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Thriving Mindfully

Category: Friendship (Page 1 of 3)

Who is a friend?

‘Oh no, not again!’ I hear my little five-year old neighbour shout out in anguish.

I don’t need to peep out of the window to know what’s spoiling her evening. I’ve seen her grow into the angel she is. I know each inflection, every giggle, every whimper of her animated self.

I go to my backyard and get a long bamboo stick. I open the front door, and she’s already there, waiting for me.

She needn’t speak.

I prop up the stick and reach for the shuttle-cock stuck on the flower-studded Champa tree by the street. After some poking in the lush canopy, the florescent shuttle cock falls down in tandem with the little girl’s squeal.

She is back at play with her mother on the street. Her reclusive mom wonders about this telepathic understanding between her daughter and me.

While at play I hear her tell her mother,

‘I told you. He will come to help. He is my friend!’

And that gets me wondering too.
When did we become friends?
What does it mean to be a friend anyway?

Soon, I realised the most sincere of definitions of a friend.

‘A friend is someone who cares about something with the same love and passion as you do.’

Think about it.

The interruption in play from the stuck shuttle cock is as much a matter of concern for the little girl as it is to me. We both care about the continuance of childlike play.

And I come out to help.

And we are friends!

We both find it inconceivable to not dance in the first shower of rain.
We care about the experience equally.
And we are friends.
Without ever needing to say a word.

A childhood friend cares about you almost to the same degree as you care about yourself.
Your emotion for them is exactly the same.
There’s an element of truth in that relentless reciprocity.

This mirrored magic of caring is what sustains childhood friendships for a lifetime.

If you make a friend later in life, chances are you are interested in similar things. You care about the similar political and philosophical ideas. You are passionate about the same thing in some manner.
Or you make something with them in some work context. And that leads you to care about a common idea or product or art.

The hours spent together, help coalesce your conceptions of friendship and soon, you start opening up to each other.

All friendship is a measure of how much we care about the same thing.
All brotherhood is a deed in trust.

Sometimes going out in search of friends doesn’t help.

All one can do is open up to care.
Care for someone, or something, or an idea with deep passion.
And let a friendship manifest around that commonality of care.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a friend.

Sometimes all you have to do, is to make the stuck shuttle cock fall down from a tree.

Once you’ve done that enough times, a little girl might call you a friend.

Is there an honour bigger than that?

With that thought, I wish you a happy friendship day!

The Aquarium

Seven floors up in the sky, tied between two unfinished columns, a saree swayed gently with a toddler as its guest. A 2-month-old baby slept in sublime peace in the makeshift swing, as if convinced that when he opens his eyes, his home would finally be ready.

But for his father Bala, who pours concrete for most of the day at the construction site, there is no place called home. He only knows floors. Last month he and his family lived on the 5th floor of the skyscraper to be. Once the floor was in place, they moved to the 6th floor with a few fellow labourers. And just yesterday, they’d moved to the 7th floor, their new address until the concrete sets, and it’s time to move again. He’d made peace with the idea that the people who build houses for others may never live in a house of their own.

A thin layer of cement covered the life of his family. The few belongings that they had –  a tin suitcase, some aluminium pots and pans, a broken mirror and a few drab clothes – spoke of the grey monotony of their life.

That day, as Bala was pouring water on the beams of concrete for curing, his wife Suparna filled a potful of water from the hose and told her man smilingly,

‘I am making something special for tonight’s dinner.’

Accha? Why so?’ he asked.

‘It is a special day, that’s why!’ she said a little loudly to be heard above the rattle of the water pump.

That left Bala wondering if the spike in decibel level in his wife’s reply signalled an impending tussle.

‘Is it her birthday today? What else could be special for a woman!’ he thought.

He got back to work, hoping to get off duty when the siren went off at 5 p.m. at the mill nearby. The contractor was away for the day, and he thought, if he finished the work earlier than expected, he could wrestle out some moments of rest from a painful and inhuman work schedule.

With the parting sun, the warm gusts of air changed to a cool breeze as the evening gradually set in.

Once Bala was done with pouring water over the concrete casts, he shut the water pump and called it a day in his mind.

However, how much of the day was yet to unfold was beyond his imagination.

He sat on a bamboo scaffold resting on the outer wall of the building and watched the sun sink slowly.

‘It is her birthday and I have nothing to share with her. How could I forget? But how can I be expected to remember that. It’s her first birthday since we got married!’

Wondering thus, he looked at the clear blue sky to find eagles circling far above, as if hovering over their prey. A languid lake shimmered at a distance. The view from the unfinished 7th floor was remarkable indeed. He wondered if his village at the outskirts of the city would be visible from the 25th floor once the building construction is finished. And with that thought, came a longing to live as simply as he used to, in the village. But that was an illegitimate dream in the eyes of society.

To cloud his happy memories of the village, he lit a beedi. As the spent matchstick sailed down, he looked down through the slots on the bamboo scaffolding to follow its trail.

Once he lost track of the matchstick, his eyes slowly regained focus. Down below, he saw a huge safety net tied all around the building on the 4th floor. This fairly new safety feature reminded him of his friend Pradhan, who had to fall from the 4th  floor while at work a few months ago to ensure that the contractor paid an iota of attention towards worker safety. Pradhaan succumbed to the accidental fall, leaving Bala alone, for the first time since they’d known each other. A fall, a splat, and 20 years of friendship, gone with the wind.

The lake at the distance and the safety net underneath reminded Bala of childhood days, when he and Pradhaan would catch fish at the village pond.

He remembered what Pradhaan used to say on days when they could only catch a few small fish in their net. While Bala would get frustrated, Pradhaan would always say,

‘Bala! Be happy with what we have. Let the few fish caught in the net become the dinner. The fish that escaped the net, deserve their life.’

And that would comfort Bala on a bad day at fishing. And those few fish would always taste good when smoked on a fire and shared with his closest friend, the ever-optimistic Pradhaan.

Wondering about the idyllic time with his late friend, he fell asleep on the bamboo scaffolding. Floating in the ocean on memories, he smiled and turned gently to his right. With that move, his body lost contact with the scaffold and he fell through the air, three floors down, where a huge safety net cushioned his fall.

The last thing he heard before losing consciousness was the collective cry of his fellow workers all around.

A few hours later, he woke up to the yelling of the contractor. He’d been unconscious for some time now. His fall had forced the contractor to rush back to the site in the evening. The cherubic contractor weighed as much as Bala’s entire family. The contractor’s head was as bald as the eagles’ that hovered in the sky. The 7th-floor inhabitants were fretting from the rousing reprimand of the contractor. 

Bala faked a drowsy state for a while to dissuade his employer from shouting anymore. As he showed signs of recovery, the contractor felt relieved that Bala was not going to die. Another casualty on site was the last thing he wanted.

Entrusting Bala’s well-being to his floor-mates and his wife, Suparna, the contractor left the site hurriedly, as if fleeing from a crime scene.

Things began to settle down at the village in the sky.

Still feeling a bit disoriented, Bala tried to remember what had happened to him.

It was late in the evening. The son cried from the rocking swing, as if complaining, ‘Why isn’t my house ready yet?’ Suparna pacified her son with loving affection.

Meanwhile, Bala remembered what he was thinking about just before he fell. He was remembering Pradhaan’s consolatory words after an unsuccessful day at fishing…

‘Bala! Let the few fish caught in the net become the dinner. The fish that escaped the net, deserve their life.’

As he woke up gradually, an ironic smile surfaced on his face. Looking up at the sky, he whispered gently to his deceased friend,

Pradhaan,
I am the fish who got caught in the net. And you are the fish who managed to escape!’

Suparna left the dinner pot simmering and rushed to check on Bala. He was wide awake now.

‘Don’t breathe a word. Dinner is ready. Let’s just eat together’ she said.

‘Ah, what’s for dinner?’ he asked.

Maccher-jhol (Fish Curry)’ she said softly, with a touch of affection.

Bala gulped.

The smell of the fish stew permeated each crevice on the unfinished 7th floor of ‘Aquarium high-rise residency.’

The brotherhood of colours

Once, the colours in the palette entered into a fight
Arguing who among them held dominion over light

Each colour was busy singing its own praises
They came forward one by one to present their cases

The Vainglorious Violet was dressed in its regal pride
He was drunk in his glory, haughty in every stride

Said Indian Indigo, hail ! I colour the scrolls with ink
I’m the blood of books, Every pen’s favourite drink

Said Bubbling Blue, I colour the sky and all the depths marine
I am cool and composed, comforting and serene

Said Glorious Green, look around, I am half of the Earth’s hood
Without me, there won’t be any forests or food

Said Yelping Yellow, of golden ancestry, I am second to none
I drape the world every day with the light of the sun

Said an Ordained Orange, I am the colour of every higher pursuit
Am I not the only colour that’s also a fruit?

Said Raging Red, ‘Stop the Quarrel !’ with all its might
It flashed the danger light to put an end to the fight

‘Who’s the best colour of them all?’ they had to find a solution
The colours entered the ‘prism of peace’ to find a resolution

Tranquil was the arena, from the prism as they emerged
They blended as one light, in harmony they merged

Awestruck they wondered if they’d lost their traits respective
As they joined hands and entered another ‘prism of perspective’

And slowly, from the inverted prism, as they made their way out
The arena dazzled in the light of a brilliant rainbow spout!

And nobody cared finally, which colour had won
As colours joined hands cherishing the spirit of being one !

Silence is the witness

That day,

When you looked into my eyes
There was no need to speak,
The silence affirmed,
To our love so blind.

But today,

Our eyes don’t meet,
Over years, love grows weak,
And we are led apart by a silence,
Of a different kind.

 

———

Photo : Hose Chamoli via Unsplash

 

Lola and the River

In summertime, the river is a channel narrow,
A trickle, it flows, as if in deep sorrow

And even though the river bank turns into a desert,
The river remains a friend she would never ever desert.

In monsoon, it floods, as clouds cry a river,
It flows with a fury, she hadn’t seen ever

And even though for safety, she has to run away,
For the river, she would kneel down and silently pray.

In winter, the river freezes to ice,
It’s a miracle of nature, a superb surprise,

From her warm company and the songs she would sing,
The ice melted slowly, to the arrival of spring.

In springtime the river has a gentle flow,
She’s ecstatic and so is her water buffalo

And nature responds to her love and deep wish
The river is full of flowers and fish.

Seasons change but to the river she is always nice,
Her life is a sign, a subtle advice,

For Little Lola she knew,
A truth simple,
That people are rivers,
And rivers are people.

Image : Delphi De La Rua via Unsplash

 

An Invitation to Childhood

It was the early hours of the evening. I was seated on a comfortable chair, writing. Somehow this setting reminded me of my school days. Since I don’t write so much with pens and pencils these days, writing on paper took me back in time in a way.

The parting sun lit up my room in a particularly reminiscent hue. One that reminded me that I used be itching to go outside the house to play with my friends as a child at this time in the evening.

Then, all of sudden, I heard an evocative shout.

‘Did someone call out my name from the street outside my house?’ I wondered.

I looked out from the window with hope.

It was the ghost of my past.
He looked into my eyes lovingly and spoke,

‘Remember how you used to sit next to this window sill, waiting to hear your friends call out your name to play cricket in the evening?
Remember those inviting shouts that was once music to your ears?

And do you remember how over years, calls got more sophisticated? How the shouting was replaced by a short high pitched whistle, a clap in a familiar cadence, just to keep all questionable sneaking out discreet?

The sound of the screeching footsteps of a friend, suggesting his arrival from afar, and towards the end of teenage, the gasps of an old handed down Kinetic Honda, which you crashed into a lamppost on your friend’s birthday?
You must at least remember how you’d listen for your childhood crush’s voice that would filter through the songs of sparrows in the park?

Do you remember these sounds, my old friend?’ asked the harmless ghost.
His gentle whisper echoed in my heart all night long.

In that moment, I realised how deprived of these sounds my life had become.
These days, a friend would usually text me from outside my house or place a phone call. The hollering has disappeared.

Earphones keep me distanced from all those sounds my ears were so trained to decipher. My ears long for the high pitched blip of an Instant messenger notification, not for the dying horn of an old Kinetic Honda.

And in all these years, the battle of bandwidths has attenuated the life out of a little sparrow, the background music of my childhood.
As with the sparrow, the sounds of my childhood are also facing extinction.

Maybe, the next time I visit a friend, I am going to shout out for him, just how I used to back in the day.
Maybe, he will come out with a smile laced with surprise, and I’ll smile back, with an invitation back to where we belong.

I long for the release in that holler.
And maybe, in that act, a sparrow would find hope to resurrect, and bring back life and song to my silent little world.

 

 

Are you being a true friend?

The internet tells me I have more than a 1000 friends in the online ecosystem.
There’s a good chance that you share a similar story.

But how does one get to know who their real friends are? Not just among the friends in the online space, but also in their physical world?

I feel there is way to find the answer.
And the answer is in the questions they ask you.

Even if we have been friends with someone for a while, we can spend years not going beyond the same old questions-

How are you?’
‘What’s happening?’
‘How’s work?’

You know the list !

But amid the cacophony of the same old peripheral questions, there will be a friend who’s questions will pierce straight through your heart.

He’ll ask questions that compel you to come up with answers you already have, to questions you don’t.

What is your dream?’
‘What do you fear?’
‘Are you happy?’
‘Can I help?’

These are simple questions,
and they must be attended to.

These questions can only emanate from the heart of a true friend.

Who is a true friend you’d ask.

In my opinion, a true friend is someone to whom your growth matters just as much as their own.

You can be friends with hundreds of people, but if you want to be a true friend to a chosen few, you must ask these questions to them.

And time and again, in the interest of fostering meaningful growth,
To form a deeper personal bond,
One must ask these questions,
To himself.

So,
As a good friend,
May I ask,

‘What’s your dream?’
‘And what’s holding you back?’

And, coming back to the question,
Who’s a true friend?

The answer is in the questions they ask you.

I hope you find a friend in me,
A friend in you.

 

 

The song of an old Denim

At last, the surprise I’d been longing for years
Elated, I find, myself in tears

The surprise of light and warmth such
Of daylight and a Human’s touch.

I’m a denim, a pair of jeans old
Left years ago in a closet cold

Had I known back then, I would shout
That maybe I would never make it out

But today we meet, and I rest in your palm
And I lead you drifting into an ocean calm

Of reveries and memories from an innocent space
That was left behind with your life’s pace.

I’m blue, patched up, tattered with a bloodstain
I remind you of times of frolic and pain

Nestled safely in each warp and weft
Are stories of how you laughed and wept

Remember how casually you’d check a pocket slot
And in an old crumpled note find a Jackpot?

I’m not a mirror, I show much beyond what can be seen,
Perhaps in disguise, I am the fabled time machine.

And now we’re old, but that’s no reason to be sad,
I’m a friend, a reminder of all friends you’ve ever had.

I am dated fashion, but timeless memories I hold
Could I, for any price, ever be sold?

We do share a longing, as much as it’s pure,
You can’t wear me, and I don’t fit you anymore.

But it’s time to part ways, lay me in the closet again
Come back to me as you feel, the memories I shall forever contain…

And from an ocean of Nostalgia, I summon a tear ripe,
You hold me close and your eyes you wipe

And in that moistness,
In my dark enclosure,
I fall asleep again,
To this emotional closure.

What a half marathon taught me about cultivating lasting friendships

It’s a matter of great privilege to have an enduring friendship. Even more so, when you can still do things together with the same friends who you grew up with.

I feel fortunate on that regard. I still have my childhood friends around who are proactive and find ways to do things together.

Recently, two of my friends and I decided to participate in a running event. One of them and myself were participating in a half marathon and the other hand chosen a 10 kilometer run.

I was apprehensive about my ability to run such a long distance, as were my friends, but since we were all in the challenge together, it made things easier on some level.

But there was one hang up we faced four days before the run. My friends had already registered for the event and I, because of my indecision and procrastination, hadn’t enrolled yet.
On checking the website, we came to know that the event was sold out and I couldn’t officially be part of the run.

It was a bit disappointing to us all.
We wanted to do this together.
But fate seemed to have other plans.

So did I.

The night before the run, I told my friends that I was going to run as well. I would run from home at the same time they start at the official start line, and run the half marathon distance as planned. So even if I would not be running on the same path as them, I would be running at the same time on the streets of the same city.
They happily agreed to the idea.

At 5:30 am the next morning, we all started to run together, on our own paths, in our own realities.
I ran about alone in the city with an app on my phone telling me about my progress with each kilometer.

Once I was past my 7 km mark, I took a turn on the road that coincided with the official race path!

I took a little detour and timed my run such that the distance I had covered coincided with that of other participants at the 11km mark on the racetrack.

And once I reached the 11km mark, I was on par with other runners on the official path to the finish line.

That felt magical, to be running on the official track out of pure chance!

Having other runners run alongside helped me with pushing myself in the later half of the race. I didn’t have a bib number attached on my chest as others but I was a runner just the same.

At the 17 kilometer mark, I saw a runner from behind who I could recognise anyday out of a huge crowd.

It was my friend !

He seemed to be having some trouble during the run. He looked tired and was walking for a brief stretch.

But I believed he could do much better. I breezed past him on the track and patted him on the back.
The surprise of finding me on the official racetrack filled him with great joy.
A sudden rush of energy took over him.

From that point on, he raced onward with all his might running past me within a kilometer.

I was happy to see him go full throttle as he blended in with other runners beyond my sight.

Eventually, we ended the race at the official finishing spot, relishing each other’s achievement and the togetherness that came along with it.

In that moment of celebration past the finish line, I also found a great lesson about friendship and the paths we take in our life.

In life, past a certain age, all our friends take different paths in our lives. Part of it is voluntary and a part out of pure chance.
And often, we feel distant and disillusioned by the notion of an enduring friendship.

But we need to realise that at some point in our lives, our path will diverge from the ones each of our friends take.

We still need to keep running on our own paths, forever trusting in our self and the connection we share with people who we believe in.

At some point, sooner or later, our paths will coincide, for all path lead to the same end, if followed with courage and complete honesty.

We all have to, at our own pace, persevere, and keep on running on our own path with faith that’s complete and unwavering.

And if we tread the path of our own choosing in our lives and go all the way,
We are bound to find the confluence we’ve always longed for,
With the people we have always loved.

So, is there a reason to feel sad when our paths diverge with that of the people we love?

No.

As long as they are true in their heart for their pursuit and you are in your own,
And you both persevere,
You will always find each other when your paths meet,
Forever happy with each other’s growth.

Tread with faith
And persevere.
The friendship will endure.

It’s only a matter of time.

What I learnt about brotherhood after having a Nepali Thali

It was my maiden visit to Kathmandu, Nepal.
My country India and Nepal share a common history, ancestry, culture and religion with each other,
ties that can be traced back to many millennia.

So, I wasn’t much surprised when I found as much a sense of familiarity as a deep sense of novelty with Nepal at first glance. The people dressed the same as Indians did, the vehicles on the road were the same as back home and so was the nonchalant acceptance of chaos on the streets.
Even the shops had much of their stock imported from India.
Much to my surprise, I could even use Indian currency to shop in Nepal.
In many senses, Nepal felt like a younger brother to India.

To me, the most lasting cultural experience in a new country is the culinary delights it has to offer. Walking unsuspectingly along a backpackers’ ghetto, I looked around for signs of authentic Nepali cuisine.
I spotted a restaurant where locals were having their afternoon meal. Its warm and inviting energy beckoned me in.

The first dish on the menu was Nepali Khana Set Thali. Without another thought, I placed an order for one.

Within minutes, I had Thali (Plate) on my table.
The Thali was made of a copper alloy, with a couple of small bowls arranged on the side.
The contents looked quite similar to a Thali back in India.
A dollop of steaming hot rice, a bowlful of Dal (Lentil soup), a curry of potatoes and peas, a green spinach stir fry, a dried leafy fermented vegetable preparation, three different pickles and a token salad of one slice each of carrot, radish and cucumber.

By the looks of it, I was expecting a much similar taste as that of a regular Indian meal.
But boy was I wrong !
Each subsequent bite only took me by delightful surprise.

The rice was pearly and mildly sticky, cooked to perfection, tasty even just by itself. The dal was a perfect masquerade, looking every bit like the India dal but having a teasingly peculiar flavor, spiced delicately but by no means spicy.
The potatoes and peas, blended easily with whatever else you chose to eat it with.
The greens were cooked just right, minimally, with the right amount of water retained to keep it succulent. It was the perfect example of how to cook greens, right to the sweet spot.

I was particularly surprised by the fermented mustard leaf preparation called ‘Gundruk’, a flavor reminiscent of Punjabi Sarson da saag but tasting nothing like it.
Then, came the deal breaker trio of pickles. A spiced radish slice fermented just right and nuggets of soybean peppered with chilli and coriander.
As surprisingly flavorful as they were, the icing on the cake was the red achaar on the Thali.
At first I could not even tell what it was made of. Each time I tasted it, it whispered one of the ingredients to my tantalised toungue.
With a base of Nepali tomatoes, it had undertones of local chilli (khursani) , coriander , salt and the soul of Nepal in some way. It had a tangy yet citrus aftertaste, a heavenly blend of ingredients.

Each morsel of the meal had such personality, it felt as if I was having an intimate meeting Nepal with each bite.
Ofcourse, I asked for second portions of each dish and ate as avidly as the first time.

Satiated with this surprise of an experience, with a loosened belt, I sat back wondering..

It is likely that many of the ingredients in this Thaali were imported from India. Yet, each and every dish, can stand on its own,
working together to create an experience even better than the sum of its parts.

In a way, my preconceived notion about Nepal was proven to be wrong within the first few hours.

It was quite akin to the experience of brotherhood.
An elder brother undoubtedly has a deep influence on his younger sibling. And sometimes it is taken for granted by the elder one how his younger brother would imitate much of what he does.
Being a younger brother in real life, I have been through this imitation game.
Hence, I could understand why I expected a Nepal Thali (Say younger brother) would be quite similar to the character of the Indian Thali (Elder sibling).

But it is a moment of great pride to realise how a younger brother has its own individual voice, despite the common background and upbringing.

Through this culinary experience, despite being the younger sibling in my family,
I could feel the elation of an elder sibling when he realises that his younger brother has always had such a distinct and pleasing character.
Much of it has also to do with my lack of exposure and awareness about the Nepali cuisine and culture.

But now,
My respect and admiration for Nepali culture has found firm ground in my heart.

I see the Thali in front of me at the moment. I finished everything on the plate but the salad.
Neatly arranged still,
There are three slices of Carrot, Radish and Cucumber,
Shades of orange, white and green,
Reminding me of the Indian flag, feebly hinting at our common culture despite our distinct geopolitical reality.

I smile.
And deep in my heart,
I know I will have many more Nepali Thalis to relish this unique experience,
Of the perfect blend of
familiarity and novelty.

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