Posted in Family, Gratitude, Life, Loss, People, Uncategorized

End of an era

My paternal patti, Andu patti as we called her, passed away yesterday afternoon. This week she would have turned 88 years old.

Some memories are more vivid than others. The early part of my childhood is rich with memories of my thatha and patti. As an infant, I grew up under their care in Bombay, which I don’t have a recollection of. My earliest memories of them are from when we were in Madras during my childhood years. I remember tagging along with patti wherever she went – visiting extended families, going on hospital visits, sleeping overnight in kalyana chathram, going to Bombay to visit my chithappa, and staying in my athai’s house. I remember the identical pedal pushers (I think that’s what it was called, a cross between capris and jumpsuit) she stitched for my cousin and me. I remember building parks and zoos while setting up golus. I remember her fascination for gymnastics and dance.

My grandparents went to the US for sometime to stay with my chithappa and family. I remember looking forward to letters from thatha and patti. I also remember the stories patti would narrate after her trip – the clean roads and the speed limits. She would write stories from I Love Lucy show in a notebook so she could narrate it to us. She learnt to make French braids from the shows she watched in the US and would practice it on me.

The year before I got married, Sathya and I stayed in my chithappa’s house with my grandparents, chithappa, chithi and cousins. My patti’s sari for my wedding matched with mine. I remember how deftly she would wash and dry her 9 yards sari. I remember the joy she would take in making and distributing bakshanam. She sewed her own blouse for the longest time. Making herself useful to others was very important to her. She was the eldest daughter in her family and the eldest daughter-in-law in the family she married into. She was the matriarch in our very patriarchal family. She has touched so many lives, in small ways and big.

The last few years of her life was very rough on her. She was resilient, bouncing back from hip surgery and several falls. If physically taking care of her was hard, seeing her deteriorate physically and mentally was several times more painful. She did her best to stretch her time here.

A shout out to my parents for taking care of my patti with dignity and to the best of their abilities. Their lives have revolved around patti for the past few years and for the past several months they cared for her like an infant, anticipating her needs and tending to her. Her life came to a full circle, right in front of our eyes.

Patti, we miss you. I feel fortunate to have had all that time with you and thatha. For all the love you showered on us. We love you in loads and will keep you in our hearts forever. Rest in peace.

Posted in Experiences, People

Democracy

I have been very fortunate to have seen democracy work at close quarters.

Last year, my part of the town was at risk of being redistricted from elementary school perspective (that is instead of going to our home school, part of the incoming kindergartners were assigned to a different school). The neighborhood came together, brainstormed strategies to oppose the proposal and showed up at town meetings to voice our dissent. While I can’t claim to have played an active role, just being their passively was an eye opening experience. I learnt some valuable lessons that night as we high fived each other for making our voices heard – every single person counts in a democracy, never underestimate the power of your voice, and there is magic in numbers.

Tomorrow, it is election day in my town. We will be electing our Selectman, and School Committee members, amongst other positions. My next door neighbor and a good friend is contesting for school committee position because she believes that true change begins at grassroot levels. I second that, I second her, and it has been a privilege to support her in small ways. After seeing my neighbor work for the contest, I have a newfound respect for these elected officials, who  take these positions for the love of the town and to influence policies and decision making. These are voluntary positions that involve significant time commitment. So next time you meet these elected officials, remember to say a Thank You. They are working hard to make our voices heard, that’s the least we can do. 

Posted in Experiences, Gratitude, Inspiration, Introspection, Life, People, seasons, Us

Free spirited

New Year’s day was sunnier and warmer than one would expect at this time of the year in this part of the world. So we picked our lethargic selves, and did something that we always wish we did more of – go to the city!  

Chillier than we had expected, the place was teeming with life and the new year spirit. We walked briskly as the kids played tag, sighted some ice sculptures that were slowly melting away, and then caught this street performer in action.  one-man-band

When I first say him, the term free spirited came to mind. There was something about him that said that he was doing this act for more than sustenance. He had random contraptions and knick knacks on his head, tied to his legs, and his hands. He was a one man band with a website! He sang the Beatles and even invited volunteers from the audience to join him.

Intrigued, I came home and googled him. This avid traveler was making music, and believed that the energy from the music created peace waves that free trouble spots in the world. The cynic in me rolled my eyes and thought it was bit of a stretch. Peace waves? trouble spots? really? But then it dawned on me – there is so much panic, cynicism, hatred and terror out there. Here is someone, who knows what his heart is after, has the courage to pursue it and in the process believes that he is making a difference in the world.

Selfishly I say,  more power and success to this one man band. We all could use some peace waves and free spirit in our lives, don’t you think?

Posted in People, Wishes

Celebrating one-of-a-kind person

Today is Da’s sister’s birthday. Aaru (I am calling her Aaru in this space) is one of a kind. She is smart, compassionate, fun loving and people oriented. Aaru and Da share a very special sibling relationship, one that is devoid of expectations and is defined by utter trust in each other. She accepts and embraces her reality but never lets them define her. The past decade and a half I have known her, not once has she made a rude remark about anyone. With her smile and people loving nature, she puts everyone around her at ease. She is an everyday Santa who indulges her kids and nephews.

Happy B’day Aaru, may you be filled with the finest things in life, now and always! You are a blessing that I truly am thankful for.

Posted in Introspection, People

Lightness

The message on whatsapp followed by the prayer hands emoji cracked me up. There is a certain lightness to the friendship with this person because it is still  in its early stages, unadulterated by expectations, judgments and a sense of entitlement.  As a result, there is enough space for each of us to just be.

How nice would it be if I extended the same lightness to relationships that are close to my heart?! Isn’t that the ultimate gift that one can give to a person that is close to one’s heart – the freedom to be who they are, no strings attached!

Posted in Humor, People

A painting

My dad had sent this picture as a forward more than a year back. While I am not a big fan of forwards, this one stood out. This picture came with the following text, “Shri Shilpi A Child Being forcefully Made To Drink Castor Oil.” I cast a wide net in google, but did not uncover any additional information or pictures by this artist.

I fell in love with the myriad expressions in this drawing. There are 11 family members spanning three generations. Having seen and done this several times in their life span, the thatha and patti are very laid back. No need to get all worked up, they seem to have tricks up their sleeves. The appa and amma are tired of all this drama, bursting with impatience, this is another chore that needs to be ticked off in their list. Now gulp that spoon of castor oil, will you? While the anna seems to be empathetic, the akka sure is apathetic – what’s the big deal, if I drank it when I was your age, why can’t you? The kutti pattalam is dreading it all, knowing really well that they are next in line – ayoo! not us, not today, please, pretty please! Check out the tiniest tot of all, hiding behind her grandpa quiet as a mouse – I have a feeling that this child will get away from the ordeal…!

castor oil

Posted in Life, People

On people gazing

A friend had written about people gazing on her FaceBook page with stories she weaves around them. Most days I am busy lost in my own world, but here is a people gazing story that is close to my heart.

Most days after seeing the kids off to school as I return home (on days that I work from home), I see two elderly women going on their morning walk. They stop every once in a while, pointing to a house, waving at a passersby, chatting away non-stop, and generally maintaining a jaunty demeanor. I find this sight endearing and think to myself – what a nice thing to have in that age and phase of life – a friend you grow old with and a routine for yourself. So secure and adequate in the knowledge of who they are, with what they have, aging gracefully..!

I know nothing about them. But that’s the story I like to weave around them and wish for myself. Every age and phase of life has its own beauty, we just need to open our eyes,and notice it.

Posted in Inspiration, Introspection, Learnings, Life, People

Work ethics

I had to convince myself a lot before we started hiring cleaners. It felt wrong that someone else was cleaning up the mess we created, and I have chided myself for taking the easy way out. But I am glad we made the switch as it has freed up so much of my time to do things that are close to my heart. In the process if someone is benefiting, then why not? May be there is no need to get all righteous about it.

The Brazilian who currently cleans my house every other week is my all time favorite. I don’t like to micromanage her. If I have to spend time hovering over the work of someone, why not do it myself? While the earlier cleaners have taken advantage of this attitude, she works with integrity. It is important to her that she does her job well.  She is one of the hard working persons I have ever met. She works on three to four jobs, waking up at odd hours, carrying the weight of having to support her family back home on her shoulders. But you know what I like the most when she comes – she hums her favorite numbers when she cleans!

That she is doing what it takes to keep her life going inspires me to no end.

Posted in Inspiration, Learnings, Life, People

HONY, a.k.a, Humans of New York

Fired from his job as a bond trader, Brandon Stanton set out with a camera in hand, passion in his heart, and a vague idea in his head. One thing lead to another, and culminated into HONY, a photo blog that documents anecdotes from people on the streets of New York. Brandon has this amazing ability to approach random people, strike a conversation and have them share some of their profound and vulnerable moments in their life – what inspires them? what was the saddest moment of their life? what are their dreams? so on and so forth. He records these conversations as is with the consent of his subjects. Each picture tells a story, brings a perspective, and sheds light on the breadth and depth of human spirit. Thanks to FaceBook, Brandon’s seed of an idea has taken strong roots and blossomed into something bigger. Brandon Stanton has used the power of his blog to foster acts of kindness. He has recently published HONY as a book.

I am in awe of Brandon Stanton. The courage to go with his heart, the conviction that it will take him somewhere, the confidence that he can make it happen and the willingness to shape his idea as the journey progressed. Pretty awesome, huh?

Don’t take my word for it, go check out the blog for yourself. It’s a good place to get lost in…!

Posted in Experiences, Inspiration, Introspection, Learnings, Life, Little Moments, Memories, People

One of a kind experience

The second week of August this year goes down in the book of my life as a week of awesomeness! One that had me feeling incredibly blessed and in a state of bliss. Read on if you are interested in knowing why.

If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer, Dr.Chandrashekar needs no introduction. He is a legend who is known for his precision in executing nrittas. That he is second to none in the abhinaya aspect of the dance is something I witnessed firsthand.

My dance teacher organized a six-day workshop led by Chandrashekhar anna, as she affectionately and respectfully addresses him, during the summer. While I signed up for the workshop in the blink of an eye, come the day of workshop, I was a bundle of nerves – to be dancing for three hours every evening for the next five days? Really, what was I thinking? Not to mention how much of a strain the work life balance is going to be for Da this week. So on and so forth went the stories in my head.

For better or worse, a commitment is a commitment. So I had no choice, but to muster up the courage and show up the first evening. Believe it or not, that was all that was needed. The energy and the spirit of the class melted my apprehensions and nervousness into oblivion. It didn’t matter, whether you were good, better, or best. What counted was you participated, and gave it your personal best.

The classes began with a warm up. Anna took a adavu set, showed variations to it, played with the different permutation and combinations of the beats, and explained the nuances of executing the jathis. Following the warm up, he taught us two pieces over the course of the workshop – pushpanjali that extended to misra alarippu, and a small thillana dedicated to Dwaraka Krishna, which was also set to misram.

Apart from these dance items, he also shared with us bits of his choreographies and gave us a glimpse of what goes into the making of a dance item, which in my mind was the ultimate cherry on the cake! For instance, he showed how he used the four speeds of the first thattu adavu to portray the marching of an army. As the speed increased, it gave the sense that the army was marching closer. Then, he described how he would play with the shadows to come up with different ,mudras –the peacock transformed into a turkey with small change in the mudras. He also showed how he used the different kudhithu adavus and sarrikal advaus to depict street games of India. A fun item to watch as a rasika, but one that involved a lot of rigor and incorporating intricacies while choreographing. He showed us how he narrated Ramayana in passive voice, through the eyes of Sita. He also taught us how the adavu – thath thai thaa haa – is versatile. It is used in all dance forms – Bharthanatyam, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Kathakali, Mohinattam and others – with variations in stance and postures. He also explained how one can choreograph creatively for non-traditional topics such as the theory of evolution within the framework of the traditional dance form.

It was very challenging to keep up with the workshop given that my commitments at work left me with practically no time to practice at home. I drenched in the experience as much as I could, grabbing on to every word that fell out of anna’s mouth. Learning not only dance, but some of life’s valuable lessons as well. There is something to be said about the value of hard work and discipline. While talent and flair for dance helps, it is amazing how much one can achieve from sheer hard work, discipline, and mindful practice. Some pearls of wisdom from anna – keep your mind open to new styles without compromising yours, practice, practice and practice, increase your dance vocabulary, and constantly evaluate yourself as a dancer.

I will confess that there was part of me that wished that I was younger, and could grasp all the new pieces like a sponge. I was processing the items intellectually, that’s how my grown up mind absorbed it, instead of going with the flow with great elan. Thankfully, there was another part of me that wisely infused the much needed perspective – there was no reason why dancing should have continued to be part of my life. There was every reason to let this opportunity pass – too much going on at work, the kids need me, or for that matter I will not have the stamina to keep up. Da could have easily said that this is too ambitious for us as a family and that the day to day rhythm of our lives would go off beat. Instead, like always, and like everything else in life, he asked me to do it if that’s something I truly want to do.

As I write this post, I feel gratitude from the depths of my heart. For this opportunity. For being part of something extraordinary. And to have been in the company of greatness. To know what it takes. For all of life’s enablers – parents who nurtured the spark, fantastic gurus who took the spark to the next level, a supportive spouse and well adjusted kids, and finally the financial wherewithal that allowed and continues to allow me to pursue the art form.

I feel blessed that dancing has been such an integral part of my life, at different stages, with different intensities. And because of that I am a better person today!