments – “Maa, will you sew another dress for my old doll?”

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Freedom

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Elope if you must. There’s not enough shame in turning your back to the world,

than it is in enduring its silent, soul sucking gibe.

 No one really knows what freedom is. It is such a tease, though. Freedom from expectations, freedom from conformity, freedom from fear, freedom from pride – or Ego;who are we kidding.

Freedom to breathe every single breath, take your own time breathing it. Freedom to feel the feelings pushed over by new anticipated feelings. Take your own time feeling it. Freedom to talk using as many words as there are. Don’t be a miser, bore them to death, freedom to care not.

Freedom from not even trying to be perfect. Freedom to enjoy your goof. Free to walk at a snail’s pace , though not yet opting out of the race. Or opt out if you must, for you need too, the freedom to rest.

Freedom to walk along a forest stream, to gaze at the water,

searching  a purpose, or a God, or a fish with a broken fin, or the face of a forgotten kin. For hours together ,till the stream finds an outlet in your eyes. Freedom to cry and feel pathetic till your eyes dry up, tired you go to sleep, dreamless.

 Freedom to wake up once again knowing  you are free for all said before

and that one day when you die; you will die a free soul.

Water water nowhere – nor a drop to drown

Disclaimer : Some of the tips might gross you out but nevertheless they are important to be mentioned.

I have a confession to make. Lately, a thought has been nagging me that probably I migrated to Bangalore at a wrong time, only to increase its woes. Life has been sucked out of the garden City  and its death has been predicted in 5 years. Bangalore has been facing severe water shortage and pollution owing to the burden of ever increasing population – an irresponsible one at that, including me. Yes I am generalizing and I care less if you feel offended.  Because if you are in-fact a responsible citizen of Bangalore you would not be offended by my subtle hostility; rather be empathetic to it and understand where it is coming from.

 

Pick up any newspaper , remove your Rayban and put on the glasses of sensitivity and understand what people, animals, birds and nature go through , who are not capable of ordering a Tanker when their water supply is cut off. Recall the grim image of poor, lower middle class people standing in queue , in scorching sun, with their plastic pots . You grace them with a distant and useless pity and then move on with your work sitting in your air conditioned offices. Well, be in no illusion that you are not going to be affected by this crisis.

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Let me cut to the chase. I am no policy maker, or a scientist or a disaster management officer to be able to tell you how to tackle this problem. Preaching is not what we Indians are receptive of. I am here just to share what I do in my limited capacity to not add to the burden of the city and also to know if someone out there does it better. If so enlighten me.

  1. I Keep the faucet outlet to as low as possible. While brushing, washing hands or doing the dishes we can save a good amount of water by a reducing the flow. Educate your domestic help about the importance of this step. Tell him/her that they will be first in the line to be affected by this.

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  1. I don’t wash clothes every day. Infact once a week. Just like you save money when you buy a product in bulk, you save water when you wash clothes in bulk. Well this is a personal choice and difficult to compromise on, especially with the generation of our parents. But dire needs call for compromises. We can be selfish only to an extent. Beyond that there would be nothing left to be selfish about.
  1. I don’t spend the entire flush tank every time I tinkle. Well its self-explanatory, unless you have a bladder of a Giant.
  1. Every time I turn on the motor to recharge the roof tank from the sump or bore-well, I set an alarm to remind me to turn it off. Based on personal experience, we tend to forget to turn it off on time and once it overflows the damage is more than what we assume.
  1. Mop the floor instead of washing it. This is for the cleanliness freaks who would go out of their ways and wash their terrace and portion of street beyond their gate and set the stage for arrival of Goddess Lakshmi(targeted audience here). I think mopping the terrace/balconies would do the trick without hurling precious water into no good use. Again, educate your domestic help. This is an action item for me too.

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  1. Another action item for me – Arrange for rain water recharging, if not harvesting. As a tiny ray of hope, a good monsoon is predicted this year. Make the best use of it. Install rain water harvesting facility in your house, if that is too expensive or complicated, rain water recharge system is pretty feasible. Hold meetings in your societies/Apartment buildings on how to go about this and do it now.

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  1. Last but not the least, help poor animals, birds and people in need with water. Put out a bowl or bucket of water for stray animals and birds. Donate a tanker to distressed areas who are in dire need. I am not sure myself how to do this. If someone can enlighten me, please do.

 

A hah !! There goes my alarm to switch off the motor. Ciao.

That Bitch!!

250 likes and 100 comments later Maya felt like punching Mark Zuckerberg in the face. Two faces tilting at an angle close to each other, were staring back at her, it didn’t matter that there were 2 spoons and a lemon between those frozen faces, one of her husband and another of “that bitch”.

Maya and Madhur were married for five years. They had met in college and were poles apart, but as the saying goes – opposites attract- so did they. Maya – extrovert, impulsive and romantic. Madhur, in plain words, Geek. What brought them closer in college was their friend Sanjay who had decided that Madhur was ruining his life over books and made it his mission to set him up with someone “unlike” him. The trio was inseparable, Maya the student president and the most famous girl, Madhur- the university topper and Sanjay, Tennis champion. They had a copy of a photograph clicked on their convocation ceremony which they promised to cherish forever – Sanjay giving out a toothy smile, tightly gripping Maya and Madhur around their neck with both his arms, as they stuck their tongues out.

Madhur and Maya got married 3 years later. Madhur’s work took them places, switching roles in India, Argentina and Uzbekistan. Madhur’s promotions kept on rising and so did Maya’s frustration. “At least select a country where I don’t have to carry a dictionary to ask for a ladies restroom!!” she would yell at times. Eventually Madhur decided to return to India for good. Madhur’s new work in India reunited him with Sanjay. They worked closely on marketing and client acquisition for the in house developed products of their IT firm.

The doorbell rang, playing Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’. Maya logged off from Facebook and answered the door. Madhur and Sanjay were in unusually high spirit. Maya managed to fake a smile and asked, “Well, at least someone is happy, care to share the joy?”

“We clinched a deal today with a big client, finally, after months of persuasion.” Madhur squealed as he made a drink for Sanjay and himself.

“No No No, not we, it was all her. She can make an atheist like me bow down in devotion.” Sanjay interjected.

“Who are we talking about?”

“Our colleague, Shaheen Awasthi. She recently joined our firm. A remarkable woman. Her spirit drives everyone at work, from the janitor to the Director. She can be a guy with the guys, a lady among the ladies and a brat between the kids. She…”

“Yeah, Madhur had mentioned her couple of times.” Maya cut Sanjay in mid-sentence. “She is the one on Facebook doing the rounds, am I right?”

Madhur shifted on the couch feeling uncomfortable about the direction the conversation was moving in.

“Guilty as charged. That picture of Madhur and Shaheen was too funny to be ignored. I had to post it.”

“Food is on the table. Goodnight.” And she left abruptly.

That night Madhur and Maya had yet another argument. Maya accused Madhur of being insensitive to her feelings by allowing the “inappropriate” picture of his gain hype on the social media.

“You knowing that I don’t like her, I don’t like that you are friends with her. She is eating up the space in my personal life. What will our relatives think? And my friends? I am a laughing stock all because of that stupid picture.”

“Exactly my point, Maya. It’s a STUPID picture taken while playing a STUPID game. Why are you making this a big deal? I didn’t post it. And I am not going to ask anyone to take it down, because that would again be a STUPID thing to do. Talking of her occupying your personal space- it’s an absurd idea considering you have never met her. So let’s end this STUPID argument and go to sleep.”

Maya called Sanjay the next day and confessed her insecurity and asked for his advice.

“I think Madhur is right.

You have never met her. I think you should meet her. She is a very good friend of Madhur’s and can be yours too. Why don’t you invite her to dinner or something?”

“Are you crazy? I can’t stand imagining her and you want me to meet her?”

“You’ll be fine. Besides Madhur and I will be there to make sure you don’t kill her.” He joked.

Maya wore the most expensive perfume from her collection. She wore a bright red evening dress and a matching red lipstick. She viewed herself in the mirror, tucked in her tummy a little and was confident that she could easily take on that bitch.

‘Fur Elise’ called again, as she took her time to answer it.

“What took you so long?” Madhur planted a kiss on her cheek and entered. Behind him she could see Sanjay and a woman, slender, big eyes covered by glasses of thick black rim, a faded lipstick, wearing a white shirt, two buttons down, half tucked in her blues jeans, the other half hanging out, holding a wine bottle. Attractive. Definitely attractive. Maya forced a smile and said, “Welcome, I have heard so much about you.”

Maya was conscious of herself. She felt she was overdressed.

“I am sorry Maya, I didn’t know this was a formal party, else I would have dressed better. We headed straight to your place after work. I am a mess.” Shaheen unclutched her hair which untwined down to her waist leaving behind layered curls.

“Oh you are fine. This is not a formal party. Just a personal get together. And by the way you could look gorgeous in rags.” Madhur’s words burned Maya’s skin under her silk dress.

“Look at you Maya” Sanjay, sensing the need, drew everyone’s attention, “you look dazzling. Have you been working out?” Maya’s mood lightened.

The evening progressed with the jibber jabber about work while Maya coordinated with the cook in serving the exotic delicacies she had prepared to show off her culinary skills. There was a spread of Humus, home-made mayonnaise and salsa served on the side of barbecued veggies, Nachos and Pitta bread.She observed Shaheen closely, the way she spoke, the way Madhur responded or did not respond. Did she see a kind of restraint between them, she wondered. And suddenly she heard her name “Maya!!”

“Huh?”

“I asked, what do you do?”

“Well, nothing as of now. I had a stint in Event management, but not anymore.”

“Not anymore. Why?”

“We moved a lot.”

“She is an excellent cook by the way” Madhur added “which takes care of her hobby, and very independent financially. She is the master of stock trading. So she doesn’t really have to go to “Work” for a living.”

Sanjay cringed with the last gulp of his third glass of whiskey and said, “but every woman, no matter how independent she might be, every once in a while needs her hands to be held firmly, reassuringly, to be told that you are not on your own.”  There was silence… The three looked at Sanjay astonished at his new found wisdom. Then the laughter burst. Tiny droplets of tear gleamed in Maya’s eyes, invisible to all.

Shaheen’s phone beeped. “Guys, I would take your leave now. It’s my lawyer. My husband has agreed to the terms of divorce, finally. I need to think all this through.”

“Yeah. Its late, we must leave now. I will drop you.”  Sanjay stood up with a stagger.

“Sanjay, you are not driving. I will drop her. And I will book a cab for you.” Madhur was concerned.

“It’s really not necessary. I can go by myself. I will book a cab.” Shaheen protested.

Madhur theatrically held Shaheen’s hands and quoted “You are not on your own!!!” he winked at Sanjay. All of them had a good laugh except Maya. And Madhur left with Shaheen.

“What the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?’ Maya’s patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.

Sanjay knew that she was serious. ‘Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I’d say.’

‘Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .’ she rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘That’s what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man.

Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.’ She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, ‘Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?’

“You are overthinking. It doesn’t happen that way.”

“You think so? Did you forget what happened on our last day of college when in a weak moment we almost…”

“Maya! It was a mistake and we promised we will never talk about it. Why are you bringing it up today?”

“Because my husband is on the verge of committing the same mistake and ruining my life.”

“Why is everything about “your husband”? What about Maya, where is she? Cooking? Or probably glaring at her monitor watching the crooked lines go up and down? Maybe you have made it easy for him to take you for granted by revolving your entire life around him.

Sanjay’s phone beeped. “My cab is here. Take care of yourself.” He wiped her tears and left.

The next afternoon Sanjay found Maya walking out of his office building in tears. He took her for coffee in a nearby café where Maya regained her composure.

“I wanted to surprise him with a lunch date.  He said he had back to back meetings, which he would have cancelled if I had informed him in advance. It was so humiliating, in front of her…”

“I am sorry Maya. It’s my fault. Forget what I said to you last night. You are best as yourself; you don’t need to try so hard. Never mind, to make it up to you, shall we go for a movie? ‘Queen’ has good reviews.”

She hesitated and spoke, “I should ask Madhur as well.”

“Suit yourself.”

She began dialing the number on her phone and then abruptly kept the phone in her jeans pocket.

“Let’s go. But don’t you have to resume work?”

“I think I’ll call it a day.”

For the next few weeks Maya avoided thinking or talking about Shaheen. She started working out and got in touch with her girlfriends. There was no surge of love between the couple but the arguments did come to a halt.

One fine day Sanjay called Maya to tell her that the office is issuing passes for Salsa competition at Club Exotica.

“Do you want one?”

“Are you kidding? Who do you suggest I go with? Madhur? He declared yesterday for no reason that he is going to be busy this month. And you remember how hard we tried to persuade him to take the classes with me in college?”

“Yeah, I remember how instead I ended up taking the classes with you. Well, you may want to ask your friends. It’s a good opportunity for you considering you dance so well.”

“You are my friend, are you willing to?” There was a hint of mischief in Maya’s voice.

“I don’t know, I am so out of practice, I am not that flexible anymore.”

“Whatever happened to ‘you are not on your own’ philosophy?”

Maya and Sanjay were surprised to find out that they still had their moves. The practice sessions were full of fun and laughter. Maya wore her old salsa costume which still fitted and shoes that accentuated her moves.

“Maya you were amazing today. Graceful, full of energy, it’s like you are straight out of college.”

Maya still had droplets of sweat on her brow from the practice as she sipped her cold coffee. “I don’t know what I was doing all these years Sanjay. Why can’t I have such fun with Madhur?”

“That’s for you to think. What I can tell you for sure is that I couldn’t have had this much fun with anyone else but you.” The intensity in his eyes gave Maya goose bumps on her neck and butterfly feathers in her gut. She tried to control her smile which made her lips quiver. How could she smile through the guilt of feeling happy with a man who was not her husband?

“Take it easy Maya.” He gave out a confident, seductive, omniscient smile. “Let’s go. Oh, I think I left the car keys in the training room.”

There was sound of another session going on. Sanjay knocked on the door and entered and almost immediately turned back and closed the door.

“What’s the matter?” Maya asked concerned.

“You might not want to go in there.”

Maya peeked through the door fearing what she might see. She saw Madhur and Shaheen engage in the perfect Salsa of hammerlock and embrace positions. For just a tiny moment Maya felt proud of her husband making that smooth transition and in the next moment of realization, blood rushed back to her face.

“What are you gonna do Maya.” Sanjay asked in plain, serious demeanor.

“I am tired of feeling angry and insecure, tired of playing hard to get when no one is pursuing, tired of the bursts of guilt stained happiness. I just want happiness.”

And with that she threw herself in Sanjay’s embrace.

That night when Madhur returned home after his practice session, he found that Maya’s things were gone. A note lay on the pillow which read –

“It’s nobody’s fault. You didn’t need me anymore, and I admit I don’t need you anymore either. Happy dancing to you – Maya”

The glittery black salsa costume that he bought for her, lay on their bed, still covered by a transparent plastic sheath wrapped around by a ribbon. Madhur’s phone beeped. There was a message from Shaheen – “I hope she likes the dress. You owe me big time for being your accomplice in this surprise-wife-with-salsa-moves conspiracy. She is lucky to have you.”

That night as he waited for Maya to knock on the door, Sanjay picked up the magazine “Men’s Quotient” and opened the dog-eared page which ran an article titled “Everything’s fair in love and war, especially when it’s both.”

The article was summarized in bullet points at the bottom right corner of the page; each bullet point tick marked with pencil except the last.

 √              Point out his weakness without criticizing him.

√              Make her “think” she is taken for granted

√               Sympathize with her husband/boyfriend.

√               Alienate the husband/boyfriend by giving her options.

√               Complement her. Let her know how much fun she is.

 °                 Wait for her call.

“I should email a thankyou note to the editor.” He muttered. The doorbell rang.

5 features to look out for in an evolving online shopping experience

How would you feel if you got the best of all worlds that we live in- social networking, online shopping, killer deals, being a celebrity – all at one place? Well, think over it and prepare yourself for an answer because that’s where we are headed. Here are 5 questions any upcoming shopping platform needs to answer .

  1. Trusted friends as influence : Sure we have hundreds of reviews for a pro21034485-shopping-and-tourism-concept-beautiful-girls-with-shopping-bags-in-ctiy-Stock-Photoduct we want to buy. But who are the reviewers? How do you know you will like what they like? That’s where our dear friends come in. Envision yourself searching for a portable speaker system on a shopping platform which returns a list of products that your friends have bought. Wouldn’t it be a relief to know ‘their’ experience(and not some random person’s) with a particular speaker you wanted to buy?
  2. Power to choose where you buy from without shifting through multiple tabs. Lets confess. We spend a lot of time skipping shopping platforms to look for best deals or better review quality. Wouldn’t it make your life easier if one platform consolidated the best buying options across all your pet platforms?
  3. Discovery of unusual, quirky stuff : How would you like to see a pen-drive dressed as a Minion, or pencils that grow up to be a plant. Or-if it’s not crazy enough – a toilet golf kit – coz you know how important it is to relax when you are shi… arrm .. ‘sitting’. Isn’t it a collector’s dream?

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  4. Reach retailers with no online presence : There are some specialty stores, the exclusivity of them extending to their products or location or probably customers. Canvas paintings, hand made jewelries, an authentic hand-loom silk saree born in a dingy room somewhere in Varanasi – not having an online presence. Don’t they deserve a wider exposure and don’t you deserve the exclusive treat ?
  5. Being Brand Ambassador  : When you buy that cool blue Nike shoes and show it off to your friends, you are actually endorsing it. A lot of your friends will buy them because you bought it. Just realize how you become instrumental in profits that Nike makes. They owe you big time. Will it be too bad if a shopping platform credits you with the ‘Brand Ambassador’ status and the perks associated with it?

Let these questions ring in your head for sometime. I already hear a Doppler effect. So20120418_podmething is approaching at a very high speed and is going to Zzzzwibe right by us – with answers?? Let’s see.

 

 

Love Story of a Monk

ruby-rose-rwyb-hd-wallpaper-landscape-scenery-night-full-moon-1440x900It was mid-January and the rugged bus with windows jammed midway did not offer much succor against the cold evening wind. I was on a trip to Dharamshala with a friend. Our noisy front seat neighbors – a middle-aged hefty Sardar and a young Pahadi boy, probably of 18 or 19, were still settling in their seats. They painted a pretty picture of Indian Laurel and Hardy.

After half an hour of chit chat Mr. Hardy secretly introduced us to ‘old’ Mr. Monk. “He is a warm company on a cold night” he winked as he poured the old man into plastic – use and throw cups. My friend declined the offer courteously and went back into his tour guide marking the places to visit and things to do. I was appreciating-while I could – the snow covered peaks of distant hills, highlighted in a pinkish hue against the backdrop of twilight sky. Soon all went dark. I was surprised that I could still see the snowy peak in the moonlight. It was gorgeous. Laurel, the pahadi boy, suddenly said to me “They say there are three things worth watching in the moonlight – snowcapped mountain, frothy waves of the ocean and…” he paused, staring at the rum in his plastic cup.

“and..?”

“And the luminous face of the weeping Russian ‘bhikkhuni’.”

I was clueless about where he was going with this. Probably he was drunk.

“The journey is long. If I may entertain you with a story of the land we are going to, where I hail from?”

The answer did not matter and he went on with the following story –

“A very long time ago, believed to be sometime in the 18th century, a Russian merchant arrived in India on Business. He was accompanied by his mistress of golden-brown hair and blue eyes, whose beauty is believed to be so otherworldly that the merchant confined her indoors so as to not attract attention. During her days of house arrest her handmaid used to tell her stories about Buddhist monks, their austere lifestyle and their philosophies. She began to romanticize the idea of such free spirit and one day she managed to elope with her handmaid to the Himalayan foothills, believed to be current day Dharamshala, where the wandering monks use to settle for some time, preaching and practicing Dharma before moving onwards their eternal journey. The Russian mistress pleaded before the monks to take her in their shelter, tell her tales of their adventures and journeys and teach her their philosophy. But she was not accepted as she was a woman – of tremendous beauty – and the monks followed a strict restrain of let alone talking, but of not even looking at a woman directly.

The news of this lady’s beauty and incessant appeals reached a young Monk who was highly regarded for his achievements at a very young age. He preferred seclusion, spending his days in the bliss of meditation, weaving and teaching small children. That morning before he came to know about the Russian mistress, his pupils and fellow monks witnessed him struggling through his meditation. His eyes moved erratically behind the half open eyelids, his body emanated heat that could be felt from an arm distance. Later he declared that he would accept the young mistress in his ambit since she had nowhere else to go. The other monks did not approve of this but could not be much vocal about their disapproval.

The Russian mistress was elated at being with the monk. She did the daily chores, learnt how to weave, and went along with the monk for daily strolls in the meadows. She used to sit for hours watching the monk meditate and used to long for him to come out of it so that she could ask him about what he saw when he meditated, whether he could see the future and whether she was there in his future. The monk answered her questions in a cryptic manner which frustrated the young mistress. She once dared to ask the monk if he would marry her. She promised him that she would make him the happiest man on earth, she would take care of him the way no one has ever cared for anyone before, and that she would carry his legacy forward. To this he answered, “I know that will happen, but what has marriage got to do with it?”

She used to stitch pretty gowns for herself and tie her long golden-brown hair in complex braids in an attempt to allure the monk into the material world, thinking that he is too young to have an undaunted monk spirit. But she was disappointed every time. One fateful day, as the monk meditated and chanted in a state of trance under an oak tree, the Russian mistress, hypnotized by the sound of the verses, leaned on his shoulders and started humming the tune of the chants. When the incident reached the ears of the monk community, they called for the young monk and the Russian mistress and reproached them for breaking the laws and trust of the community. They ordered the Russian Mistress to leave their settlement and never return. The young monk who maintained his calm throughout, turned to the senior master and said, “Master, my soul savior, what word have you got for me?” The master smiled pleasantly and said, “Your time has come. You must leave for the higher Himalayas, wander through the forests and face the test of your years of practice. I wish you success.”

The Russian mistress could not bear the guilt of being responsible for the misfortune of the young monk. She decided to follow him into higher Himalayas and spend her life in repentance. The community objected to this, to which the Master said, “Nature is the only governance required where those souls are headed. Our laws have no value there.”

The young monk walked for months across towns, villages and farms living as a ‘Bhikshu’. The mistress followed like a shadow feeling sorry for him for she had lived the time when selling skin was preferable to begging. One day when the monk did not feel too well and wheezed with every step he took, the mistress insisted that he should take rest while she set out asking for Bhiksha. She recited flawlessly the sutras which she had learnt by heart over a period of time, hearing it repeatedly from the young monk, unaware of what the words meant. Her mesmerizing appearance contrasted by the pious recitals dazzled the civilians and brought generous amount of donations of food and clothing.  When she presented her achievements to the monk he asked her to put forward her palms together. He kept whatever he could on her palms and gave away the rest to the needy, the animals or birds. She argued why he gave off that which could secure them in coming days. He replied unperturbed “Have so much as to destroy the existing desire and not to create new desires by means of abundance… This is what you had been reciting when you asked for Bhiksha.”

That simple statement spoken ever so calmly stirred a storm in the mistress’s heart. She felt as if in some corner of her soul, a small patch of dirt melted making way for a streak of white light that filled her body with uncontrollable bout of energy. “Teach me what it means. All of it.”

That night the young monk told the Russian mistress that the journey would be difficult and lonely from then on and that she should return if she did not want her luscious hair to metamorphose into dreadlocks, the chilly winds to carve a crevice on her soft lips, the sharp rocks and the rough forests to tear through her silk gown. So she appeared before him at the crack of dawn, with a shaven head embellished by a crimson rash, dressed in a plain robe that she had sewn herself, a cloth bundle of meagre belongings and a small bhiksha bowl. People gasped, some with pity, some with ecstasy, at that tableau that was captured in time, and in legends.  And thus she followed him once again deeper into oblivion in the hope that one day her love will be reciprocated.

Years passed, and the initial teacher-pupil relationship transformed into camaraderie. The Russian mistress, a learned woman now, never let her hair grow back. She could now discuss life and death philosophies with the young monk and sometimes make a joke which made the monk laugh like a child, the latter a greater pleasure for her than the former.

The example set by the young mistress should be a proud moment for any teacher. The young monk remembered his master’s last words and believed that he was successful at the test of his years of practice. But, at the core, he carried a seed of discontentment. He also grew weaker with incessant coughs year after year, winters bringing out the worst when his lungs would just freeze. They usually descended down to nearest village to wait for winters to pass, but that year the young monk refused to descend until he found the cause of his discontentment. The Russian mistress descended alone to gather the necessities. It was snowing when she returned in the morning of the third day accompanied by a helper from the village. She found the young monk meditating under a deodar tree, wheezing the verses abruptly between violent coughs, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.

The mistress slowly and deliberately assumed her position on a rock opposite the tree where the monk struggled to meditate. And just as a tributary gradually joins the mainstream of a river, only seamlessly without creating a ruffle, her voice filled the gaps in the chants of the monk. The willful chants of the mistress- ever so melodious and vibrant- reverberated in the atmosphere in such a way that the monk eventually went quiet. He sunk deep into his own consciousness, where he had never been before. This isolated and dim corner was devoid of any thoughts or memories or any preconceived notions or learnt lessons or feelings or desires. Just an empty room with a shut door, a faint sound leaking through the gap at the bottom. Noticing that the door was about to collapse against the force of the sound, he opened it and there he saw ‘Her’ love pulsating as a heartbeat at the core of the voice which poured into the void space. In that avalanche he saw the journey of love – how it transformed from a stage of infancy- argumentative, adamant, to a stage where it blossomed – sacrificial, perseverant and finally to a stage when it simply exists as an omniscient entity. When it does not have to reach any place, which has no end and the beginning of which cannot be determined.

That was the happiest day in his life as promised by the Russian mistress. He had entered into the mistress’s subtle being. Just like the coalescence of two water droplets on a window after it has rained, the two souls united. He wondered if it was the same place he attempted to reach the day he heard about the Russian mistress for the first time, but lost his way. He wondered if his years of exile were after all a test of all the lessons he had learnt or a new and final lesson in itself.

Feeling liberated from the entrapment of the weak and decaying body; his lungs not clenched anymore in the fist of worldly limitations, he drew all the strength that he could and rejoined the mistress in the mystical recitation of the sutras for he believed there to be another door that might open to the soul of the universe. ‘Her’ love had revealed the secret of their souls to him. It was time ‘His’ love carried her to that hidden door.

Legends say that at that moment a whirlpool of snow storm enveloped the ‘lovers’ and as a loyal guard shielded them for hours until the moon rose high up in the sky. At the end of it all, they say, it was so silent that one could hear as the last flake of snow settled on the leaf of deodar tree. The monk laid there slouched against the tree trunk, purple face, lifeless. The Russian mistress’s shaven head, pale white face and blue eyes glowed with a sort of phosphorescence that rendered the moonlight useless. She wept silently for days cradling the lifeless body of the monk. Who knows whether the tears were of losing a beloved or a precipitation of a complex mix of emotions – of revelation, of acceptance, of duties to be fulfilled, of never ending journey that awaited her.

She did fulfill her promise of carrying forward the young monk’s legacy. Year on year as the legend of the young monk and the Russian mistress spread, monks and civilians alike, old and young alike, set out towards the mountain where the Russian mistress was believed to be living, in search of the door to universal soul.”

“Do they still live there, the monks? Where is this place? I would like to meet them to know more about that universal soul thing. This could be a great adventure” My friend broke the silence at the end of the narration.

“I am afraid I can’t tell you that. It is a forgotten legend sir. It prevails only within some of the old tribal communities people hardly know of. I heard it from my parents, they heard from theirs. But the link breaks after some point in the hierarchy. My parents believe that it is just a made up tale to mesmerize children and to draw them into monkhood. But my great grandfather believed firmly in the legend. He used to say that the secret , the mystical land where the young monk died and where the bhikkhuni helped the seekers in their quest shall be revealed only to those who are true seekers.”