Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Date with Beauty

If thou of fortune be bereft
and of thine earthly store have left
two loaves, sell one and with the dole
feed hyacinths to the soul.

These beautiful lines were written by Sir Alexander Clegg…
Ever since these words crossed my eyes, I have been marveling at their depth. These lines hold a profound truth: Man cannot sustain life just with bread.

This morning, when I visited the Ghazipur Pushp Mandi (Ghazipur Flower Market, East Delhi, India), I just could not contain my excitement on finally understanding his words… After carefully navigating my way through little pools of water filled with squishy mud, I found myself in the most delightful of places.  Spread all around me were flowers of virtually all imaginable (and unimaginable) colors, varieties, shapes…

As the early morning breeze caressed my cheeks, the flowers lured me, teased me with their vibrant colors and sensuous fragrances. As I walked by, they seemed to call out to me and I often ended up touching them, looking at them, much to the curiosity of the vendors. From one corner, the carnations looked at me sleepily, from their huddled masses… from the other the orchids, in all their sophistication; lay in neat piles, talking in soft voices. The shy lilies hid their beauty behind closed buds…

As if these were not enough to make me high on flowers… there were gerberas, nodding their acknowledgement to me, tulips sending me cute kisses, the roses dressed up in their best, the genda reminding me of that time around New Year when they’d adorned my home… a host of exotic flowers, which spoke to me in languages unknown… I don’t even know their names… I was just wandering through this wonderland with the dazed eyes of an awestruck admirer.

It was then that I realized the importance of beauty in our life. Imagine a dreary life… where you eat, work and sleep… where there is no joy, no surprises… a world without flowers… it will essentially be a world without smiles. Will we be able to live for long? For one like me… who goes berserk when she sees a flower in full bloom… such a life is hard to imagine. Beauty gives us happiness. And what is life if you’re not happy?

In this back-breaking competition, a thing of beauty is really rare. It is precious. As Wordsworth said, they remain with us long after we have seen them. They come back to us at  times we expect them the least…at times when we’re alone, lonely or sad… they cheer us up and dance with us to the tune of life… So what if they didn’t have hyacinths today. If I have two pennies, I’ll spend one on bread, the other on a lily (my favourite).

P.S. This Mandi, which is my private ‘soothe-my-soul land’, was established in 2011 in place of the existing Mandis at Connaught Place, Mehrauli and Fatehpuri. The government aimed to give the licensed flower vendors a proper place, with a roof over their head, a cold storage and better facilities, where they could trade for a longer time. If you were to google this particular market, you’ll only find articles expressing discontent. There were protests against the increased costs incurred owing to the shift. There was a lot of talk of cultural heritage being lost, talk of inconvenience to both, the buyers and the sellers.

But the situation isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. Not only is the space big, luxurious as compared to the other markets, it is relatively clean as well (never mind the mud pools… blame it on the torrent last night). If the legal vendors, numbering close to 400, do brisk business inside, their illegal counterparts, selling everything from flowers to sponges make money outside. True, this area is on the periphery of the city, but I found ample auto-rickshaws willing to take me to my destination. Do visit the Mandi… it is definitely worth your time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Best Gift

This morning, we woke up to my mother’s cry of anguish… what she had long suspected had finally come true- she had been taken ill… she was down with fever. That mortal enemy, influenza-viral, had finally caught on. While she fretted about her health and destiny forced me to do all the household chores single-handedly, I thought about our good fortune- good health.

I can bet… any and every one of us, calls down the fury of God on our foes at least five times a day. If we’re not doing that, then we’re busy cribbing about our not-so-happening life, complaining about our teachers, bitching about people or just cursing life in general. But how many of us really treasure the good moments? Particularly those times when we’re not sneezing our heads off, when we’re not lying in bed battling with a soaring body temperature, when we’re not frequenting the washroom every ten seconds… I can see very few hands raised…

Health is Wealth… these three words have always stuck out in my little head like neon lights… irritating, un- ignorable lights. And yet, I doubt I’m really following all the tenets of this philosophy. And so it is for most of us. Of the thousands of people I know, only a handful of them can claim to be the blessed souls who give their mind and body some time every day.

For the rest of us, the world is just a blur of food, work and sleep. But just as we realize the importance of things and people after we lose them, we realize the importance of good health only when we fall ill. As a wiry pre-teen, I would always tell my mother “Mama, every day seems so special when I’m fine” (I would have to be put on antibiotics almost every alternate week. Alas! Such was my immune system back then). Somehow, those early bouts of illness made me value my healthy days way more… I would squeeze in everything that I could… from school to dance classes, hours of cycling, playing in the mud, going over to my friend’s place, running after pigeons, getting beaten up in street fights (sometimes I would beat people too), troubling my mother in the kitchen or just following my dad everywhere like a lost puppy… so much in a day!

Falling ill made me realize the importance of each day, every single minute. It also made me acutely aware of all the people around me who are not as fortunate. Any form of illness, then be it a minor cold or a life-threatening cancer… it takes away the spring from your step, it makes the blue sky look grey… I thank God every day when I wake up fine… think of all those who woke up to a sore throat, an eye infection, news of a deadly disease or worse… don’t wake up at all.

If there is something that can make you love life with all your heart, it is good health. Give him a body free from illness and a man can do wonders. What worries me the most is the general health of children in India.

 To quote from Wikipedia:

“The World Bank estimates that India is ranked 2nd in the world of the number of children suffering from malnutrition, where 47% of the children exhibit a degree of malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth. The UN estimates that 2.1 million Indian children die before reaching the age of 5 every year – four every minute – mostly from preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria, measles and pneumonia. Every day, 1,000 Indian children die because of diarrhoea alone. According to the 1991 census of India, it has around 150 million children, constituting 17.5% of India's population, who are below the age of 6 years.”

India is also ranked 15th in the 2011 Global Hunger Index Report.

It is one thing to willingly neglect our health like most people from the well-off sections of the society do. But to be not given a shot at it… it is inhuman.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you get three meals every day. So go out, exercise, keep fit and love life so that you can spread a little of that love among others… others who live on crumbs…

Stay healthy. It is the Best Gift that you can gift yourself.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


I came here, unmoulded clay
Washed up on your shores
You took me in, soft hands
Moulded me into who I am…

As I helped my brother gel up his hair for the school farewell…I couldn’t help but remember that time, a few hundred days ago, when I was getting ready for my own. I wasn’t suffering from the ‘I- don’t- want-to-leave-school’ syndrome. In fact, all I cared about was wearing a Saree, meeting friends and having a nice time. Little did I realize that farewells change lives… that this single day of dressing up like a young ladies and gentlemen would mark an important transition in our life…
It was not just the end of our school days… it was the end of a way of living… one where expectations were low, rules were flexible and the laughs came easy.

From the moment I stepped inside the school gates everything was different… the teachers who would glare at us if we talked in class, would reprimand us for low attendance (which was almost every other day)…met us with warm welcoming hugs… compliments flowed (champagne was not allowed) and all around me, I had friends, smiling their familiar smiles. I’d known them for just two years and yet somehow, I belonged. I felt safe.

Conveniently ignoring the ticking of the clock, we made memories… lots and lots of happy memories. I distinctly remember the ruckus we made while taking our class photograph. The whole school probably thought we’d lost our minds. None of us cared. But when the time to part came, the merry-making stopped. The spring in our steps disappeared… the smiles began to fade. I knew, I’ll probably never meet them again…save a few… and almost definitely not attend the same lectures again. The feeling was heart breaking… like I was losing something valuable.

The word ‘farewell’ and ‘good bye’ tasted bitter on my tongue. At last… I didn’t want to leave school. We promised we’ll meet up later but everyone knew better. True friendships endure the barriers of time and distance. But to put them to test is the toughest part of it. Each friend you lose leaves a void, where only memories remain.

But somewhere down the line I did  understand that farewells are not all about endings…they are about beginnings too… beginning a new life, with new dreams, new aspirations. To don the shoes of a young adult, you have to let go a kid’s shoes…and this is exactly what farewells do. They help you step into the bigger world with a confident stride. They help you prepare for the eventful journey your life is going to be. They are the sentries guarding the gates of your new life. All along, close to your heart, you have memories of that day you bid farewell to your loved ones.

After our last day at school, life became a roller coaster ride…a whirlwind of new people, new ideas, new expectations… we never got time to look back and think of all that was left behind…but I do think that all of us kept our old friends and memories safe in our strong rooms. Two years down the line, I realize that this is the way it is meant to be. We were neither the first batch of students nor the last to be given a farewell… what is important is holding on to the memories and the friends who were your life once…

Don't be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.
Richard Bach

Dedicated to you… J

P.S. That picture you see... it symbolizes the end of one path, our life at school, but it also gives us a peek at the whole wide world waiting to embrace us...