The curious case of my rayban aviators

To say I love the aviators is an understatement. I have always wanted to own a pair since I watched Top Gun. See, like Tom Cruise right here. So good, right?

Top_Gun

So I began devising a way to get hold of one while growing up. Picture this anorexic girl, boy cut, hair dyed burgundy red, wanting a pair of aviators. My love for basketball added to the charm. And like that I turned 16, out of school and into college. A good time to get aviators, no?

Pester, pester parents. Try to come up with a good reason to get a pair. Manage to score decent enough marks in 12th and all, and I was gifted one. Voila! My first ever pair of aviators. *smack looking good*

Then we decided to do this family trip to Kumarakom, this nice canal town in South Kerala. It was a one day trip, mostly in the outdoors, so I decided to get my aviators along. We reached the town, went around a bit, had some nariyal paani, ate some avial and appam, and then went on a backwater cruise along the Vembanad lake. I had a tattered old camera, you know the one where you take photo and then give the film for developing, wait eternity to get prints, and put it in a photo album, that kind. It was bought when I was 10 years old, and so I was tottering around taking photos of the lake, the swarming coconut trees, the water birds and hyacinth. The boat ride got done, we exited and then I realized my aviators had gone missing. Oops. By now, we had left the boat behind and I began tracing my way back to it. I searched everywhere, behind the bushes, underneath the mat, inside the boat, couldn't find my aviators anywhere. My precious, 2 month old aviators, snatched away from me. Curse the person who found it and kept it.

Zoom in ten years later, imagine ten years without my baby. All I had for company was some crappy Rs. 50 sunglasses bought from commercial street or parklane. By now my stint in Hyderabad was over and I had moved to LA. Time to save up some money and buy aviators again, woohoo. So $100 was saved after about a couple of months and the aviators was bought. My own pair bought with my own money. Brilliant.

Then one day I was in a friend's car going to buy some groceries during an LA summer evening and the unspoken happened. I got out of the car, got home, and realized my glasses weren't with me. Omg, these aviators, these elusive, cunning, vile things. No glasses were found in the car, so I cried thinking it fell out of my bag/hand while getting in and out of the car. Woe be me.

Now comes the difficult question of whether to buy a new aviator or not. I decided against it, too much money, and too much stress thinking I'll lose it again.

A year goes by, uneventfully in terms of sunglasses. and then came a day when I had to move apartments (this calls for another post, altogether). Guess what? Amidst some old bags and piles of paper, miraculously and unceremoniously I find my aviators again! Oh, the joy! Yes, yes, you must be thinking how careless I am, I swear it wasn't there in that bag a year ago :) Pretty sure Santa came and hid it there on Thanksgiving.

For now, I hold on to my precious aviators like how I hold on to dear life. And sometimes, I wear more than one, because ahem, it is fun. Jai aviator!

p.s. Get one if you don't have one, they make you feel Maverick ;)

Meditative cooking

Throughout my childhood, my mother tried to instill in me a sense and need for meditation. I went through the rigamarole of taking yoga classes, going to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living courses, attending lectures on J.Krishnamurti's teachings, and a failed attempt at going to a G.D Goenka's 21 day Vipassana course, where all you could do was remain silent. These activities were mostly fun ways of keeping me occupied over the summer holidays. I never took up any of this in my later adult life, except the passing phrases of getting back in shape by doing yoga.

So, have I learnt anything about meditation from any of this? Probably not. Today, I meditate by a very simple everyday means- cooking. I can imagine most of you squealing at the thought of calling cooking a 'meditation'. For most people, it is far from being relaxing. A lot of people take it to be a burden, like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. You know, that thing you do on a daily basis just because you and your family have to eat. All the cutting, chopping, cleaning, washing vessels adds to the burden. For me and a countable bunch of people, cooking is highly meditative and relaxing. It is the one activity I turn to in order to get my mind away from the stress and strain of routine.

I let my mind wander as I chop the red onion into thin, long slices wiping tears off my cheeks, or cut Thai green chillies into pieces and accidentally snub my nose. Then, as I heat up the oil and grind some garlic, the mustard splutters up and distracts my wandering mind and naive thoughts. By now, I'm thinking of some new blogpost, forming ideas and thinking of new ways of looking at things. The spices go into the kadai and mix mellifluously with the gravy. Here, in the hot oil, every spice is rendered equal. A song has now crept into my mind and I'm humming or trying to get a gamaka in place. The vegetables now go in and it all begins to smell wonderful, the accompaniment to my melody. The birds chirping outside reminds me of the final garnishing, and I reach for the bottom rack of the fridge to bring out a fresh sprig of cilantro. The smell of fresh cilantro and what it does to my mind and senses, they dance in joy. By now, the thoughts have escaped to a world of their own, far away from my kitchen and the delicacy cooking on the stove. The cilantro goes on, I mix it all up and the dish is ready to be gobbled up.

This one hour of my day is the best one hour and sometimes even a very productive one, if I have been thinking of some piece of elusive data evading analysis. There are many poems, blog entries that have originated while I was making food. I think for me the principle is simple, learn to love what you do and it will love you back. Cooking is my passion, not an activity caused out of everyday, monotonic routine hood. If you love cooking, it will love you back.

Memory and choice

There are times when I grapple to find a specific memory, buried deep down within the corridors where memories are kept, I suppose, locked in perfect boxes, labelled, and stacked up on special racks, dated by years or maybe even decades. This doesn't happen too often, at least not on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is a musical piece you hear that triggers this sort of grappling. It needn't always be a musical piece, it could be a conversation, a random thought, the smell of cumin being fried, mustard seeds crackling, the voice of an old friend, or a tattered Pollock's print tucked away in a trunk under the bed. This then hurtles you back, phantasmagorically, into a realm of magical realism. Here, things are exactly the same as it was in your past memory. You can recreate the visuals to the minutest details. The table at the corner of the room, the lamp hanging above the tapestry, the cat rolled over his back in a happy baby pose, your angered friend pacing about the room, earnest and half mindful of her words. There is nothing to stop the memories rolling by, say as if the lock on one of those sealed boxes accidentally melted away. We have our favorite ones, not so favorite ones, and the ones we refuse to believe happened. One of my earliest memories, from my childhood, is eating chocolate pudding. I used to get back home from the nursery, I think I was 3, and Amma would give me this home made pudding. I can relive that memory, taste the pudding in my mouth, recollect the day vividly, the frock I was wearing, the details of the dining room, the color of Amma's sari. Then there are those not so favorite culinary memories, those from Hyderabad hostel days, especially the days when we used to be served "kundru sabji". We used to totter down to the mess hall and run straight back out to the Chinese fast food place next to campus, hog on some fried rice, chilli chicken and then, head to Sagar bhaiyya's store for some ice cream. Then, there are the one's that must not be named, little scandalous, little horrific, a lot of embarrassment. Those will forever remain locked, well hopefully.

Every time I dig down a memory, I can't help feel those memories are a result of a choice I made at a point in time in my past life. So, if I had continued to do my PhD in India, I wouldn't have any memories whatsoever of life in LA. This world simply ceases to exist. There are many intervals in time where I remember making a conscious decision to let go of something, or to follow a particular windy path. These choices make us who we are today. It was Amma's choice to make me chocolate pudding and not crème brûlée. It was my choice to hate kundru in the hostel mess and prefer Chinese instead. I can only wonder what alternate consequences, a reverse choice could have had. Maybe I could have chosen not to eat the chocolate pudding, or chosen to suck up and eat the kundru in the mess. Would these have altered my life significantly? Chaos theory says yes, stemming from a belief that nonlinear applications of mathematical systems gives rise to a whole which may be more or less than the sum of its parts. Thus, a chaotic system is totally unpredictable in its behavior. There are choices we need to make which seem trivial, such as choosing chocolate pudding, yet there are bigger choices we need to make, for example. my decision to leave 2 years of research work in India to pursue another 5+ years of doctoral work in LA. Life was uncertain at that point, who knew what could happen. I could make this big move to LA, absolutely hate living in this city, have a fall out with my adviser and be back to square one. Every choice is risky, has an uncertainty factor associated with it and the beauty of the unseen, the unknown, is so beckoning that it tempts you to make the choice, however, difficult it is. At that point in time when you choose a particular path, remember, there is no right or wrong, since the consequences of your actions will not reveal itself till years later, and you can only look back and wonder if you did make the right decision or choice.

This brings me to my discussion in an earlier post on possible worlds. By picking a particular route to action are you necessarily pushing away access to other possible worlds? Or, do they continue to exist parallelly, inhabiting different orbits and circling and just being. Maybe we have access to them all, because we do have the free will to alter our choice at any given time. Maybe they exist only as a figment of our imagination, you can see these alternate worlds but have no access to them because of the choice you made. And, maybe death is just one such alternate possible world, chosen by your fervor and your denial.  As Murakami says, memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.

Impermanence

I once took an ailing linguist in 2009 to an ATM machine to withdraw cash and he thanked me profusely for it. Of course, at that time I did not know he was ailing. He seemed fit as a fiddle, even though I saw him sleeping during a couple of talks at the conference. I wrote that off by thinking that is what people do at conferences anyway, doodle, dream, or sleep. He was one of our invited speakers. His talk was exceptional, the kind you want to listen to even though your specialization is not in his field of expertise, in this case, phonology and tonal theory. He spoke on aspiration in Nepali that day. He had accepted our invitation and visited us from Paris, his first visit to India. His walk was fragile, with a little tenderness as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He ate little, had no beverages during coffee breaks, and spoke very little.

He died six months later in Massachusetts, of cancer. Unceremoniously enough, since none of us knew at the conference about his physical frailness. I wonder what difference it would have made, if I had known about his illness? Would I have felt he was tired and had to take a nap because of his medicines, when I saw him sleeping at a talk? Would I have taken him in a car instead of an auto to the ATM machine? Maybe we could have been kinder in the harsh Hyderabad weather, or the city's busy-ness, made his stay a little warmer and more enjoyable. Maybe we could have provided better food, more bland, more healthy. Or maybe, just a little bit more love.

I cannot forget his immensely kind words of gratitude after I took him to the ATM machine, nor the warm mail he sent my professor thanking me again for having done so. It reminds me of the impermanence of things, of people. Imagery floating past me like the bustling landscape rolling by from a train window. The people we meet today may not be there tomorrow. People come into your lives and go out of it even faster. The things we cherish and hold close will become dust tomorrow. Nothingness covers your languid existence. Life then, like a stone, rolls on by year after year, centuries after centuries.

Purple jacarandas

photo (1)  

May is a beautiful month in Los Angeles. The weather begins to get warmer, the air becomes to clear up, and the purple jacaranda trees begin to bloom. All these other seasons, these trees were there, just there. Standing high, with their branches facing the prussian blue sky. Yet, they are noticed only when they bloom and those lightly fragrant, trumpet shaped purple jacarandas cover the path you walk everyday to work or to buy groceries.

cornucopia

of abundance they were sure,the city dwellers: the extending metaphors of sentience how well they implied, the plethora of this firmament. when in a corner of the street, sat an homeless man with his feet in a cardboard box to protect himself from the harsh elements, they strutted along peripatetically oblivious to his existence, peering queerly into their hand holding the device to unlock the key to the cosmos.

the man sits still noticing all the hurry-burry, the human drama unfolding right in front of his eyes, no tickets needed, this is a free show.

imminent is the reverse, when the plentiful horn empties its contents slowly disintegrating until there is nihil. the homeless man still sits still onlooking the drama, smiling, for his cornucopia is forever bounteous and satiated.

plaza de cervantes

The sun rays flashed across her face as she sat waiting in Plaza de Cervantes. Her movements were not hurried. She looked around in bold confidence, taking in the beautiful Spanish summer. A couple of sparrows hovered above the dahlias and the pigeons looking for a twig or two to build a home, flew over.She wasn't carrying a phone, or pretending to listen to music. Her act was one of pure, meditative sitting. No irritation reflected on her facial muscles. No sense of immediacy. I was seated on a bench, next to the rose bushes. I glanced up at the sun kissed sky, bright blue streaked with some cumulus nimbus. Somewhere under the same sky, far away, he must be thinking of me. I peaked a quick glance at her. She was laughing aloud and next to her stood a man, a lover. Her facial muscles were cringed at her mouth and her crow's feet. Happiness has no language, it transcends human pettiness and differences. It unites color and race. In four days, I will be reunited with the man I love and laugh aloud, just the way she did. Happy.