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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

The head throbbed.

A dull heavy fog enveloped it from inside. Just as a computer hangs by pressing too many keys at the same time, the mind dissolves into a dull grey mist when it begins to see a single situation from multiple perspectives. Nothing is what it seems. Yet everything seems to be a little of what seems. Like a pea pod. On the outside it seems like a singular green piece, simple and easy to make sense of, yet when one peels it open it reveals peas of different shapes and sizes inside. Each pea is real by itself, yet it does not constitute the entire picture. There are other peas exerting their own reality. People are like peas too. Each person living and talking his and her reality.

In the sea of multiple realities, what is real?

It is easy to generalize. Paint life with two colours. Black and white. The preferred colours of the binary mind. “Yes” or “No”. “Good” or “Bad. “Right” or “Wrong”. Yet when one dives deeper generalizations blur. Like pouring water over a beautiful landscape painting. The blue of the river spills into the brown of the mountains and the yellow of the sun dissolves into the green of the trees. One cannot say what is what anymore. The distinct landscape turns into abstract art. While abstract is a good for creative expression, it is not the most ideal state for making decisions or taking actions. The mind seeks black and white. While life offers multiple hues of dynamic subtle colours to choose from.

Can inaction can be action? Can choicelessness be a choice? Allowing life to paint the picture it wants to paint and not interfere in its creative (or destructive) process. Watch the painting happening outside and inside. On the inner walls of the psyche, using colourful brushstrokes of multiple thoughts and varied feelings. Some strokes impressing themselves with great intensity, others soft and gentle. Observing and experiencing each stroke carefully. Its colour, texture, thickness and fragrance. And when life has completed its picture it will let you know. Perhaps it will say “Done for now.” It will set down its paintbrush, lean back and have nothing more to say.

For now.

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The nerves on her hand were visible. Blue capillaries spread like tributaries of a river starting from the point where her hand was attached to the forearm and spreading across towards her wrinkled fingers. It was her right hand.

The Hand held stories to tell.

It was the hand she had used to steal sonth ke laddoo from where her mother had hid them, as a girl growing up in Ballupur, Dehradun, a town in North India. The hand had quivered while writing love letters to her would be husband at the age of sixteen, sitting in her school compound. She had used the hand to wear a heavy gold necklace, with multiple chains, gifted by her mother-in-law at her wedding. The hand she used to cover her eyes while blowing air into the chullah, while cooking rotis for the entire family,at their ancestral home in Saharanpur, at a time when piped cooking gas did not exist. The hand had held her first son Dinesh, not knowing then that he would suffer from polio and die at the age of sixteen. The hand had cooked her husband’s tiffin, as he left home to fulfill his duty as a guard on a train, during the time the British ruled India. She had clutched the bed-sheet with that hand, from the pain she experienced, every time she gave birth; another three children, two boys and a girl. She had used the hand to pack their luggage, as the family moved from Saharanpur, to Kalyan to Mumbai, one railway quarter to another, as her husband was promoted in his railway job. The hand had bathed her first grandson, her daughter’s son and conducted the pooja at his naming ceremony. The hand had waved goodbye to her elder son as he left from the airport, to Muscat for his first foreign job posting. The hand that cooked all day long in the kitchen and maintained the house, as she oversaw the numerous relatives and guests come and go, some stay for as long as months. The hand she had lifted to bless her daughter-in-law as she bent down to touch her feet, with whom she would share a bitter-sweet relationship in time to come. The hand she used to clutch a walking stick as she developed arthritis in her knees as the years went by. When her younger son died, the hand had wiped tears that seemed to flow as though a dam had broken and there was no possibility of stopping. The hand had wiped the pictures of Lord Ram, Sita and Hanuman, sitting amongst other Gods and Goddesses in her pooja room, everyday. The hand she used to pour water over her tulsi plant in the balcony and made balls of atta to feed the crows in the kitchen window. The hand with which she touched her husband’s feet at the age of ninety, during their last Karvachauth together and prayed for his long life. The hand that was clasped to the other, praying for forgiveness, for any mistakes done, as her husband lay lifeless after a cardiac arrest, dressed in white, about to undertake his last journey.

He held The Hand.

It felt soft weak and lonely. It seemed tired. It had crossed the river of life. It had seen births and deaths. It had sought joy and felt bitterness. It had hurt and had been hurt. Fleeting pleasures, memorable disappointments, never-ending expectations, rigid control, fixed norms, mental illusions, emotional heart breaks, abstract love, highlighted achievements, unmet dreams.  The Hand contained all of it. Memories of a lifetime. Now, not knowing what lay ahead.

He looked at his own hand clasping hers. It had it’s own stories to tell. Life stories. Like any other Human Hand. Yet there was something different between her hand and his. There was an anticipation in his hand. An anticipation of what the future would bring. It was missing in her hand. As though a vital life ingredient that had exhausted its supply. One day perhaps his hand would be like hers. Exhausted. Awaiting the unknown. Soft weak lonely.

For now his hand held hers. Listened to it’s stories. It was not a Hand. It was Life telling its story.

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He had been thinking about The City for a while. Living in it. Moving around it. Using the arterial roads that criss-crossed its length and breadth. At times when he was returning by plane back to the city at night he could see the traffic like an army of ants, moving like bight yellow dots across these arteries, much like blood flowing in the veins of the human body. Soon he would become one of them. A dot occupying the city. Get consumed by its energy. Swept by its pace. Seeking his dreams. Fulfilling his desires. Watchful to pain. Managing his feelings. Pretty much what everyone else did.

The vehicles honked. A simple beep. A longer impatient beeeeeeeeeep. A screeching kreeeeeeeeeee. A louder no-nonsense POMP. Cars, bikes, tempos, buses, auto rickshaws all jostling for space and movement. Honking at the pedestrians for occupying roads that rightfully belonged to round tyre-d creatures.  Man fighting for space in the city of his own creation. Who created the city? How did it come about? The towering buildings, the looming bridges, the hanging sky-walks, the parallel rails, the spinal highways, the dark alleys, the criss-crossing by-lanes, the colourful shops, the swanky offices, the well manicured parks, the crowded promenades. Who built them? What was there before all this was built?

One early Sunday morning he runs on the beach. As sea of plastic and garbage. He dodges the plastic to put his Addidas adorned foot on the sand. A tough task. It seems like he is playing a game of hop-skip-jump avoiding the white plastic. Like a shroud  covering the sand, signalling its death. The beach is crowded by people. A plump lady dressed in a yellow salwar kameez, walking her white, fluffy Pomeranian. She is wearing sports shoes walking briskly. Her face is ruddy with the exertion. A girls football team is practising at a distance. A large man in a white T-shirt and blue track pants is standing near them and shouting instructions about passing the ball to the center. A group of runners with similar white and red T-shirts are running together trying to keep pace with each other. A garbage van is making its way slowly across the beach. The brown uniformed municipal staff prod the plastic and garbage with metal-pointed sticks collecting them in pile before depositing it in the van. As the van makes its way across the beach it leaves a trail of visible sand, from where the garbage has been cleared.

Flowing red-hot coals. Not knowing if they are coming or going. As though frozen in time. Red hot, yet frozen.  Like a picture hanging on newly painted cream wall. Intense-passionate-vibrant-red framed in black and white. Docile, domesticated and sophisticated. Appreciated, complimented and arrested. The City of Dreams. Built with bricks of desire and the cements of passion. Imprisoning its inhabitants under tons of concrete. Gasping for air, for expression, for rest, for love. A lonely creature. An assembly line. A mass production. Heaving, breathing, sputtering. Fed on desire. The desire to become. Not be.

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The blank canvas. Looking for black and white ink. Squiggles, curls and dots. Squiggles? What is a squiggle? I look up the synonyms. Scribble, wavy line, scrawl, doodle, mark. Hmm…can one squiggle or doodle with a key board? The fingers press on the keys leaving an imprint on the monitor. When was the last time I wrote? I mean really write. With a paper and a pen. Writing a cheque does not count. That does not count for self-expression. I give up reflecting. I have been punching keys on the keyboard for a very long time.

Why this sudden, inquiry into expression through pen and paper.

I remember the time when I was first given a pen to write with. A fountain pen. I was excited. It was a fountain pen and one had to fill ink in it by pulling the small knob attached at the end of the plastic tube. The ink flowed into the tube using the suction principle. Not that the ink knew about this principle. It was something that we were taught in science class. There was an ink bottle kept on the table in the corner of the classroom. After we had finished filling our fountain pens with ink, we used to wipe the nibs on the side of our heads. I do not know who started it, but it became a kind of ritual and all of us did it. As though we needed to wipe the nibs, clean after their morning bath in ink and the extra ink would soak into our scalp and make us more intelligent.

Ms Panero was our class teacher. An unmarried woman in her sixties. She had a sharp nose and round rimmed glasses perched on that nose. We had heard she was from Calcutta, not Kolkatta, and she was the senior most teacher in the school. As I try to reach back into the memory section of my head to recall the events of that day, I cannot recall them. Infact, I cannot recall the other days of school either. What exactly did I do? Is it because I was too young? I do recall myself playing, particularly marbles in the mud until my fingers ached from bending them backward. I recall the time when I made a paper airplane and it flew far higher and far longer than other planes. I recall being part of gymnastics and the smell of the musty mattresses when we landed on them. The memories are there, thank god. Only the portion of time I spent in classrooms seems to have become blank. Or maybe one large undistinguishable mass of blankness. Remarkable.

Anyway coming back to the business of fountain pens and Ms Panero. Both symbols of my growing up. The fountain pen meant that I was old enough to use ink. It meant my written expression would be more vivid and clear. There was also an unstated expectation that what I write would not be cancelled or rubbed. And I could be trusted with that. In recognition of that trust, I was handed the fountain pen. As though I was being knighted for coming of age, under the strict supervision of Ms. Panero. She told us how the fountain pen was to be used. In case of any errors, which were not expected of us, we were to cancel the word in a clean systematic manner. One stroke for one alphabet. We were also told that the stroke had to be a backslash, not a horizontal line, not a forward slash, but a backslash. It was cumbersome to cancel each alphabet one stroke at a time, yet that is how we were told. That is how I did it.

We did not get a chance to see each other’s books, or our collective artistry with the fountain pen. I felt my writing was fairly clean and synthetic to go under the gaze of Ms. Panero. When the English class was over, that is what she taught us, a shrill bell rang signalling the end of this class and the start of another. We quickly closed our books and screwed back the cover of our pens. Oh! And I forgot to mention each of our pens had our names on it. A small white strip of paper with a transparent scotch tape pasted over it. I got up and put my book on the table along with my cherished first fountain pen. So did everyone else. Ms Panero collected the books in one big pile and put all the fountain pens back in the bag that she had got them in. The books were for correction. And the fountain pens were for her safe custody. Even though the pens were symbols of our coming adulthood, we were not considered adult enough yet to take care of them. As she left the class with our books and pens, we got ready for the next teacher to teach us another subject. It is remarkable that I cannot recall what I was taught, that day.

The next day Ms. Panero handed our books to us. I eagerly opened to see what remarks I had got for what I had written the previous day. I was aghast. The page was bathed in red. It was a battle of her red ink over my blue ink. There were red backslashes everywhere.  / / / / /  These lines. An army of them. Overpowering the army of my words.  I wondered what is it that I had done wrong. The spellings were in order, the words touched the line evenly and I had cancelled the misspelt words in exactly the way I was told to. I turned another page and there at the end of it was written in the unmistakable scrawl of Ms. Panero’s writing “Write towards the right.”

Write towards the right. Write towards the right. Write towards the right.

I pondered on that sentence over and over again. Trying to decipher the deep mystery behind those words. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not understand what “Write towards the right” meant. It would have been easier to go up to her and simply ask what she meant, but then for me it was like crossing the Pacific Ocean. I don’t know why I say the Pacific ocean and not the Atlantic, or the Indian,  maybe in my mind back then the Pacific was the most difficult to cross. Never mind. The point was asking Ms. Panero what she meant by the red remark in my book was taking a huge risk for my eleven year old self. What if she showed my book to the entire class and everyone saw the sea of red plastered on my pages. What if she made a statement that would allow my classmates to make fun of me for rest of the day, rest of the term, maybe rest of my life? I just could not allow that to happen. So I did what any self-respecting eleven year old would do. I sat quiet and acted as though nothing had happened.

As I handed my book to Ms. Panero that day, I was dreading what would come my way tomorrow. I was hoping that I had written the way she wanted me to. Made extra sure that all my T’s were crossed and I’s were dotted. But deep down something in me knew that this was not the end of it.

The next day Ms. Panero returned everyone’s book for writing their lesson. Except mine. She held onto my book. I panicked. Just imagine your classmates with their books and writing the lesson for the day and here I was the only one who was without a book. There is nothing worse for an eleven year old than exclusion. To not be doing something, that everyone in the class was doing. Being part of the group was like oxygen. Vital force of remaining alive. Even if the group was being given painful injections, I rather be a part of that group and undergo the same painful experience, rather than be left out without an experience my friends underwent. I sat in misery awaiting my fate.

While the others were busy with their writing, Ms Panero called me to the table. I approached the table in front. I could smell her. It was distinct smell of…of…of…. errr… pencil eraser. The kind which has floral fragrance and looks good, but when you use it leaves a black smudgy mark on paper. Maybe it was my imagination. “Yes Miss.” I said as soon as I was standing within hearing distance of her. “I told you to write towards right. Why are you not doing that?” she asked with a genuine concern just as a doctor would address a patient, who is not following the simplest instructions for his own betterment. I looked at her, not knowing what to say. Finally, I said “I am sorry Miss. I don’t understand. What is right towards right?” She was taken a back for a moment. Probably in her own head, she wondered how could anyone not understand “Write towards right.” The simplest instruction in the world.

She opened my book and showed my writing to me. “See here. All your written alphabets are slanting towards the left. I want you to write all your alphabets slanting towards the right, so that eventually your alphabets will become straight and centred. Do you understand now? ” She asked. “Oh! So that is what write towards right meant” I said in my own mind. “Yes Miss.” I said to her excited at having finally deciphered the mystery of right towards right. “I understand now.” She nodded her head in approval and gave me my book. I quickly returned to my seat before anyone noticed something was wrong.

So, I started writing towards right.

***

If my blog theme supported writing in italics, you would be seeing the balance of this article in italics font. Unlike Ms Panero, it does not. Anything written in italics is transformed into capital letters. So I am colouring the rest of it in blue. But you could tilt your head a little towards the right and imagine it is slanting to the right. If you please.

***

Until this day, I write towards right. I slant my writing towards the right. Ms. Panero forgot to correct me that I had written enough towards the right and it was time to centre my writing. Neither did I bother to remind her. Ms. Panero was my class teacher only for that class. The next year I moved to another school and another class where the teacher never bothered about how I wrote, much less what I wrote. So then, there was no reason to centre my writing.

Years later, someone was analysing my writing. He said, “You are ambitious and forward-looking, as all your alphabets are slanting towards the right.” I smiled. It felt good to hear that. Maybe I was. But now you know that is not the only reason why I right towards right.          

 “Write towards right!” I can still hear Ms. Panero saying to me in red.

***

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The fuzziness. A vague mental cloud cover. Sitting in the head.  Not doing anything, just sitting. Occupying space, like a rain cloud covering the once bright blue sky. He watches it from a distance. How far? About five feet or could be five billion miles. How does one measure the self, watching the self? It is not so much of a watching, but more of a containment. As though the cloud cover is contained in a larger space. Like a 3D image paying on a blank white screen. Except that the screen is not a two dimensional flat object, but a hologram. A huge hollow space that contains all. How big is this hollowness? Is it contained in another hollow?

No answers come.

Does this makes sense? Does it need to? For whom? Is writing an expression for the writer or does he have an obligation for the reader to understand? Most of his life he spent trying to understand and be understood, without much success. Trying hard to measure up. To achieve according to the parameters of success defined and approved by others. To please an imaginary audience sitting inside his head. Judging, approving, condemning. A tiring business.

Like art why can’t writing be abstract he wonders? Why are words supposed to make sense? To arranged in a logical sequence that makes sense to the reader. What is sense?

No answers come.

The mental fuzziness withdraws somewhat, like a receding hairline of a balding man. What is sense, some answers come, like a picture revealing itself slowly, but not clear enough to make sense. He waits. He observes what is emerging. Without an intent. He waits………………….Nothing comes. Only a dull drowsiness in his eyes, making him want to lie down and embrace the oblivious to the world state. Suddenly a point of pain appears on his back, left upper side. It disappears as soon as it comes, like a twittering sparrow alighting on a balcony ledge on its way to another destination. He wonders if it was a travelling pain moving from one human to another. Why would pain travel he wonders?

No answers come.

Memories of his childhood filter in. Writing English essays. Eagerly awaiting the highest marks in class from his English teacher Mr. Massey. Writing to fit in. Writing to make sense. Writing to compete. Writing to be the best. It was the sensible thing to do. It made sense. Over the years he discovered how sense killed sensitivity. Like a delicate tender bud, trampled under the heavy boots of conformity. Tenderness had no place in human education. It cannot be measured. He could not qualify in it. It could not be employed in factories to produce goods. It could not feed the hungry? Neither could it fight wars. It did not make sense. Yet it never left him, no matter how hard he tried to strip himself of it. Like quickly wanting to get rid of a white piece of clothing in a community that wore and rewarded only black. He did not want to be the ugly tender duckling. He wanted to be one of them. One with them. Even at the cost of getting rid of what was intrinsically his. Why did he do that?

No answers come.

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The strain in the neck. The kind of feeling you get from sitting in a moving jumping bobbing vehicle for long. Not a shooting pain, just a dull heavy feeling, as though the neck is expressing it’s discomfort at holding the head in for long.

The neck is an interesting organ. It connects the head to the rest of the body. A bridge between me and the rest of me. Almost missed among the more renowned celebrity organs. The head and the heart.

Parts of me.

Neck, head, heart, legs, hands, chest, shoulders, back. Joined to each other by some universal design, an unknown hand. Joined? Is there a line that divides the hand from the shoulder or the neck from the head. Is there a point that signals the end of one and the start of another. Like a toll post announcing the start of a new territory and the end of another.

How are these divisions made? Divisions of land and divisions of me. Cutting, slicing, chopping the world into smaller parts. Giving names, ownership and title to earth, land, water and people.

What about me?

How many of me exist?

The angry me. The forgiving me. The loving me. The hurt me. The righteous me. The charitable me. The scared me. The courageous me. The greedy me. The giving me. The sensitive me. The rejected me. The judging me. The participating me. The indifferent me. The excited me. The bored me. The difficult me. The simple me. The calculating me. The straightforward me.

I could fill a stadium with parts of me. Yet they reside in one single body. Jostling for space and expression. Contradicting and fighting with each other. Like children shouting in a classroom without a teacher.

Who is the real me?

What name do I give a flowing river, that never repeats an experience. Where every drop is unique and fresh. Until it meets my verbal eye and I contaminate it with words. Reduce the mystery of my existence into labelled containers. To be analyzed and sorted in some meaningful way to define me and the purpose of my existence.

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The silence was audible. It could be felt. It felt vast. Like a universal ball of space with no boundaries. Containing within it everything. The people, the noises, the movement – outside and within. It contained me. Or was it the idea of me?

Large grey streaks of cotton gradually moved across the sky. It was neither light nor dark. A dull grey cloudiness pervaded signaling the monsoon. The palm leaves swayed in the breeze. It seemed it would rain, yet it had seemed that way for most of the afternoon. And it was evening now. A small black winged figure floated in the distance. It seemed like a crow, yet one could not make out from that distance. Not that it mattered. By now the clouds had changed shape. Not that they had any particular shape a while back. Floating moving masses drifting with no particular intent or destination.

The silence was audible. The only noise present was the occasional twitter of the invisible sparrow. Gentle almost not there. It highlighted the large looming silence, just as a small black dot creates greater awareness of the blank white canvas on which it is placed.

“How does one write about silence?” He thought. Or did the thought appear out of the silence. “Am I the thought or am I the silence?” came another thought. Was he inquiring into himself or was the silence playing games with him. He felt the cold air on his bare feet,   a reminder that he existed. Atleast his feet did. “What if I didn’t have feet would I still exist?” He thought, almost from his cold exposed feet. There was no answer. Just the silence. Still and active.

The clouds had drifted away, atleast most of them. Just a few remained movingly slowly trying to catch up with their faster cousins. The backdrop of the sky was far more visible now.

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