Tire puncture

The monsoon was in full form in Delhi a month ago, and the roads were covered in filthy water and slush. In my experience, and by Murphy’s law, your car is most likely to get punctured in situations when you least want it to happen – such as during heavy rainfall while stuck on flooded streets. And so, a nagging voice at the back of my mind kept telling me for days, “Get the tires checked. Get the tires checked.”

One day, after leaving work, I gave in to my intuition, and drove into a nearby petrol pump to get the tires checked, even though the car was driving fine. It turned out I had a puncture – a three-inch nail stuck in the tire, no less. It was so tightly fit and perhaps so recent that the tire hadn’t lost any air pressure yet, so I wouldn’t have known for another few kilometres. I got it fixed instantly, sending up waves of gratitude to God for saving me in the nick of time.

For the next month, I went about convinced that I lived a bonafide charmed life.

Today, then, I got a rude shock when I noticed that the same tire was totally flat again. I was alone in the local market, it was already dark, and I had to drive myself (very) slowly to the nearby petrol station. All the way, I fought with God in my head: “You gave up on me. You let me down. You didn’t warn me this time.”

I reached the petrol pump and got out of the car to let them fix it. It was a long, thick nail again. While waiting, I noticed a ‘pollution control’ kiosk there – and it was still open despite the late hour. Since I don’t use this pump often, I had never paid attention to it before. “Hmm, now that I’m here, let me check if my pollution-under-control (PUC) certificate needs renewal,” I thought, and reached out to my dashboard to check it. To my shock, it had expired in March this year and I hadn’t realised.

As soon as the tire was fixed, I got the pollution checked and new certificate issued. While the boy was working on it, a voice in my head went, “And you thought I’d given up on you, huh?”

God gave me a tire puncture because I needed my PUC certificate renewed.

Abashed, I said sorry in my head for giving up on God.

On my drive home, I began to count all the other metaphorical tire punctures, slowdowns, hiccups, difficulties, problems and impossible challenges I have been facing lately, and said a silent ‘thank you’ for them all. Who knows what miracles are taking place underneath while I worry over surface details.

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Loving what’s within

It was a pleasant day in Antalya, Turkey. I was on holiday with my husband and children. The clouds gave us respite from the pinching Mediterranean summer sun. I’d had a sleepless night so all I wanted to do was lie down and doze off on the beach chair. My husband sat next to me, reading a book. My daughters were off somewhere, posing for selfies.

I napped and had dreams. I woke to the sound of women gossiping loudly in a language I couldn’t understand right next to me. In that half-awake state, I stared at the sky and then turned over and stared down at the sand. My happiness was complete.

And yet.

A realisation dawned. The more I loved my family, and the more I drew happiness from their presence in my life, the more I was setting myself up for boundless sorrow later. It doesn’t mean that I stop loving them or stop deriving happiness from their presence; it means I must stop depending on their presence and love in order to be happy.

More than ever, I realised — the only true love is that of the self. The only true companion is the self. The only true partner, lover, parent, guide, child is the self.

Let me put it another way. The self is divine, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, universal, right? The self is God. So the only true love is that of God.

No, no, we’re getting too esoteric. Let’s stay secular. Let’s just say the only true love is that of the self. If we can truly love ourselves, we need nothing else.

Let me just replace a word there. If we can truly love God, we need nothing else.

We need no declarations of love with a ring, no commitments around a sacred fire. We need no bells to clang when we enter a temple, we need no incense to carry our wishes to the heavens. We need have no fear of loss, or pain of separation. We need no stamp paper to prove our bond or a doctor to deliver us from ourselves. We need no ecstasy of ownership, no pride of achievement. We need nothing else, even death won’t do us part.

Lying there in that half-awake state, I realised, my happiness is complete. Not just because I have a beloved family and much abundance in my life. But because I found my true love. It was right here within me all along.

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Driving through life

I drive an average of 90 minutes every day, give or take 20 minutes. I’ve realised that driving in New Delhi is a lot like life:

A stitch in time saves nine: If I get out of the door at 8.45 am, I will be in office by 9.15 including parking and the journey up the lift. Since we do 8-hour shifts, I can then leave at 5.15 in the evening, which ensures I am home well before 6 pm. However, if I leave home even 10 minutes later in the morning, the traffic builds up on the roads both ways, and I reach home at 7 pm or much later that evening, extending my travelling time more than an hour. So being disciplined in the morning leads to a smoother, shorter work day. Isn’t that exactly what financial planning, time management, preventive health and stress management all about? Short-term effort leads to long-term gain.

Every being is important: A glance through a daily newspaper will lead you to believe Delhi roads are all about hit-and-runs and buses mowing over pedestrians. But those are the exceptions that make it to the newspapers. Ninety percent of the time, people stop, give way, make space, adjust, compromise and watch out for one another on the busy, congested, people-stuffed roads of the Indian capital. We even make way stoically for cows, dogs and other animals. I firmly believe in the innate goodness of human beings and perhaps that’s why I see such examples around me every day, revelatory moments that prove time and again that every being is important, no life is too little, and we must all make space for and respect every being out there.

There are no short cuts: Sometimes you get caught in a terrible traffic jam during rush hour on the highway and decide to take a ‘short cut’ down the alleys or smaller roads running alongside. Bad idea. In most cases, it will take you the same amount of time or even longer to reach home, and you will be far more frazzled after negotiating narrower terrain with worse jams. Lesson: Accept what has been given to you by the universe, and go with it. What you resist persists. Sink into the moment, turn on the music, and make the most of it.

Be in the moment: Driving is sometimes like meditation; you often drift into your own thoughts and lose track of vast stretches of miles or minutes you’ve covered. It’s like you go into a trance and let your subconscious do the driving. This can be dangerous. When we live our lives by default, we are prone to real and metaphorical accidents, and we miss hundreds of opportunities. Opportunities to make us better people or simply make us smile. When we are distracted, we aren’t focusing on our life’s purpose. Like meditation, the solution is to gently lead your thoughts back to the moment, on the road, on the car in front of you. Be aware of what’s going on. Pay attention. There is magic in every moment. Don’t miss it.

Driving is necessary, stress is optional: There are some things we just gotta do, driving, working, bring up our kids, making a living. We can either choose to do them stressfully, zipping between lanes, honking away, adding cortisol to our blood streams, trying to get ahead of everyone else, trying to save a few extra minutes at the traffic signal at the cost of our mental peace and health. Or we can do it calmly, sticking to one lane, chilled out, riding over bumps and turns with patience and grace. Guess what path leaves you happier and healthier in the long term?

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Kinder than necessary and other Monday tips

I’ve been a lazy girl (old woman) and have been absconding from my blog. My soul sister J reminded me to at the very least put down my Monday tips every week, even if I write nothing else. So here goes. My 5 Monday tips (a ritual I have with my team at work).

  1. Be kinder than necessary: An old saying reminds us not to speak anything unless what we are about to say fulfils these three criteria, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” I suggest going one step further — be kinder than necessary. Kindness is a spiritual practice in itself. Go out of your way to help someone, not just physically but also with words, and most importantly, with thoughts. Every kind thought goes a long way in generating positive vibes and creating a healthier world.
  2. The biggest success is the one who is willing to try, fail and learn: In an ad for Nike, Michael Jordan once talked about the thousands of times he had failed, and the 26 times he had been entrusted with the game-winning shot and had missed. When asked why he had chosen to focus on his failures rather than his successes, he said that a strong mind and heart were more important that physical strength for winners in life. It doesn’t matter if you try and fail — as long as you get up, dust it off and learn from it. You only fail when you stop trying.
  3. External enemies are nothing when compared with your internal enemies: Every time there is an event, you have a thought about it, and that thought leads to your feelings about it. Station a bouncer in the door of your thoughts. Every time you have a negative thought about an event, let the bouncer throw it out, and only allow in the good ones. For instance, if someone does not pick up the phone when you call, instead of thinking, “They hate me,” shut the door on that thought and let in another positive thought instead: “Maybe they’re busy”. Whenever you have a thought that says something to the tune of, “I’m a loser,” don’t ask yourself whether it’s a rational or irrational thought. Ask whether it serves you. If it doesn’t, call the bouncers in.
  4. Freedom and responsibility: Everyone wants freedom — freedom to work as we please, to live life on our own terms, in our own way — and no one wants responsibility, to be accountable, to have people depend on you, to own up when you’re wrong. Well, the truth is we cannot have one without the other. The only way to have more freedom is by taking on more responsibility, and the only way to reduce responsibility off your own shoulders is to give more freedom to those you are offloading to.
  5. Don’t panic. Prioritize: When we’re bogged down with too much on our plate, when we’re close to hitting peak capacity, there’s only one way to move forward: Prioritize. Learn from the human body and the animal kingdom. Shut down all unnecessary systems and processes, keep away the distractions, be selective about what you expend energy on. Ask for help before you snap, delegate before you break, choose your battles. You can only take home the hero’s trophy if you’re still alive.
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Beloved, hated

“What so great happiness as to be beloved, and to know that we deserve to be beloved? What so great misery as to be hated, and to know that we deserve to be hated?” -Adam Smith

Isn’t it a wonder that we have been, or are, both?

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Crochet contemplations

I learnt crochet in high school, and by the time I was in college, it was an addiction. Every winter, I would churn out a couple of caps for the men in my family (the women in my family didn’t wear caps, and I don’t know why. Maybe they used dupattas or scarves to cover their heads back then). Interestingly, every time I got down to making a cap for myself, winter got over and the woollens were put away.

Marriage and motherhood made me cast my crochet needle aside for 20 years. This winter I took it up again; I started with a cap for my husband and then a second one for my sweet, strong mother-in-law. It has been a deeply de-stressing activity at the end of hectic workdays. Here is what’s been going on.

Unweaving karma: I bought unrolled yarn from a wool wholesaler, so the first task was to make balls of it. Since I was doing it for the first time, I had no clue how to go about it and ended up with a pile of knots on the first evening. I nearly gave up in helplessness — it was 11 pm and I wanted to sleep but here was this big pile of wool on my mattress and my cap was nowhere near beginning. But then I decided to finish what I’d set out to do. Slowly, painfully, I unravelled one knot at a time, and had the idea that I could use the next hour to visualise myself evolving spiritually, unravelling the knots of my karma. Each knot taught me a lesson that I accepted with gratitude and humility, moving patiently further without giving up. Patiently, patiently, persevering, persevering, as if I was living out all the karmic debts of this lifetime. Until finally, I got to a point where the going became smooth, the lessons stopped and the act of winding up began, and I went faster and faster, only a hiccup here or there, and then it was all done. I had a smooth, unknotted ball of wool in my hands, and it was over.

Stilling the mind: Then, of course, the real task began. On day one, I could not sit still for more than 15 minutes. It was as difficult as meditation: the monkey mind would jump from one point to another. I was restless and fidgety, my fingers were clumsy and cold. But within days, I was able to build up to 20 then 30 minutes of continuous crochet, and then over an hour. In the process I noticed that if it was as hard as meditation, then it was just as rewarding. Every time I would put down the needle, I was at peace, still, my mind an ocean of calm. The day’s worries and anxieties were wiped clean. I began sleeping better, and I am more rested now than ever before.

Opportunity to give gratitude: Those many minutes of keeping one’s hands busy have been a wonderful opportunity to give thanks: I take Krishna’s name with each stitch as often as I can remember, before the monkey mind begins roaming again. I imagine filling the cap I am making with loads of blessings and love. These are sacred caps, like our lives are supposed to be.

Seeing better: A few days into my hobby, I noticed that I was able to see much clearer with my husband’s glasses. He has a number for reading, and his glasses made the stitches appear larger. Assuming I had also developed near-sightedness, I went down to the optical store in the neighbourhood and allowed myself to be duped into getting new expensive glasses with moderate reading power. But when I came home and used them, I realised things were pretty clear even without them; they merely enhanced the crochet stitches like a magnifying glass. I made a resolution to myself: I should not make up issues when they don’t exist. Stop creating unnecessary knots in life.

Falling down and waking up: The best time to crochet for me is on a weekend morning, sitting on top of the steps leading down to our verandah in the pleasant winter sun. The light and temperature are wonderful, and having my dogs sitting calmly next to me is soothing and cute. This Sunday, a couple of stray cats took turns sleeping at the foot of the stairs near me as well (and surprisingly, the dogs weren’t bothered). I was able to go into something of a trance out there with the animals and my wool. I spent almost two hours in vivid gratitude and peace, moving one stitch at a time, in awe at how beautiful life is. Then, suddenly, my ball of wool rolled down the steps. Absently, I reached out for it, and since my eyes were out of focus (I was using my husband’s glasses then), I lost my balance. I took a tumble down the stairs, landing (thank God) safety on my bottom, completely unhurt. The cats took off in a flash, the dogs stood up in excitement wagging their tails ready to play, the peaceful moment was gone. I laughed. God was telling me: “Keep your balance. See things clearly before reacting. Don’t be so lost, and don’t drift away; you are still bound by the laws of life.”

I am on my third cap now, this time for my daughter, and the winter is going by in a daze of peace, other-worldliness and newness. Every time I look up, I feel like I am seeing the world for the first time, a world full of wondrous things. I feel old as if I have lived a lot, and I feel like a baby who takes joy in the smallest of things, finding something to marvel in the way the wool moves through the hook, the way a cap takes shape out of nothing but a string. I am in deep gratitude for discovering crochet again.

This time I will make myself a cap.

UPDATE, 27 March 2016: I have made 22 caps this far, besides a scarf, and all my colleagues and family members have one. Nope, I still haven’t made a cap for myself.

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Momentary magic

My blog dashboard informs me it’s been two months since I last wrote. And so I am showing up. But I am also here because a moment of magic happened today and I must — must, must — share it.

It was around half an hour ago. I am home with my family, putting away the ironed clothes in my bedroom. My husband sits in the same room, checking out Facebook on his phone. My elder daughter in the next room is telling her young tuition teacher that our dogs Ronnie and Miyake are the nicest dogs she’s ever known, and it’s probably because they are much loved. In another room, my younger daughter and her best friend are singing songs (very beautifully, I must say). The TV is on in the drawing room; there’s no one there but it is a comforting sound. The dogs have gone for a walk with our housekeeper.

I sit down on the chair next to my husband, the folded clothes in my arms, my eyes wide in wonder. “Look at this moment,” I say in a reverent whisper. “Look around. Hear the sounds. Hear them talking, singing, the TV. This moment, it is just PERFECT.” I take a breath. I have goosebumps. There is nothing more perfect in the world except this very moment. Oh my dear Krishna. Thank you.

The extraordinary magic of an ordinary moment.

Someone asked me my life’s goal a few days ago, and I said, “To be of good use”. And so I am being sent people who need to hear from me. It has been a week of unexpected new connections. It has been fun. I feel like wagging my tail like the pug in the advertisement: “happy to help”.

I can never give back as much as I have got, but I can show up.

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