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Being REAL

’What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day. ’Does it mean having that buzz inside of you, and a stick-out handle?’

’REAL isn’t how you were made,’ said the Skin Horse. ’It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become REAL.’

’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

’Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ’When you are REAL, you don’t mind being hurt.’

’Does it happen all at once like being wound up,’ he asked, ’or bit by bit?’

’It doesn’t happen all at once.’ said the Skin Horse. ’You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… Once you are REAL, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’

– Margery Williams, “The Velveteen Rabbit

thaamb tai, kunkoo laavte…

thaamb tai, kunkoo laavte“, she said. And as we went through that simple ritual, and she took that pinch of vermillion to put on my forehead, our eyes met. In that one moment, all acknowledged. Our stories exchanged. Our histories interwove. The vermillion mark on our foreheads the testimony of millenia of standing together, shoulder to shoulder, leading the same lives, no matter where. In that one moment, I heard her… or was it me?

i am the mother
i nurture, i care
i am the crone
wisdom deep in my eyes
i am the daughter
i serve and cajole
the tired, hardened heart
i am the warrior
i fight to protect
the destiny of my children
i am the wife
who toils through the day
ensuring food
for everyone
i am the mate
in me rests the tranquility
of the home
i am the Earth
i bear the burden
i tolerate, i accept
all needless violence
unleashed upon me
i am the whore
i tease, please and satisfy
i am the goddess
all encompassing, forgiving
sita, laxmi, durga
all rolled in one
i am that kunkoo
that vermillion mark
with which all my identities
have been defined.

where am i then?
that frail human being?
not mother, not wife,
not daughter, not whore,
not warrior, not goddess…
but that just that frail being
who cries, who fears
who rages, who resents
who lusts, who yearns,
dreams, and desires…?
all of these
in that one pinch of destiny
burned and branded
on my forehead.

tomato musings…

As I bit into the tomato I knew I was not biting into just a tomato… not just into its crisp skin, or soft, sweetish, tangy pulp, its juices running over my fingers. I was biting into the fabric of relationships… between the sun that warmed it into ripeness, the wind the cooled the scorching heat, the soil that nourished it into fruition, the water that carried life into it and the farmer’s attention and effort to growing his tomatoes. I was ingesting an eco-system. And as I ate it and made it part of me, I inexplicably became part of it. And not just part of the eco-system, but part of the story of Wankute.

Wankute is a village high on the Pathars of the Deccan Plateau. Most people do not know it even exists. With rain just rushing away into the innumerable gullies, and waterfalls that crashed over the barren, plates of barren rock, Wankute, for years sat and watched the villages in the valleys… rich, flamboyant green… prosperous and food secure. Wankute struggled to make a bare living out of the black basalt rock, covered with a thin-skinned soil that refused to give of itself to the people.

Water. We take it for granted. Whether we are urban and have it running out of our taps; or rural having it running in the various streams. But for Wankute Water meant Life. It meant an incredible struggle for the women who trudged up and down steep slopes to fetch few pots of water from far, far, down below. Every day. It meant a battle with Nature for the farmers who tried to grow the few bagsful of Bajra – the only crop that agreed to survive in these harsh conditions. Every season. For the children, it meant growing up, often, without a complete family, as their parents went away, time and again, in search of work.

What did all this have to do with the tomato I was eating? The tomato was no ordinary tomato. It was from the bursting-with-life fields of Pokharkar, a farmer who grew truck-loads of a water-intensive tomato crop… who had a farm-pond bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Up on that Pathar. Up where no water would stay. It is then that the meaning of those miles and miles of lines across the hills seeped into my consciousness. It was those, those contour trenches, that now stopped the water. Held it. Fed it deep underground. From which now Pokharkar pumped out water to irrigate his tomato fields. The miles of black, drip-irrigation pipes that snaked over his land, bringing life-giving water to those juicy tomatoes.The thousands of tomatoes that he grew, telling and re-telling the story of Wankute to whoever cared to listen.

And along with the eco-system that I became part of eating that one tomato, Wankute, too, became part of me. And I became part of Wankute.

I knew and felt something deep inside me change forever.

on children

i have found children to be the greatest source of strength, clearest space of sanity, giving the strongest point of focus in dire and dark times. Perhaps that is the point of having families… they are a means of keeping one’s balance, a tool that support personal evolution. When the night has been dark and the morning impossible to get up to, there has always been one reason I have got up for – to feed the children. It may be because of this that women the world over find that space of strength to carry on no matter what… because every morning, no matter what, there are children to feed, animals who require attention and the old and ailing who require looking after. … and it is this, the simple act of putting one soul-foot in front of the other, that leads one out of the darkest spaces and times… and gives a certain purpose and sense of meaning to life.

…the countless times i have looked down at the rail tracks during the Timbaktu-Bangalore run… the gorgeous Gauribidannur valleys witnessing my temptation, need, desire and perhaps intention to jump have always been countered by the two innocent faces sitting obediently in their seats, trusting absolutely their on-the-edge-mother… and it was perhaps this trust and their complete lack of awareness at the chaos that could be unleashed with my one step into oblivion, that pulled me back every time… back to putting that one soul-foot in front of the other.

Children and animals. their complete, obliviousness to one’s state of heart-mind-soul, and their insistent demands is perhaps life’s way of giving us our lifelines – ropes, and toeholds to scale the often near-impossible cliffs of life… enables us to take the frail trails with courage and equanimity… and reach gratefully wherever life has intended us to reach.

Bonds and bonds

Later he would have wondered why she called him absentminded because he could never remember to bring her a gift on her birthday or their anniversary. She’s the one who forgot…..that he once told her he loved her“… reads one of Linda Goodman’s love signs.

Is that what happens to relationships? That we forget that we love our mate? That we forget the reasons why we loved and chose a life with the mate in the first place? That we had made promises to walk with one another through thick and thin? That we would tolerate each other’s weaknesses, as much as we admired one another’s strengths? That we forget to be kind and generous? That we forget their individuality, their needs and have begun to sacrifice one another for our own needs?

These thoughts reverberated in my mind. I had just come to know of R’s marriage breaking up… and he was quite broken-hearted. Couldn’t believe that their 15-year marriage had disintegrated. They had 2 beautiful children.

I don’t know what to think, when I hear of relationships not working out. Whether it is better to let go of a relationship that doesn’t work or whether to wait out the storm, make efforts to make it work. Do what it takes. It is a difficult choice. I don’t always advocate staying together. Especially in an abusive relationship – whether physical, emotional or psychological. But it is important to recognise the difference. I always find it very sad when two people who had embarked on a journey, with enthusiasm, commitment, affection and trust, find it intolerable to continue.

I myself had gone through a very, very close shave, once upon a time. Had walked out of my marriage with 2 small kids. Had thought my world had ended. Was angry as hell with my husband, with the world, with destiny. Never imagined that the relationship could ever be repaired.

But those 6-8 months of separation were an education for me. It gave me the space and time to examine, in depth, myself and my understanding of what that relationship meant, what I wanted out the relationship, what I was willing to put into the relationship. Vital questions.

I think one of the first things I learnt was to recognise the difference between anger and loss of love. I realised I was angry with my husband. Very, very angry. However, that did not mean necessarily mean I had stopped loving him.

The second lesson was that in the 10-12 years of the relationship, we had changed. So slowly that we hadn’t noticed. Our ‘values’ had changed, our priorities had changed. New rules had come into play without consensus and ‘winning’ had become more important that ‘being’.

The third thing was that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life without him.

In all this reflection I also realised that more important than reflection was self-reflection. That the only person I could change was myself. But before I could do this, I had to first understand myself, know where I was coming from, really get to know the root cause of my anger. That there was no point in putting the entire blame on him. That I was equally responsible for the disintegration. I realised that while I could easily see his faults, where he had caused breakdowns, I could hardly see my own role in the whole thing.

That was the beginning of a never-ending journey for me…

Along the way, I learnt that the most important ingredients in any relationship was communication, space and trust. While it was tempting to control and hold, what was needed was to let go, to let be; to say (more importantly hear) what one felt – honestly; it was very important to trust that he meant me no harm; that while he loved me, he also wanted to live life on his own terms, which often were different from mine; that his bid for ‘freedom’ did not reflect his belief of my ‘adequacy’ or a diminishing in his sense of commitment and responsibility.

I cannot say it was easy. It was an uphill task. Both of us struggled equally to put back the humpty-dumpty of our relationship together again. And we finally did make it.

Till date I live with these 3 principles. Trust. Space. Communication. While romance was the ingredient to spark the relationship, and love the fuel to drive the relationship, these 3 were the oil that kept it running smoothly, that prevented friction and kept it from heating up unduly. And it seems to work for every relationship in my life – whether with children, with friends, with other members of my family, with colleagues, with the world.