Personal Essay

September Love

By Anonymous

I am sure lovely Lang Leav would forgive me for using this title, the name of her book that I so long to read.

September Love!

Such a hearty month September is! The doorway to the very few cool months we have in Chennai. Where we have not yet been able to shake off the hot days, but a few cool breezy nights and dreams pay timid visits.

A doorway where we can wait with a coffee for the promise of October, confidence of November and an even more resolute December to arrive.

September is not so sure of its identity and that makes it sugary! Where does she stand? On the fence mostly!

Like most of us.

There is something else that’s happening this month.

Tomorrow, my only son who is 23 leaves home to pursue his next phase of career and life.

He is successful in my eyes but may not be from most people’s eyes. He did not pursue a professional course, was average in academics, had no particular talent in sports except for his great affinity to water and everything related to it.

He can’t draw, paint, sing, cook or dance. The max that he could manage was win a fancy dress which required no particular talent, and win an odd quiz or two mostly because of abject incompetence of the competition.

We tried a lot to figure his tastes through various classes. We put him in dance, table tennis, karate, badminton and drawing. After a few initial spurts of enthusiastic attempts, things just fizzled away.

In the last few years of teenage, we as parents took our hands off him with regard to most of his life decisions. Be that what course he studied, be that his jobs, how he spent his time, with whom, how etc.

The only two things we did was one, to tell him that we are around in case he needed to speak, seek advice, share or vent; and two, trying to know who his friends were.

Fortunately, most people he moved with were and are good ones. The pareto principle of 80-20 worked well in his case. 80% of the time things were good. We chose to ignore the not so good 20%!

To come to the nice things he has and is:

He has an excellent sense of subversive humour, he is never unkind to old people, animals or people less fortunate or privileged than him.

He empathises with the struggle of women and the marginalised in a world which is unfair to them. He is not vain, can work hard if he chooses to. He is engaging. He is not an entitled ass. He is trying hard to lose the vestiges of entitlement he has in him due to the lack of awareness that we as parents had and which permeated into him thus.

He is an endearing mix of a logical mind and an emotional heart. Most often and much to my chagrin, he takes decisions of heart than of the head. But that is alright; it is better than being skewed too much to the other extreme.

He was gainfully employed for the first time at 19 years; at a younger age than most people his age found employment or chose to work.

Now at 23, he has 4 years of work experience which is remarkable and is a significant asset, and he is finally pursuing his Masters because he realised that at least to be moderately successful (read make money) in this world, a post grad helps. If not in anything else but in perception management which is everything now!

It is superfluous for any mom to say she loves her son. Most mothers do, I think!

But this was not the case when he was smaller. Being a mother at 22, I just went about dealing with him as a task to be done well and to the best of my knowledge and capability.

I found it very difficult to relate to him as a child or ‘my’ child. The fact that my career was in its beginning stages (if I could call all the random things I did in life, a career) and it was physically and emotionally very demanding added to the distance or lack of emotional involvement I had with the boy.

I only wanted more sleep for myself and time to be a bit alone than anything else. I simply did not understand him and was overwhelmed at the new role.

I think the selfishness I had, in its most distilled form, would remain my only and biggest regret.

The fact that I did not provide a more involved, enriching and meaningful childhood to him.

Fortunately for the boy, his dad did an admirable job and made up for many things I did not. I really look up to the awareness, selflessness and intuition some mothers have in mothering. It is admirable.

But then it is what it is and he grew up to a good person in spite of me more than because of me!

Probably I did do some things right as well. Being a hands-off mother suited me and made him emotionally antifragile. His independence is a lucky casualty borne out of my selfishness! And hence my son is who I would call one of my successful projects.

September is the month of liberation and loss. September is the month when a lot of people I love dearly celebrate their birthdays. September is when I am sending my son away trustingly and confidently into the hands of the universe.

There is a sense of freedom that comes in loving a person from a distance. Where you are not irked with having to pick up soiled clothes from bedroom floors or ant-ridden coffee mugs from work desks. It’s a love that springs in an environment sans responsibilities and irritation.

I am looking forward to that pining, fond kind of love. Well, I am used to loving that way. With my son, I have not had that opportunity though!

I am going to miss his unique brand of humour, sharing random news with him, criticising people we have a common dislike for, watching raccoon videos or marvel shows with him, late night movie jaunts, tea shop banter with him, his measured glee on seeing Mughlai Chicken, digging into the egg maggi he makes late-night for himself and eating most part of it, the long talks on life, career, movies, people, rationality and spirituality, his unbridled scorn for all my beliefs, his hope that one day I would see his reason and my conviction that he will see mine!

And like that, like every year, sweet September is ending. The wait for wind whistling eerily through French windows starts along with another epoch of loving someone from afar without thorns of expectations, irritation, loss or failure marring it!

I hope my boy finds happiness, growth and fulfilment in everything he does – in work, in life, in people he gets to meet, love or lose!

One could at this moment perhaps say, it’s just Bangalore he is going to, you rotten coconut, no wonder from who your son inherited his sense for drama!

(ends)

Short Essay

MACHCHU

By Sushi

My love for fragrant sambrani springs from a desire to see it burn once more —

— for the goddess of my ancestral home in Kollengode.

The house of Azhakappadath, which sheltered generations, had a special sanctum in the middle of the house — a cave-like room called the machchu.

That’s where she sat, the Bhagawathy — a black stone goddess my grandmothers loved.

I saw this grim deity sometimes when my grandmothers arranged special poojas for the warrior gods and snake divinities outside our home.

Special offerings were taken to the machchu where the Bhagawathy sat all alone.

My grandmothers stood before her with their heads bowed, like ghosts wrapped in a fog of white as fistfuls of sambrani sizzled on hot coal.

I watched their clothes catch the smoke. It made them smell like petrichor.

Time bulldozed its way through this mystical give-and-take as my grandmothers lost the house along with the deity they guarded like serpents.

I never smelled rain on their clothes again or witnessed them emerge from the machchu like superwomen celebrating some grand mission.

My love for sambrani has its roots in loss too then, in knowing that a goddess once loved and lost like my grandmothers did.

I look for her sometimes, the guardian of that big old house.

Perhaps she is the one who adds a sparkle to the falls that hug the majestic western ghats.

Maybe she rests in the two-headed drum that weeps every evening for Kachamkurissi’s Lord.

She could be in the heat of a wood fire that feeds a home or in the death of a leaf that flies alone.

But does she — like me — ever seek the smell of resin sizzling on hot coal?

Does she — like me — stay awake some nights, haunted by those ghostly moments of simple prayer when my grandmothers smelled like petrichor?

(ends)

A Personal Essay on Divorce

THE MORNING AFTER

By Anonymous

Three years back to this week, when my husband who I thought was the love of my life, the man with whom I thought I would spend my sunset years, walked out of my life, I wished I were dead!

A life without him in it was unfathomable for me. He had his reasons to do what he did and I had my reasons to spare no effort in getting him back.

At 43, after being married for 21 years, I had no clue how to lead a life on my own.

Make no mistake, I have been for decades an ‘independent’ woman; in the popular sense of the word.

I could go get work done, wherever I was. Alone. Govt offices including. I could travel across continents alone, I could handle men who would pinch me in public transport alone. That is the ‘me’ that most of world knew.

Even I thought that was me.

But emotionally, I was a child who clung on to people in my life, especially my husband, as if I were a helpless infant.

That infant was the one who was bereft of all will to live and feeling a physical pain at the idea of being alone.

I was emotionally so dependent on him that I had no idea of life, happiness, conversation, leisure, work or even friends in a context unrelated to him.

My identity was a part of the unit which was ‘we’.

And so, I prayed, pleaded, coaxed, cajoled, reasoned, emotionally blackmailed and dug into my lowest of low depths to hold on to him.

I was angry, resentful and indignant about my situation. I met astrologers, chanted prayers, visited temples, churches, met healers, spoke to people who could convince him to come back.

I rode the moral high horse and felt that justice was on my side and on my side alone. I just wanted one more chance to prove and be the best wife earth — or at least Chennai — has ever seen.

Then universe conspired to let a therapist enter my life.

She eventually turned out to be much more than that. She became the Guru and the God.

She was an intensely spiritual person who showed me as yet unknown options on how to look at life. Time spent with her was like a key turning inside a lock to a treasure house.

The gaze turned inward quite quickly and smoothly. And the process was so smooth…like warm silky hot chocolate going down your throat on a cold night in the mountains.

The volte-face of my mind mildly shocked me as well. I started becoming a more rational person, growing more confident by the day and yet embracing my emotional vulnerabilities and accepting them.

Much kinder to myself with guilt and anger seeping out, the new feeling I was easing into was indescribable.

Then his divorce notice landed at home.

I hoped he would withdraw it and come back to me and we would put it all behind us and live happily ever after. As days went by, hope started diminishing and I started coming to terms with it and the coping mechanisms started kicking in slowly.

Then there were these counter-productive thoughts like ‘He is going to regret it and come back to me and realise it was a mistake leaving me’.

Focus was clearly on him still. From there slowly it moved to my fantasies of the divorce day. Of him regretting leaving me and coming behind me begging to be forgiven but me refusing and walking into the arms of a wonderful, ideal, perfect man I would have newly found for myself by then and who was head over heels in love with me.

So it was just a shift of focus from husband to a substitute figure who could take care of me, my heart, my mind, my needs. Just someone else I wanted to handover myself to.

Because I thought there is surely someone else who knew how to take care of me better than me.

Eventually therapy progressed, I read voraciously, wrote a lot, introspected intentionally, and started doing a lot of things by myself, for myself and without ulterior motives or focusing too much on outcomes.

I also had and still have the good fortune to be surrounded by a set of close supportive friends who are wonderful souls and never mollycoddled me or let me slip into unproductive regressive behavior patterns.

The more I started doing things differently I started seeing things differently from how I am used to.

I am enough for me was a new realisation that sunk in.

If there are others to love me and help me and care for me, it’s great and I would enjoy anything that came my way with gratitude. But if none of it is there, that’s fine too is the state I moved to.

Eventually I warmed up to the idea of a divorce and we decided to get his divorce suit changed to a mutual consent divorce petition.

This was part of my realisation that being single was not so bad.

And it actually started feeling better.

Being responsible for myself, my choices, my time and my decisions felt incredibly liberating. Though mine was a marriage where equality in the true sense of the word existed in how we were as partners, this new sense of liberation was totally different. It was about self- accountability and the need to operate at my highest level because I was not pitted against anyone else but myself.

I was in the process of being a complete person by myself, where my identity is just mine alone and not in relation to anyone or anything else.

An independent human functioning as just she herself. Warts and all!

I had nothing to prove and no obligations, except my happiness which has to be achieved with least unhappiness and inconvenience to people who love me was the stand I took from then on.

The journey was long and there have been moments, days or weeks of despair but such days and sadness is not something that is just mine to endure.

Everyone goes through that. The happiest of couples go through bad days and perhaps even more pain sometimes in the struggle to live up to so many expectations that are placed on them.

Today I am in a ‘no man’s land’.

Fearlessly and by choice alone.

I am not looking at a man to complete me. I am capable of engaging myself in a complete way. And I have been able to let go of my husband in its real sense. We still go for movies together sometimes, gossip about common acquaintances, buy groceries together sometimes, split our bills on things at times as well…

The biggest irony however is that it is now that I love him and respect him more unconditionally than I had in the two decades of our marriage.

Love is a big, big, big thing.

Not limited to a certain defined straight-jacketed kind. It is beyond definition and cannot be contained. There are no rules in love either.

Love is not about owning, possessing controlling or having a say in the other person’s life or choices either.

It’s surely not about wanting them to function in a way that you prefer them to! It is not about wanting to manage or ensure your partner’s happiness. That is for them to ensure themselves. Like I do mine.

To love is not about loving the idea of being loved by them. Reciprocity has no place if you really love someone. If there is expectation it ceases to be love. Love is very simple and is a state of being. Unrestricted, real and limitless.

In that space where we love ourselves completely, we end up loving everyone else because that’s the easiest state to be in. The most uncomplicated.

So yesterday we got our divorce and we went to court together, laughing at our usual bad jokes and planning for our son flying off the nest to find his footing in a different city.

We had two fairly good 2 decades of marriage but I do not want to have him back now. I do not hope he regrets leaving me. Frankly I am glad he left me. It turned out to be something that made me grow to be the best version of myself.

I do not want him to be unhappy or troubled. I don’t think I am responsible for his happiness or sadness either.

I would like to be there for him if he needs me and turn up in my best unselfish version. I know he too would do the same for me if I needed him for anything at all.

There is friendship and love.

Marriage or divorce has lost its meaning. To love someone, you don’t need to be married. To absolutely hate someone, you don’t need divorce either. You can be in marriage and hate every living minute of it. You can love someone unconditionally without marriage as well.

Divorce is not a failure, nor is marriage an achievement. There is nothing called holding on to a marriage. You can hold on to a fart or a burp, but you can’t hold on to a marriage.

There is no sense of defeat or failure attached to a divorce. A divorce is just that. A paper you get after years of visiting a court dealing with lawyers in their black coats.

One just needs to be the proverbial Rock of Gibraltar and confidently say, ‘Yes your honour, we are sure we want a divorce, we are better off separate!’

I like having my friends and family with me when they can spare the time for me and my company. If not, I am there for me.

This is not to say I wouldn’t want to be loved back. With whiskey, flowers, gelato…the works! If it happens great, if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

I am not looking out for love. If it chooses to fall into my lap, I would treat it well. My life is beautiful and complete.

I would sit below the tree, by the brook, in peace counting the birds and flowers, picking on grass…

…and probably hear a “Hello there!” some day…Or not!

That’s the sweet spot I am in today. And it’s the sweetest!

(Ends)

FICTION

A Lesson for the Lord

By Sushi

“What are you saying, Ganesh?”

“I won’t go, Mother.”

The elephant god of the Hindus stood with his arms crossed and feet hopping.

His father — Shiva — sat at a distance as his mother spoke again:

“Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important festivals for worshippers everywhere. You can’t skip it.”

Ganesh slapped his head and shouted:

“How long will I keep going back and forth, Mother? I am their pathway to transcendence, to freedom. But they have caged me in their little minds. Rarely do I find those that are willing to leave their futile desires and walk back with me to your abode, Mother.”

“But Ganesh…”

“Sorry, Mother. The earthlings make a mockery out of everything. They have built a moving statue of mine that gets up and blesses devotees. Can you imagine this?”

Parvati glanced at Shiva who pretended not to have heard a thing.

Ganesh raged on.

“A decade ago, all of them forced liters of milk down my throat. Then they announced competitions titled Best Ganesh or something that saw me in utterly hideous costumes. They put Krishna’s flute in my hands and his peacock feather on my head. Then they made me sit somewhere with Aunt Saraswati’s veena. That Sakku Bai from Satara — my most ardent devotee — she worships coconuts imagining them to be me! I admit I have a paunch but is it necessary to always stress the obvious?”

“Ganesh…”

“Please, Mother. They all come to me with dreams I can’t fulfill. It depresses me no end to listen to their stories and aspirations. They are so full of themselves.”

Parvati opened her mouth to say something but Ganesh interrupted her again.

“Please tell the astrologers to break the news to the earthlings,”he said. “There shall be no celebration henceforth.”

The Hindus missed their most popular god for several years, but their scriptures were full of divinities that vied for attention.

The earthlings replaced Ganesh with lesser known gods who slowly gained prominence.

Ganesh Chaturthi became a thing of the past till one day Ganesh went to his parents again.

“I can’t find Mooshik.”

“Mooshik belongs to earthlings,”said Shiva.

“He is MY vehicle, Father.”

“But where are YOU, my son?”

Ganesh spread out his hands.

“Here I…”

He stopped speaking.

“Where are my legs? And…my crown…and…”

Ganesh disappeared bit by bit until all that remained was his trunk.

The god’s sorrowful cry shook the heavens.

“What gave you form was the love of millions, Ganesh. What took it away is your failure to comprehend this.”

Parvati clucked her tongue.

“What’s to be done, dear boy? The earthlings have magic in their hearts. They breathe life into whatever they pray to, from elephant gods and river goddesses to tree trunks and pots of money.”

“But what is the greatness in being a god if I can’t even live on my own terms?”asked Ganesh.

“Our greatness — or lack of it — is of little importance. What matters is the capacity of earthlings to bend and bow, to renounce their egos and surrender.”

“But that’s the point! Many amongst them use their gods to further their own agendas, to serve their egos — the richest pandal, the biggest mandap, the most popular statue. Who has ever surrendered?”

“You and I don’t dictate life, Ganesh. We are as much a part of it as earthlings are.”

“Why do we pretend to be powerful then?”

“We don’t pretend to be anything, child. We exist only through their eyes.”

“For what?”

“To help them navigate their destinies without judging their sentiments. Spiritual surrender happens, only if life wills it. Till then, play your role with gratitude and love.”

The god’s trunk swayed sadly in the air as Parvati spoke:

“That you are still here means someone somewhere needs you. Find out who that is.”

Ganesh didn’t have to think too much.

He quickly flew down to a small house at the foothills of the ghats in Satara.

The sight of red hibiscus flowers lifted his senses. He reveled in the fragrance of melting ghee and sweet jaggery. The sound of his name being chanted soothed him.

It was Sakku Bai’s home.

Ganesh trumpeted as he spotted the old woman threading flowers in a corner.

Sakku Bai stood up and squinted.

Did she actually hear an elephant cry? Was it her Bappa?

“Where were you, my Lord? What took you so long?”

Sakku Bai wept as she placed the garland of hibiscus flowers around a turmeric-smeared coconut.

She then drew a trunk on it with bright red vermilion.

Mooshik appeared — as if from thin air — as soon as she lit a lamp and put some soft sweet dumplings before her imaginary god.

Sakku Bai stood aside and chanted her Lord’s name aloud as Ganesh slowly came to life again — from his long dark eyes and massive ears to the four arms and a delightful paunch.

He watched as people gathered around Sakku Bai’s home shouting and singing.

It felt good to be home.

The jubilation lasted several days after which Sakku Bai bade farewell to her favorite god.

“Come back next year!”

She pushed the coconut away into the churning waters of the sea.

Ganesh thus made a humble comeback to his real abode, to the beating hearts of his quirky devotees who continue to celebrate his annual voyage with contests and costumes.

“Do you know Mooshik and me are riding a Covid vaccine at one of the mandaps this year? They are also displaying me as a sportsman, Mother.”

Parvati raised her eyebrows while Shiva sat at a distance with his eyes closed.

“Good to know, son. Did you spot that rare person who is willing to drop his desires and walk back with you?”

“Of what use is enlightenment to a people that already know how to love and let go, Mother? They make me every year, keeping in mind every last detail — even the little ridges on my trunk, Mother — and then they let me wash away into the waters, as if it was nothing more than child’s play. Wouldn’t they already know that life too is somewhat similar, that it simply makes and unmakes itself? What more could I teach them, Mother?”

“I wonder why you didn’t see this earlier, son.”

“I don’t dictate life, Mother. You said that yourself!”

Parvati suppressed a smile and glanced at Shiva.

She knew he had heard exactly what he wanted to hear.

(ends)

(Pic): Wikimedia

Flash Fiction

SULU MAMI’S SUPER SELFIE

By Sushi


Sulu Maami didn’t know how to smile for a selfie.

Every time her grandchildren from America came, she hid in the kitchen so they would stop saying:

“Paatti…smile!”

Her daughter laughed at Sulu Maami’s wedding picture on the wall.

“You look like someone put a gun to your head,”she said.

Sulu Maami stood rigid in the picture. Her lips were a straight line, as if someone had scolded her for smiling.

“I was terrified of your father,”she said.

She barely knew herself at the time. How could she know the man she married?

“What if he didn’t like the almond oil shining on my lips? What if he thought my earrings were too big or my kohl too dark? What if he grumbled about my seven-stone necklace, the one that looked like a rainbow rising behind the mountains of northwestern Thamizh Naad?”

“It’s Tamil Nadu, not Thamizh Naad,”shouted her grandchildren.

“Who cares? Point is, none taught me how to smile or what to smile for.”

She looked at the selfies that her grandchildren sent her sometimes.

Their eyes danced and their hair flew and their faces beamed with joy in all their pictures.

They asked her to send them her selfies too.

“Focus on the camera, Paatti!”

“Okay.”

Sulu Maami drew the curtains of her room and stood before the mirror one morning.

She saw the droop of her lips and the dark circles around her eyes.

Was that her neck? My God.

…oh…and her hair…it looked like a crow’s nest…

…but her teeth were still white and tough.

Sulu Maami limped into her daughter’s room. She opened the cupboard and picked up a small makeup kit.

“You are going to wear all that at this age?”

It was her husband.

He followed her back into their room.

Sulu Maami’s hands trembled but they held the kit tightly.

“The kids…they were asking me to send a picture…haha…I thought…”

“Just click and send, Sulu.”

“Yes, yes…I thought maybe I could dab some of this…”

Her husband sat on the bed and laughed.

Sulu Maami opened the kit. She smelled the powder and eye shadow.

“Smells good, like baby powder.”

Her husband stared at her as she used her forefinger to put some light pink lip color on her dry lips.

“You were so afraid of what my mother thought or my aunt thought or my sisters thought about you. Now what happened, Sulu?”

Sulu Maami didn’t reply.

Her frustration solidified into free will as she put some kohl in her eyes. She then powdered her face and sprayed some perfume on herself.

“Why are you spraying perfume? The picture will smell good?”

“No. My thoughts will.”

Sulu Maami picked up a few jasmine flowers from the Lord’s feet and tied them into a small garland for her hair.

She opened her safe to get her seven-stone necklace.

“Sulu! Have you gone mad?”

She drew back the curtains and got her phone.

“What will the neighbors think, Sulu? You are 70 years old!”

“Yes. And I know who I am now. I also know what you are, what your mother and aunt were, what your sisters can be.”

Sulu Maami lifted her arm and looked at the camera.

Her face was fresh and her eyes more defined. The jasmine flowers on her hair bloomed a bit more.

She grinned.

Her strong, white teeth looked whiter as she moved around with her phone to get the perfect shot.

She finally sat next to her husband who scowled at her.

“Focus on the camera, Thaatha!”said Sulu Maami as she clicked the best selfie of her life.

Her seven-stone necklace shone bright in the picture she sent her grandchildren that morning.

“Super, Paatti!”they said. “Your necklace looks brilliant.”

“…yes, my dears…just like a rainbow rising behind the mountains in northwestern…”

“…THAMIZH NAAD!”yelled her grandchildren, as she laughed and laughed.

(ends)

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