Skiing Lessons

20170408_1727061So this isn’t the first time I have tried skiing.

The first time was in Gulmarg,Kashmir where after a couple of hours on the ice I was taken aside by my instructor and told very softly in Hindi.

Maydam. Agar aapko kisine puccha ki kisne apko skiing sikhayi krupaya karke mera naam na lena. ( Madam if anyone asks you who taught you to ski please don’t mention my name)

Clearly he thought I was beyond salvation.

Hmmff.

Determined to prove him wrong I am now in Bansko, Bulgaria outfitted quite professionally in freakishly tight ski boots and heavier-than-me skis.

The coach insists I carry the skis on my shoulders while walking ensuring that my right shoulder now is permanently a quarter of an inch lower than my left. As I trek up the slope – I am imagining a whole new chapter of my ski history. I am imagining getting my balance just right, and flying down the slope in perfect harmony with nature as the coach watches his star pupil, fascinated. The air blowing through my hair and my body graceful as a swan.

Sigh.

The image lasted 30 seconds.

I fell while standing.

While.

Standing.

I hadn’t even started down the slope.

Just. Just.getting.into.my.skis.

I think it was right about then the coach wrote me off. But anyway.

The other coach with another group was patiently teaching them to start with one ski and showing them the ropes gently and step wise. For some reason our coach felt we don’t need that. We were born to ski.

So he just gets us into our skis and says – Slowly. Lean forward. Keep skis parallel.

The first real fall I had should have been recorded. As I took off from the start position I leaned in determinedly and the moment I started to pick up speed as usual I panicked and leaned back. Then in slow motion style – better than Neo could ever do it in the Matrix – I bent backwards and stayed there defying gravity. The ski boots hurt like hell but they also help you do the matrix move beautifully.

After that I spent the better part of the hour on my back and then proceeded to watch, humiliated, one by one – every other member of the group sliding down the gentle slope in style. A few even mastering gentle turns.

Finally the coach realized he must focus his attention on the ugly duckling – the swans were doing fine – so he comes back to me with a vengeance.

The next 30 min was mainly about him yelling pizza pizza. And the moment I would fall he would catch up and yell- Spread your legs wider – wider – Pizza…

Exasperated I thought to myself – Hello Mister… quite forward you are… I am Bharatiya Naari haan.. this is not how we do things there…we have just met!!! First you will have to follow me all over town on your two wheeler, then ask me to do Fraandship with you, give me corny archies cards, buy me overpriced flowers, and finally come meet my parents. Then Maaaybe!

And moreover I ain’t spreading nothing for of all things – Pizza!! The least you could begin courting me with is Champagne and strawberries!!!

My expression didn’t really get the message across because he still spent the rest of the lesson yelling the same thing. Finally he led me to the edge of the slope. I thought he was going to take me back to the basics. Tell me a few tips. But he just got me out of the skis and pointed me in the direction of the restaurant bench. And said – Lesson over and then left. I lay down my skis – picked up my shattered pride and limped over to the bench to sip ice cold beer while I watched the rest of the group get on just fine.

As I watched 5 year olds ski past me – it finally dawned on me that I had lost the most important blessing of childhood.

Fearlessness. Abandon.

I couldn’t ski because I couldn’t let go.

I couldn’t think past falling.

I wasn’t comfortable with losing control.

I was frightened of leaning forward .

It was easier to lean backward.

But maybe its reversible.

Maybe being fearless isn’t so tough.

Maybe we need to stop worrying about every stupid little consequence of every indulgent action and just start focusing in the moment.

Open up your mind and Close your eyes.

Stop worrying about –

Falling

Hurting

Crying

Losing

Just Spread your legs wider and eat pizza.

32 Pieces of Porcelain

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On my first ever international flight – I travelled alone. Actually it was my first ever flight. Period. 
 
On my return I decided to buy gifts for the family. Now Sri Lanka is famous for tea and gems and handicrafts. I could have bought that and stopped. 
But no. I decide on the heaviest – most difficult to cart – fragile thing. Porcelain.
Don’t ask why. There is no sensible explanation. 
 
I walk into a huge shop selling porcelain dinner ware, show pieces and what not. Now there were tiny artifacts, serving bowls, trays. 
But no. I decide on the biggest and most cumbersome thing of all. A complete 32 piece dinner set. 
Again don’t ask why. There is no sensible explanation. 
So I buy the set and then realize I am in a strange country with no means of public transport other than the big state transport buses. Of course there were taxis but I couldn’t afford it. ( Remember I spent all of my spare cash on a 32 piece dinner set? ).
The store guy packed the set and escorted me to the door. Set the package down and then bid me adieu. Then began the epic journey of the 32 pieces of chinaware. Partially dragging – partially lifting – the package that was heavier than me – I managed to reach the bus stop. There was no way that I could have climbed the two feet high step on to a bus ( that barely stopped at stops) with that package, so I requested the man beside me to hand it over to me once I had climbed the bus. The bus arrived – I jumped on and then twenty people jumped on after me. I tried to wangle myself back to the entrance and the bus started to move. I yelled at the top of my lungs ‘throw me the package’ to the perfect stranger on the road – and he did exactly that. A package containing 32 pieces of porcelain came flying through the door – landed heavily on the floor of the bus – barely missing a couple of fortunate feet. Everybody looked at me with expressions varying from amused to murderous. 
 
I reached the place I was put up – and the same thing was repeated in reverse. This time the package landed on the road. More dragging – pushing – lifting -tugging – swearing – later – I was ensconced in my room with a package that possibly contained the remains of porcelain dinnerware. 
 
Then came stage two in the epic. 
 
I realized there was no way in hell that I would be able to fit in all of my luggage into the bags I had. I laugh today at my naiveté. I didn’t have to shove that package into my bag- I could have just checked it in separately with a fragile tag. 
 
But no. A lot of pushing and shoving and swearing and crying later I pushed in the pieces of porcelain into one of my bags and saw a pile of clothes lying on the bed. I then decided which clothes I just had to carry back and what I could afford to leave behind( yes – I did that).
 
At the end of a very very long night – I had my two bags packed. Several pieces of clothing hanging in the closet kept company by a couple of pairs of shoes. ( The people who kept me as their guests probably must still wonder at those clothes and shoes and why I left them behind)
 
I reached the airport – tired – cranky and frankly fed up. Had someone so much as mentioned porcelain I may have snapped the poor guy’s head off. It is a good thing that airlines serve food in plastic containers.
 
I checked in my luggage. Of course without fragile stickers. 
 
A long brooding flight back later I collected my luggage and was driven home to a waiting audience of family and friends. After the copious exchange of greetings ( I was returning after 2 months after all ) I started the expected gift distributing. When it finally came down to those 32 pieces (of personal misery) intended for my parents – I apologized – saying that I had hoped to give them a set but they probably would get a piece each. 
 
We opened the bag and unwrapped the tissue and out came one immaculate piece after another. 
 
They weren’t broken – they weren’t even chipped. 
 
They were just like I saw them in the shop. 
 
They had been hurled into a bus – propelled off a bus – dragged and hauled across the road – shoved into a cloth bag – travelled a 1000 miles – with minimal cushioning – no fragile stickers – at the back of an aircraft- thrown about by an unknowing crew – bumped along a luggage carousel – brought home in the trunk of a car. 
 
And not a scratch. Not one.
 
 
Apparently God personally looks into minor affairs like porcelain travel as well. 
 

The Day My Grandmother Died

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My grandmother passed away when I was 13. 
 
She was one of those women who smiled even when the sky was overcast with great big depressing black clouds. The kind of woman who kept her cool even when the house and her life was chaotic. The kind who was generous even when she suffered and was thankful even on days when she was ill. 
 
I don’t remember her even looking at someone angrily. And we did plenty to make her so. 
 
The day she died, I remember my mother gently shaking me awake at six in the morning and telling me to get dressed. On an ordinary day I would have protested and resisted and asked why? But there was something in the quiet solemnity of her voice that begged no questions. I was 13 but I heard it almost as if she said it in so many words. 
 
I dressed and we went to pay our last respects. I saw the body of the gentlest woman in the world laid out and I cried like a little baby. My mom let me be for a while and then said – Come on – you will be late. I asked for what? And she said – For your poetry competition. I looked at her incredulously – Do you still think I should go for that? And she said in the most tender voice possible – ‘Yes. Life goes on. You cannot do anything here. And she would have wanted you to go.’ I paraphrase of course – but I think I remember most of it correctly. 
 
I tried hard to understand what my mother wanted me to know. And I think I got it.
 
It wasn’t an important exam or a life-altering competition. It was just one of those inter school things. The competition wasn’t important – the moving on was. 
 
My grandmother laughed. She cried. She lived. And now she was gone. 
It was the turn of the living now. To live. 
 
 
I did go to that competition. I wrote a poem which won me the prize. 
 
I wrote a poem on sunshine and the beach. On the day my grandmother died. 

 

A Journey When Everything Went Right

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Now everybody has a quite a few journey stories about when everything goes wrong. 
And everyone is prone to exaggerate them a bit for dramatic effect. 
But this is not one of them. 
This is not a story about when everything goes wrong. 
This is about when everything went Right. 
 
 
We decide to go to Kanatal. It is a spectacular place nestled relatively anonymously within the hills of Uttarakhand. A beautiful hill station minus the hordes of corn-eating-summer-holidayers and Red-chuda-shiny-outfit clad-honeymooners. 
 
What people said we did wrong ?
1. We chose the beginning of the monsoon
2. We started late in the day
3. We did not account for traffic and the weather in our travel calculations
4. We did not plan a stopover en route
 
Long story short – we drove for ten blinding hours in pouring rain that threatened to wash our vehicle over the edge. 
 
5 of those hours in pitch dark straining our collective eyes wondering how the driver was figuring out what is road and what is – an unsolicited opportunity to bungee jump without a rope. 
 
We watched with wide eyes dozens of abandoned vehicles dotting the roads – some smashed, some flattened, some tired and some just dead. 
 
We saw brown boulders roll off on to the road in front of the car like the hills were spitting out mutilated betel nut threatening to stain us.
 
Three of our party had to climb out in the icy rain to move branches, a telephone wire and boulders to make the road motorable. 
 
A lot of people asked me why didn’t we turn back? Seeing the rain and the situation.
 
I have to admit – it never crossed our minds. 
 
So what exactly is right about this story?
 
Well….Our car DIDN’T get pitched off a precipice.
 
It DID NOT break down and cry.
 
NO boulders squashed us.
 
We MANAGED to negotiate the blocked road. 
 
We GOT to where we were headed in one piece.
 
The sun SHONE in the morning. 
 
We BREATHED fresh unadulterated mountain air and I felt my lungs swell with life. 
 
Everything went right 🙂

Butterflies on the Wall

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It is just a wall. 
Plain and cream.
With a tree. A river. Flowers. 
With dozens of little butterflies painted on.
Each butterfly has a name and a date under it. 
Name – of a child. 
Date – when the child died to become a butterfly. 
All had become butterflies after they died of AIDS.
All of them contracted it from their parents.
All were abandoned or are orphans because of AIDS.
 
I saw the wall years ago. I never can forget it. I never can get over it. 

There is a lonely wall in a far far away land
A land of promise, of incredible and unimaginable riches
Where the earth regularly belches up 
Women’s best friends from tiny unassuming niches.
 
The wall is part of a room in the middle of a conspicuous nowhere
Where eyes are perpetually widened spotting big game
Clueless and immune to the many miserable little ones 
being stoically enacted without the balm of fame.
 
The room is in an artificial village of necessity and need
Where butterflies flutter having no wild in their fate
But live as tiny splotches of color on a shared sacred wall
With a unknown name and a heartbreaking date.
 
This room has mothers who have borne not a single child
and yet have ten creatures they hold, all the while admitting
That they wish them a poignant goodnight and goodbye 
Every night, not knowing which is more befitting.
 
This village is in a country which sees millions every year
White, black, yellow, brown merge as one ignorant soul
But different from tiny faces the color of mocha 
Carrying a dark demon within them eating them whole
 
When the country meets the village as it must sometimes
A heart will fall for a suffering blameless face
But the morning will come again and it will look but find
Once again it is gone without a trace.
 
Maybe the village will hear the cries of – Where did he go? 
Maybe a search among the proxy mothers standing tall
But if that heart keeps up the futile search, it will find
Mocha face with the others -A paint blotch butterfly on the wall.