I have been reading..

Quite bluntly, I am no great reviewer of books (you will soon see that for yourself anyway). I think it is because I lack the patience to write a review before jumping onto another book wagon. But I do like a bit of reflection. And ever since Instagram has happened, I have been rather inconsistently microblogging (is that the word now?) and that quite worked out conveniently given how short my thoughts are, atleast when writing them out anyway. But I do want to document most of that here on the blog every now and then when I have a few books to talk about.

Ikigai – what a beautiful word, “a reason for being”, a purpose for living. I picked this book up at Blore airport. Having spent a few weeks with family after more than a year, I was ecstatic. I felt extremely energized and I picked this one up and read it in that enthusiasm. Naturally, I waited for a while to write this. Having read it in a happy frame of mind, I liked parts of it because they felt like summaries of concepts that map to a good healthy life – diet, exercise, community…. There is definitely bits to take away, ponder over AND most importantly, read more about. But to be objective, this book was a fair bit of a jumble drawing from schools of psychology to interviews with octogenarians in Okinawa to benefits of green tea? I felt there was so much to dig into and draw connections probably but it felt like a potpourri of good advice (a summary of concepts from Japanese culture) but never doing justice to something as deep as Ikigai. Most of it is through the authors’ lens as they experience the Japanese culture which makes it a a fair bit of “here are the takeaways”. Agreed, Ikigai itself is a topic so personal but the book left me wanting for a far richer narrative, more life stories (the interviews form such a small part of the book) and threads that connect our stories. I don’t know what that would exactly look like, but I wish this book had it.

I will admit that I sometimes start some books with a lot of hesitation. I do not enjoy pseudo-intellectual thinking and meandering for the sake of it that sometimes runs into pages and pages. And so, inspite of hearing amazing things about Kundera’s books, I started this with low expectations. It always helps to start something that way, doesn’t it? 
Kundera definitely goes deep into aspects of his characters. There are only 4 of them, none of them who seemed remarkable to me at first. But that is the joy of reading because you let the author and her/his words really tell you about them and get you inside their heads. I will give it to Kundera for his craftsmanship in the way he has presented little insights, hard-hitting, soul-crushing and poignant in parts. There are no endless paragraphs but when you reflect on the small chapters and some of those insights, the book feels impressive. One of the biggest dilemnas that the characters face is the one that haunts each of us at different points in our lives – the “what if” and maybe even the pursuit of perfection. But it is hard because, in Kundera’s words, “We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” It is the irony of having a single life. For this very reason, one’s choices do not have a lot of weight in the grand scheme of things. The unbearable lightness of being. Somewhere along, different events occur that touch you and impact you in different ways and “relieve” you from this lightness. 
There are definitely parts in the book that I could not understand. I do not want to call it pretentious because after all I have only read this once so maybe a re-read would help, but I am not so strongly inclined to go back and read it again for the time being. The book definitely made me think, not in a life changing way but in a way that helps me appreciate the simplicity, complexity and beauty of abstraction and life.

I read this a while ago and I just cannot NOT share this here – please read this autobiographical memoir. I have tried to blink away my tears of joy and sadness and pride as I read this on my commute almost angry at myself for withholding from expressing what I felt so strongly about. It is incredibly hard for me to come close to describing the unparalleled joy that Kobayashi’s school Tomoe, a school set in railway carriages and nothing less, gives me. Totto-Chan (author Tetsuko Kuroyanagi herself) recounts the several little ways her Headmaster Kobayashi devised to make children feel special led by his strong belief in the innate goodness of children and his attention to them. The way the classes were organised, the farmer teacher, the sports day with specially created games resonated so deeply with me and while I am not ready or patient enough to speak of why this book is probably going to be one I will read and re-read for a long time to come, I promise to, someday. That a school like Tomoe with all its little stories of love, compassion, loss and rebirth, existed in Japan while the world was at war, with children blissfully unaware of the ongoings is heartbreaking and beautiful. The post-script is equally a joy to read and the students continue to have reunions every year on November 3, their Sports Day. Having worked in education, I know it is not easy to create a class or school, even the one that you strongly believe in. But Kobayashi was one of them who did. And to have it all taken away on a morning during the war angered and deeply saddened me. Wars have never done anyone or anything good. But I am happy Tomoe existed for those 7 years from 1937 – 1945 and that Tomoe’s story will live on in the hearts of the readers and inspire many even if only by mocking some of the systems we have. And this time, it was me by the window in a train reading about a little girl and her school set in railway carriages not so long ago. It really was a damn good school, you know.

I have a few more books to talk about but I think I will stop here for now and get to my little Prince 🙂

Ragi huri hittu unDe as I remember it

Instead of making sweet pongal for Sankranthi today, I decided to make Ragi huri hittu unDe/ pori maav unDe or ragi laddoo though we never really called them laddoos growing up. Also, I have a bit of a mental block against laddoos. Making them, I mean. I am more than comfortable with eating one or half a dozen. Therefore, very conveniently I decided to make my entry into the world of laddoo (that I have come to realise is endless) – making with ragi huri hittu/pori maav unDe with a fair bit of confidence but also a bit of nervousness because am still learning to not see every attempt as an achievement because I tend to do that a lot.

Anyway back to these unDes. It was one of my favourite evening snacks and ma would roast ragi and get it ground at the local mill (Gosh, those were the days). The roasting was key – it imparted a beautiful smell and also made it easy for digestion. She’d roast the ground flour again, carefully but generously adding ghee, shaving a ball of jaggery with a knife right over the pan as some powdered bits and little pieces fell into that aromatic bliss while my brother and I waited rather impatiently with a hope that we’d get a bulk of those jaggery pieces to bite into. She’d wrap this all up by adding some warm milk, quickly rolling them within her palm alternating between the ghee in the little cup and the ragi mixture. She’s make them a really good size and yet we wanted more. Always. I never liked the nosy nuts in them much so sometimes she’d roast and grind some nuts into this mixture as well.

Today I did all of what she does with the ragi huri hiTTu I got from home. I also went a bit wild and added some slivered almonds tossed in with the huri hittu when toasting it. It felt wonderful making this but it also made me really emotional to know I’d be eating them without my brother. I’ll get all the jaggery pieces for myself and that is no fun at all. Ah, I guess I’ll send a picture to him and make him jealous. Sisters will be sisters

A 4 PM affair.

Vegetable puffs fresh from a local bakery. A 4 PM affair.

A trip down memory lane. A sense of timelessness. A happy ritual. A silent moment punctuated by the sound of crispy flakes. A yearning for more such moments. A feeling of contentment for the now.

A lack of words. An acknowledging silence.

A child-like glee.

The joy of creating

Last week I signed up for a “closed terrarium” making workshop as part of mental health awareness week because I needed to create something badly. I have been reading and doing so much brain work the last month that I needed to make something with my hands. That experience was cathartic and it made all the sense that it was chosen as an activity for mental awareness week. And in several ways it was what I needed – the joy of making and most importantly a reminder of that.

It was probably what a lot of them needed because despite this “strictly 10 participants only” being fully booked, there were a few more hoping for a no-show so they could join in. I definitely would have done the same if I had not secured a spot. Making a closed terranium – how exciting! I have long admired them on window sills in little cafes and at homes with absolutely no inkling of how to make them or sustain them. A tiny life inside a container is fascinating as it is and then I learnt about how these moisture loving plants like Fittonias actually sustain themselves and you hardly have to do much except for opening it once in a month just to let the air out and water them a bit.

I admit, I gave out a pretty loud squeal of delight when I saw the set-up only to be met by nods that understood my point. Here we were, a grand total of ten enthu-cutlets, taking an hour off work, marking our calendars busy, to make something and meet someone perhaps. There was soil, charcoal, beautiful little pebbles, a pot of charming fittonia for each of us, some moss, a couple more plants and a nice jar to house your little creation in. Walking to this set-up amidst work was just so uplifting, `

I have sometimes wondered why we have activities for creating awareness around something – is it because it encourages people to become aware of the existence of something and ask/talk about it, sometimes raising funds for the cause or is it because the activity by nature of itself encourages a sense of awareness around a topic. It was a bit of both that day. As we filled our jar with soil and nudged it ever so gently, we marvelled at how lovely it felt to be touching something and making something.

As we gently separated the roots and shared our different shades of fittonia, we forgot to hurry our way through things and very gently, very silently got blissfuly busy but never forgetting to stop for a bit and admire another’s creation.

It taught me a lot that day, making these terrariums. Inspite of being aware of how much I missed creating, it made me realise how little I knew of what I was missing out on and how much that meant to me. It is easy to be caught in the labyrinth of activities that one has to do and tasks one must endure, but nothing and absolutely nothing can or should come in the way of creating a little of something every now and then. Only if your heart wants to. And to find out if that is indeed the case, you need to immerse yourself in the very act.

Fall-ing in love

I have gushed about it a fair bit on the gram now. I cannot be happier about living in fall. It is an era by itself, you see. Those luscious green trees from summer..

..morphing into several pops of colours,

to adorn homes,

and lay out a carpet of the most magical wonders,

for you and me to stop and look closer and unravel one of them,

and feel celebratory,

for here you can find, on your most casual walks, all those magical things you read about in your childhood, come alive from books.

You don’t have to do much to enjoy all of this. You only need to step out..

..and it is all there, waiting for you. Right at your doorstep.


You’d think it cannot get better than that but mostly it does once you turn on your oven or stove and bring out your tubers and roots.

“What is it you love about fall?” they asked.

“Let’s go for a walk and I will show you,” I smiled.

This morning at Waterloo

Today, as I walked out of the Waterloo Station, I saw a slightly elderly man sitting at the intersection of the several crossings (that I cannot wrap my head around) when you exit the station. It was drizzling and he sat by the sidewalk with an umbrella and a small red blanket. The blanket covered him and as I walked closer, I saw a beautiful tricolour (black, white and tan) dog resting his/her head against his chest with a vacant stare. It broke my heart into a million pieces and I felt sick in my gut. I walked past hurriedly because I need to tear myself away in such circumstances. It is so hard for me to talk about such things that typing them here is the closest I can come to baring how deeply I get affected by certain moments and sights. But as I crossed the street, I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back and see the dog. It reminded me a lot of how Mili rests on us when she is being cuddled or when she is sleeping. She loves contact and somehow I keep thinking it was Mili there on him.

So I walked back.

I always like to help in anyway I can. It makes me a little less guilty and in my own selfish way, I feel a bit better though certain times, it takes me a few days to tuck it away in a corner of my mind.

I carry the whole world in my backpack, so I stopped under the roof near the station and took out a 5 pound bill. I did not know what else I could do. I walked upto him and handed it and told him to take care, very quickly trying to catch a glimpse of the dog but failing. I was too overcome to say more. I wanted to ask him to please buy a little something for the dog. But I could not bring myself to say it. Why would I want to say that? Here was a person who was holding an umbrella and covered the dog with his blanket. They had each other and kept each other warm this cold morning as everyone hurried with their tall and grande lattes and with their own challenges and tasks to conquer. He and his dog were a team. Who was I to tell him to care for his partner? He smiled with a clear, “God bless you and love you.” I remember nodding with a very tight lipped smile and walking away. I do not remember what he looked like when he said it, I do not recollect what I was looking at either. All I remember is I had crossed all the traffic lights and walked across the bridge before I even realised it.

The guard who stopped the train and made my morning

I made a dash with hesitation (do you know what am referring to? Like, when you run but also your legs give way and your heart wants you to try a bit more?). As I hurriedly bought my ticket, I saw the train doors closing along the platform that was about 20 steps of a run, maybe less. The guard at the barricade told me I can probably make it to the train and as I punched out, I saw the train guard standing out, keeping a door open and urging me to hop into that cabin. I foolishly tried getting into another wondering why the door did not budge open. He patiently called out, “Madam, this one! This one, I have it open.” That’s when I realised I had to get into that compartment and I gave him the most grateful sheepish look I could. The next train was a longer route and 20 minutes away and meant missing my first meeting with a senior at work (who probably would have kindly understood my predicament but that would have made me really guilty throughout our meeting). Anyway, I hopped in, he gave me a small smile as if this was nothing.

As I got off at Waterloo, I walked up to him. He probably thought I was lost and meant to ask for directions. And when I told him, it was beautiful what he did and am so thankful, he gave me the most beautiful smile and shrugged with a, “Ah no problem. Don’t worry about it.”

Almost always when I walk away from such people, the world around me stops. I have tears from God-knows-where spring into my eyes. I tell myself repeatedly, how beautiful people are. It makes me so emotional that I spend the next hour or two smiling at everyone and creeping them out. K has seen me do this multiple times. But really, it made my morning. I have lost count of how many times I have said this, but the people in train stations and the staff who work for the London Underground and South Western Railways are absolutely fabulous and everyday heroes. I mean every one of them. They have let me in when my app conked off, sometimes walked me to the correct exit, drawn a virtual route on their palm to show me the way, redirected me to better and shorter routes and just been absolutely wonderful with other fellow travellers every time I have passed by.

I thought long and hard about how I must title this happy event of mine that happened this morning. I quite honestly could not think of any way to do it. It really is as simple as that and yet so profound.