Normalcy

Just a saturday out at Hengistbury Head on a cold, drizzly day.

Normalcy or normality is anything but that. It is truly something that I most strongly enjoy, crave for and pray for. Perfectly normal, routine days made of exceptionally special mundane acts. It is what I miss most when something abrupt strikes. It is what I am most nostalgic about. Sure, that thrilling day trip on that vacation 4 years ago is a grand memory to revisit and maybe even long for once in a while. But most often what my heart truly wants is all those everyday acts I do and did, that I no longer can. In these moments, I have found my way of making life feel grand. It is a tricky circle of realization – being or the fear of being deprived of something or someone tells you exactly what you love most. And a seemingly ordinary today is the grand memory trip of a further tomorrow.

Just need to remember to never forget that 🙂

On saying bye to our tomato plants …

When we started growing our own, we started with an expectation (and mostly hope) it would account for a small portion of weekly veg intake. We have been blown away by how misplaced we were. And that is saying something because home gardening is not so much about meeting your produce demands as much as as it is about nurturing and experiencing the joy of growing and eventually savouring. Ofcourse, the last step of the journey is important and especially more so when you are a beginner. We are. Because, if we ran too much before we could walk, it could in many ways influence how we saw this whole exercise. Trust me, I started with a fair few losses and this has been nothing but overwhelmingly encouraging. The key is to not let an attempt define your next. It is hard but it is true. 


Five days back we started seeing blight on some our tomato plants. Ofcourse I had not used any resistant variety (determined to not use anything that was modified or made of chemicals) and the only feed I used was compost and some manure. While I am not surprised about blight hitting my tomatoes, I am taken by how quickly they consumed my babies. The plants in modest pots and bags gave us a lot, a lot. But regardless of the yield, I had developed a strong love for them and to see them go I front of our eyes has been devastating. 4 empty pots stand bare on our portico. The place where I would start my mornings looking for new babies. I distinctly remember seeing the first babies form on the first of our tomato plants. I distinctly remember feeling impatient at how slow they were to grow, a vague fear engulf me as I wondered if they would fall off in the rains and strong winds we went through.

My fears, I can happily look back now, have been allayed over and over again. We have plucked a lot of tomatoes from the beautiful plants.

And a couple of days back, we plucked our last.

Time and again I realize how much I signed up for when I sowed the seeds. And it was never just about the tomatoes. But I will do it all over again. And take better care.

On the journey to growing my own.

Yesterday we finally picked the first of our zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes and these finger chillies. We have been harvesting a variety of veggies and fruits for a while now but the excitement and tingling that I feel every time I pick something off a plant is very much the same : surreal.

There is such a thrill and joy to this whole process of plucking fresh produce off a plant in your garden. But there is so much more to this whole journey that often culminates in your kitchen, palate and ultimately tummy or your neighbours’!

Last year, I started noticing a lot of interest in gardening in general. People I randomly stumbled upon online and our own neighbours had something going for them in their backyards and in their frontage. It was also when I started watching Monty Don on BBC, the nation’s gardener as he is sometimes fondly called. Little did I know then that becoming engaged with gardening meant an unavoidable rendezvous with Monty. As he weeds and crafts and creates his magical garden in Herefordshire, that seems to stretch endlessly, I saw myself mindlessly scrolling for more and more of other people’s journeys in their gardens. We had started thinking of moving homes but every house we viewed was viewed with a renewed interest and vigour and the promise it held for having a little patch someday. I wanted that joyous ride. That moment when I would wake up to sun-kissed tomatoes. That high from keeping the bees busy. The desire was always simmering but it threatened to no longer wait. So, while we waited to find our home, I sowed some potatoes out of desperation in a pot in our little backyard. Instead of appeasing me, it only fuelled me to do more and left me feeling a longing more than ever. 

As if on cue, everything in the universe conspired to give us the energy and space to pursue this desire that now had assumed dangerous levels of fantasy. And trust me, it has been every bit the joy ride that I had conjured in my mind. While I admit, I was initially more into this “grow your own” having watched those tempting videos of people picking a bunch of zucchinis, a basket of tomatoes and making cucumber salad with cucumbers from their greenhouse, this whole journey has taught me more. Much more than I imagined.

For starters, it has made me physically, mentally and emotionally more agile. As I started sowing seeds, my days would start with me rushing to the storage shed, radiators and possible warm spots in the house to look for any signs of germination. I caught myself walking in and around the garden mentally calculating the space, number of containers I needed, possible beds to create/ clear, reading and researching catch-crops and about rotation and soil pH, ways to get the pollinators, what crops paired well and what I should avoid and the like. What started off as a very calculated, prepared, conscious series of steps from textbook and videos evolved into being more attuned to what the seedlings and plants were telling me. The nervousness and trepidation started getting replaced by a sense of faith in my own ability to listen to our plant babies and confidence to address whatever it was that ailed them and to do all with a sense of surety that I felt the plants would feel reassured by. They were in the safe hands of parents who loved and learnt more about them. Ofcourse, I have had heartaches and trust me I had them early and felt them so much more back then as I watched a series of seedlings rise up and give up on me just when I started to feel happy. It is such an obvious truth that you will lose some seedlings along the way and yet going through this has been such a fundamental lesson in learning to let go or learning from them and moving on.

At a time when a lot of the world was worried about being cooped up at home, gardening and growing their own has offered a lot of respite and excitement and it has been refreshing watching people become attuned to nature and life around. There is a lot to be said about the joy of creating, nurturing and being on that parenting journey and my moments and experiences with my plants have reinforced all of it and somehow managed to make me marvel at the obvious. It is a wonder I hope to forever cherish, many zucchinis, tomatoes and cucumbers later.

A note: Just do it, already.

I truly miss those days when I would look forward to coming back from a trip or excitedly go through an experience all the while rejoicing in the fact that I can write about it, reflect on it and read what another reader may have to say. Somewhere along the line, PhD happened and there was a lot of writing, reflections and critiques happening in the academic world, I met new people, learnt new stuff about the world and myself, travelled way more than I imagined and loved every single bit of it and my previous blog that I was decently consistent with, became forgotten. I always sought that enticing pocket of time where I could sit down and write to my heart’s content and express myself in the best way possible through words. That, my friends, clearly did not work. The thing is – I just had to do it without thinking too much into making it the best. Somewhere along, the boundaries between writing to express for myself and writing to express to the world became blurred and it is an everyday act of unlearning for. I often struggled struggle to find a balance between making a perfect start and just starting. It baffles me because I can be so impulsive at times and yet there are instances when this spontaneity alludes me and when a false sense of seeking perfection engulfs me. If anything, living through this pandemic, as privileged as it may be, has taught me to “just do it”. The start needs to be made.

Somewhere along, Instagram came along offering the chance to share bite sized reflections and some sneak peaks to moments. They may not capture the entire picture (ha!) but still, it felt good to immediately jot down my thoughts as and when I desired and share a moment as and when I wanted and of what I chose to. But my utter disregard for this space causes a niggling feeling every time I think of it. It isn’t that I have not much to say. Au contraire I have lots to say but I am also aware that writing down sometimes means teasing this jumble of thoughts and lending clarity to them, an act that requires patience and also time. In a way, this sort of commitment has kept me off too, I feel. It takes some dedication to listen to your thoughts, separate them, organise them and lend words to them. The more I think of this, the more I feel this is a basic act of survival and to me, happiness as well. And so it is, that I make another start with renewed vigour.

With this space, I wanted to document thoughts, travels and tit-bits as I manoeuvred through life. I hope to do that more in the days to come. All those travels are not going to write themselves, will they?

I fear we will forget.

Forgetting and carrying on is a double edged sword. There are times I know I need it like so many of you. But I fear it too – I don’t want to forget how these months and especially the last few weeks have made me feel. I have tried to find solace in everyday acts of living and sources of joy and gratitude but there have been days it got harder to bury myself in the mundane. I harbour a fear – a fear that we/I will forget.

There is such an influx of resources and personal narratives everywhere now. People are enraged and so many of us want to do something about it, anything at all, from where we stand. And yet, I fear we will forget.

Moving on and doing what we have to do is unavoidable of course. But there is a power in tragedy, loss, shame and rage that spurs a lot of us to instant reaction that only sometimes goes on to become a part of us. And time and instances in history have shown us that more often than not, we move on a tad too quickly. The learning does not register and especially not if we have been at the receiving end personally. We do sympathise, we are aware of what went wrong, and sometimes even have an idea of what could have been done better and yet, over time, we forget. The impact and trauma of a particularly difficult time fades away or stays as an unpleasant memory that surfaces once in a while only to disappear again.

Now that is indeed helpful if we are coping with loss but eventually need to march forward and make something of our lives. But this ability to forget or temporarily tuck away in the deep recesses of mind and move on, becomes dangerous when we let extremely detrimental practices and systems to carry on too and become evasive of our roles and how pro-active we need to be over time and not just reactive to calamity.

It is a great opportunity to educate ourselves now – there are a lot of resources and platforms coming to the fore and spreading their message. But we don’t need to be overwhelmed. Here is what am striving to do – to listen calmly, drawing parallels to my own experiences, identifying patterns and narrowing them down in ways that make sense to me for starters. We only need to make small changes – little changes to our actions and subsequently tweaks to our thought processes that have been comfortably etched in our minds. We each need to take one step forward and collectively, we’d have moved massively as a community. I have identified 3 things I want to do and act on. It somehow makes it more actionable, less overwhelming and makes me feel useful and proactive. Quite frankly, I could do with feeling a bit resourceful, right now. Alongside, I can continue to educate myself, tease out patterns and processes that are deeply ingrained. It is just making that start and sticking to it that will empower me to empower the community I am part of. I want to move beyond being reactive and stay consistently proactive, responsive and responsible.

Once upon a time during Corona (Chronicling COVID-19) – Part 2: Hopscotch along the sidewalks

As we step out for our walk everyday, we look forward some of the heart-warming, nostalgia-inducing scenes along the pavements that greet us with child-like enthusiasm.

It reminds me of my own childhood as I drew endless pictures and puzzles and hopscotches in our compound. We have a lovely pavement leading to a big square block that leads to the gate, back in our Mysore home. I remember drawing along every inch available with colourful chalks, as ma sat with her magazine and coffee sometimes asking me how I’d play that game. As my brother joined in, we divided the area into two or sometimes even made our combined game. We sadly, like several others, outgrew them. Or so, I thought.

But as we see these along the pavements, years later, now, I am overcome by a strong temptation to skippety skip and hoppety hop, and follow all those rules and when I cannot make it, even cheat a bit and plod on until I reach the star.

Is it strange that children and the child in the adult are playing outside more at a time where we are under house arrest?

This one’s my favourite – it asks the player to bounce 5 times!

To be fair, some children do play and cycle along the streets. I just had not seen these before. And it makes me wonder.

But I decide to not over think this. It is reassuring we have these games around. It is reassuring that children are around. They always always seem to find a solution to tricky challenges. It is reassuring that I retain my love for hopscotch and that I never outgrew it.

Once upon a time during Corona (Chronicling COVID-19) – Part 1

It swept us off our feet even though we saw it coming. I have seen a few outbreaks in my lifetime – SARS, bird flu, Ebola; from afar, one that I witnessed virtually from many many many miles away. So when Corona/COVID 19 happened the way it did, it took me by a different kind of surprise. These are extremely interesting times that we live in and I want to document some thoughts and reflections as we live through them knowing fully well how they will evolve dynamically from a facts perspective, societal reactions and some personal experience. Infact, it is this evolution I seek to capture.

WHO defines epidemic as, “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy. The community or region and the period in which the cases occur are specified precisely. The number of cases indicating the presence of an epidemic varies according to the agent, size, and type of population exposed, previous experience or lack of exposure to the disease, and time and place of occurrence”. WHO defines a pandemic as “epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area”. I believe that terminologies are crucial in defining diseases for several reasons with one of the top ones being how resources are allocated internationally to tackle a disease as a matter of urgency. Inspite of living through the times of some diseases that were epidemic or pandemic, they felt distant to me.

Firstly, most of these diseases seemed to be characterised by severe symptoms. Take for example, Ebola with its fever, chills, diarrhoea, vomiting and weakness or the fever, cough, malaise and respiratory symptoms in higher severity in SARS – that would make spotting of someone infected so much easier and therefore isolate them effectively, efficiently and most importantly, immediately. Contrast that to the mild or even no symptoms that seem to mark the onset of this disease in a lot of infected people. That makes each of us a potential carrier with the ability to infect others of which only some of them go on to become seriously ill and so on and so on until it assumes gigantic proportions as it has, as I write this.

Further, some of these diseases were mainly transmitted though close contact such as Ebola that spread through close contact and bodily fluids and reportedly most contagious towards the end of the disease. Even though the SARS pandemic spread in ways similar to the novel corona pandemic that we are witnessing, infected persons with symptoms were contagious and the symptoms were severe enabling better detection, it seems.

There are of course other factors such has how aware people are and what hygiene practices they follow, medical resources at hand, effectiveness of commercially available drugs and how fast a cure becomes available.

But underlying all this, as we have come to see, is the common man’s attitude. What becomes actionable and most significant to someone is an extremely broad question. More often than not, it is whether something has a personal impact and translates to a personal experience. Unfortunately, many a time it is personal stories of a tragic nature that implore us to act with caution. Many a times, it maybe late. If we are lucky, we may just learn our lesson in time. Take for instance the symptoms with the COVID-19. It does not affect all of us in a similar way in the way it would affect specific groups that are more pre-disposed or susceptible. And therefore, when there was an outbreak and we knew how the disease is transmitted quite early on, there were still dinner gatherings, group jokes in the local pubs and crowded trains to cities. It felt distant. Like the other epidemics and pandemics had earlier felt to me. It felt like something that would happen to someone else somewhere else, most probably someone who was weaker or older.

No doubt, we warned our parents and grandparents, told everyone we loved, to take care. But it hadn’t hit us as we continued to take the trains to work with a sanitiser in our bag. It is a different story about how the sanitisers and every item that had the phrase “anti-bacterial” disappeared from the shelves including baby wipes. We felt we were doing what we could without realising what we had overlooked. Standing to stop and think seemed like the last thing on our mind. Because, it swept us off our feet even when we could see it coming.

But we learn. Sometimes, the learning comes at the cost of several lives. Ironically, it imprints an unforgettable lesson that will live with us. And, we learn. Some of us learn fast, some of us take longer and sometimes at the cost of something more. But the thing to remember is this: we are as strong as the weak and there we are are fast as the slowest.

But we learn and remember. After all that is what we, as a race, pride ourselves on. I just hope we do it sooner and soon enough. For this is not the first and this will definitely not be the last as nature finds her balance.

In the process, I have witnessed several stories. I have been part of some and written some of of my own. I pause to reflect more, it seems. I seem to feel more fearless in the fearful times as I realise how inconsequential some worries are. I pray for all as I pray for my family. I remind myself we are as strong as each other. I feel an unparalleled joy at the goodness of human faith when I see it. I feel a certain pride when I do something right without fear. I feel an incredible shame as I watch our selfishness. I resign to my fate as I approach a new day with no knowledge. Join me as I walk through my life and times during COVID 19.

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.

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.