Confusions of alone.

IMG_8080Lonely – the heart or the mind? Neither actually, physical loneliness is what I think it boils down to. The heart can be full of love, the mind can be happy with the day, the flower, the circumstance, a book, a movie, the very air.

No one to sit by, no one to turn and smile at, no hand to hold. Physically alone.

Such a happy place to be when you need to make a decision, get up and go, not seek an opinion, not worry about anyone, no one to ask and no one to tell anything at all. So much ease and bliss.IMG_8365

I love travelling alone. You can decide where to go, for how long, what you most want to do there and it’s easy.

I love being home alone, wake, sleep, lounge, grunge, eat, not eat. No answerability.

Perhaps, when you sit in that cafe in the evening, it might be nice to chat about your day, what you each saw – if it was different, or what you each experienced if it was the same. To perhaps discuss what to do the next day. To even share a bad moment or a IMG_8415magical sunset.

Perhaps, wake to a smile, share a breakfast, feel a touch, walk a walk, cuddle a goodnight. Throw a tantrum even.

I actually tend to think alone people would be very good companions to have. Alone people have had lots of time to think, grow and gather experiences. They have leisure to introspect and understand. They have the ability of silence and observation. They have the value for a companion.

Perhaps, I would like to find another alone person to be alone with.IMG_8148

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THE PHONE STORY – IS ETIQUETTE IMPORTANT or JUST AN OLD FASHIONED WORD?

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I was at dinner the other night at the venerable Delhi Gymkhana Club, that for many, follows antiquarian rules. It well may, but some of those rules are what go to making a very pleasant environment. Isn’t that what is required of any public space where people go to have a convivial time?

One of the young ladies with me was answering her phone while sitting with us in the bar, and I had to warn her that she would be fined if she did not stop.

There was absolute disbelief and amazement in her voice when she said ‘really? why?’

Why? why do we think the phone is this instrument that first, needs to be instantly answered, and second, that it should be allowed to interrupt everything else in your life?

I find it quite basic good manners, forget manners, courtesy even; that if you are sitting with people who have made the time to come be with you, you accord them too the courtesy of being with them – and not on your phone.

That you are in a place of leisure, where all the people around you too have come to meet and be with their friends and family in a convivial environment where someone loudly talking into their phone is disturbing and not necessarily what they came to hear.

Have you noticed that if you are having a conversation amongst people whether on a train, a bus or in a restaurant, it is likely to be much quieter than if you are having that same conversation on a phone in those public domains?

I once found myself on a bus travelling through the English countryside, and one young person spent the whole journey having a quarrel with her boyfriend on the phone. The whole bus knew exactly what was up with her life; love life,sex life, friends’ lives and a whole host of details that were nobody’s business but her own, and many of us really did not want to know. What we did want, was a quiet drive to enjoy the scenery or read a book, or even have a conversation of our own and were hugely disturbed by this unthinking behaviour.

Now think, if her boyfriend had been sitting next to her, they would probably have had a whispered argument and not that full scale phone battle. That is not a given, however. Which brings me to loud, public conversations too – why would I not have a loud public disagreement?

I would if it were a matter of public opinion or debate.

I would not if it was just my business, because I would not want it to be public. I would not want a public disturbance, I do not like people encroaching on my business and therefore I have no right to push myself onto them. If I do not want their opinion then I have to make sure I do not give them the opportunity to give it.

So it comes to the question of consideration. Considering another’s comfort or discomfort. Why would we do that? Many’s the time we were told by a parent, a teacher or an elder – ‘it’s good manners.’

But why did it become ‘good manners’ in the first place.

I think it goes back to an intrinsic fact of community. Almost all creatures that inhabit this earth live in communities. For those communities to function there have to be patterns of acceptable behaviour, else it becomes difficult to work within a society.

Ultimately it boils down to individual rights, doesn’t it? Why does one person have the right to disturb another?

Either I give you the right or you take the right by force.

If I give the right, we stay amicable and friendly, if you take it by force, I fight you and hate you.

What is pleasanter for both you and me – the peace or the war?

So where does answering that phone fit in? It’s my right to answer my phone wherever I like.

But if I am sitting next to you it is my right to tell you that your loud conversation is disturbing me.

It gives me a headache, it disturbs my concentration while I read or write or do sudoku. It is not your right to disturb me. Stalemate and fight.

But if a public place bans mobile phones, then there is no chance of the strife occurring. Is that wrong? They have the right, it is their space and you needn’t be there if you don’t like the rules. That’s your right.

But I am wandering from consideration to rights.

Why do people still gravitate to people with etiquette and good manners if it is old fashioned?

I do not think it is just an old fashioned concept, Manners or Etiquette came about to create a set of acceptable behaviours so people could co habit and co exist. That necessity still exists, much as we feel that we the individual should be allowed to do what we please. Sure we may, but really, not so much if you want to be a social person and live amongst other people – even if you want to go live all alone in the jungle, there would be the rules of the jungle that would apply.

It is like the contract that we make when I take children on a trip – the first thing is contracting our behaviour – what would we like to include on this trip and what would we like to exclude, in terms of behaviour. By and large all the children include, being polite, considerate, caring, sharing, listening, helping etc etc. Exclude, being rude, selfish, bullying, noisy, unco-operative etc etc.

As far as my concept of etiquette and good manners goes, this is all that it means. To be pleasant and positive.

Why? It makes you feel good, lessens the strife in your own life and it generates the same in the people you meet so it makes you feel doubly good. There’s something very right about that.

That is what my understanding of etiquette and good manners is.

The discussion continues into all aspects of life – as every good book of etiquette did present. The fact that I haven’t found one of those in a long time does not really mean that we have to give up on the graces.

A disappearing grace.

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My  uncle needed some help with his computer, this is how it transpired:

First  his major domo calls the house phone this morning, to enquire if I was awake and free to talk.

Once that was established, he called on my mobile. He explained that he was having some trouble remembering how to do stuff on his computer. Would I please come by and help him when convenient. This came only after the greetings and well beings had been established. No ungracious short cuts.

We fixed on this evening – his question – tea or drinks? I said around 5.30, he laughed and said ‘we will have to see whether that should be late tea or early drinks once you get here.’

I arrived to find him sitting at his table, the computer open and his notebook beside it, with all the issues neatly listed. Ready for me to arrive.

But first of course there was the matter of tea or drinks, which was resolved with tea before we started work and maybe drinks once we finished. ‘The important things in life must come before the mundane.’

His problems were dealt with in short order, he snapped the machine shut and said, ‘well then, time to put on the brothel slippers.’  I have no idea where the bits emerge from till today, I have known him some 58 years, this expression was new.

‘An old cavalry expression for relaxing of an evening’ he said, ‘ an officer did not walk into a brothel beating a drum!’ 

In today’s language they are called ‘desert boots’ probably not even that any longer, but essentially casual ankle high suede shoes with rubber soles. I was so entertained – the vision of cavalry boots thumping up a brothel stairway and the soft tread of the brothel slippers came quite vividly to mind.

I love these moments with the old folk, there is a grace and charm and such perfect courtesy – not to mention the snippets of trivial information that open a window into a world gone by.

My happy drive to work

IMG_5925I have been based in this city, on and off, all my life – and for the most part have been happiest away. These last few days, something changed. Not the city, just my awareness of it. Have a look at my drive to work, it is quite the happiest part of my day. Every round about is a blaze of spring colour, the roadsides are blooming.  That I choose to only drive through the pretty parts of Delhi is a very concious decision, why would one live in this city and not enjoy the bestest part of it. I find I am coming to terms with, if not actually enjoying my city.

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It is quite spectacular – at least the bits I choose to see everyday. My spirits lift the moment I cross the Dhaula Kuan flyover and start seeing the pretty flowers and nicely maintained road sides. The Teen Murti Circle is a delight, then I turn and the majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan takes centre stage – very proud making. The fountains and flowers of Vijay Chowk have to be the best bit of it all – such a wonderful spectacle spreads all the way down Rajpath till India Gate. By now I am in such a happy state that the rest of the traffic becomes

IMG_5920IMG_5922inconsequental and the mood wafts me into my office on a haze of happy colour. How easy it is to change a perspective, I only just realized that I have an infinite ability to see only what I please. Thus, when I drive back to Gurgaon in the evening and leave the pretty bits behind, honestly, I still manage to see a very pretty sunset almost everyday through the haze of pollution. It’s a happy state.

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Man vs Beast

My grandmother called the human race a deadly virus that would destroy the earth. She said we were the only species that destroyed the very things that sustain us. She also said man could be worse than a rabid beast. A beast is acting true to his character, if he attacks, he does so only to eat or protect. Man has no such requirement….She was right.

She was a woman who had lived a lot of life.

This morning I listened to the debate on the radio with unutterable disbelief and horror. Is the making or showing of this documentary even a topic? Why? Why isn’t the fact of what that man said being discussed?

His words reiterate what all of us in our hearts know – she was so brutally assaulted because she fought. He means she would still have been raped, but somewhere in that complete oblivion of right or wrong he does not even begin to think that raping her was equally as bad as brutalising her. What does that say for us all – for his parents, for his village, for his society, which is also ours? He has peers, friends, kin that all actually think exactly as he does. He is not alone – that is what we should be addressing.

There are statements like ‘ what happens if you put a toffee on the road? Obviously the dogs get it’. This from a man who is learned, or so we would assume, he is a lawyer and advocate talking about rape!

This isn’t only an Indian context, it happens the world over. Did anyone see the photograph of Dominique Strauss – Kahn in the Hindu today? He is striding forth in complete power and assurance to attend his trial for rape, pimping and abusing sex workers. He certainly does not think he has done a thing wrong.

Why are we wondering who gave permission for the documentary instead of debating what we can do to condition the minds of men to perhaps emulate the wild beasts that we so happily malign. They do not hurt and abuse for entertainment and pleasure.

The Happiness Quotient

wide eyes the pansy

Sometime last month I thought I had finally caught the acute family malady – depression. Believing all my life that I had evaded this one overwhelming genetic disaster, an already down me was bought even lower thinking it was just late in coming. So imagine my plight – grey out the window (it’s just Delhi). Cold, (which I hate when it is city based cold) take me to a snowy topped mountain and life is fine. But there weren’t any trips in the offing.

I had descended into that horrible state where one wallows, not even trying to get out of it, all I wanted was the heater, preferably bed and a hot water bottle. The world was grey, the future held no excitement, the books were boring, the crossword undoable, the friends had deserted. It was a long weekend and there was no work, I should have gone home to ‘The Pind’ but I could not find the energy. I am quite sure there are many who empathise with this, it was rather alien to my normally upbeat self.

This is when the hum drums of life can save your soul. Sheila my wonderful keeper of all things necessary – home, market, kitchen, laundry et al – fell sick! I hope you understand the depths of despair this bought with it. I had to get out of bed – I had to go to the shop for milk. On the way to the shop I had to walk through the pretty garden and there I met a pansy – the flower – to clarify!

When my daughters were little they had pansy friends – see drawing – those beds of pansies were invested with real people and whole families. Grandfathers to little girls. This little burgeoning pansy suddenly lifted that horrible pall of gloom and made me smile in remembrance. I got back home with the milk and pulled out all the old drawings
and little stories that went with them.

But before that while I stood there smiling at the pansy a friend came along, that led to a conversation and the invitation to a drink. More gloom lifted. Back home with all the old stuff scattered around, the stories got put in order and the drawings collated. They might even go to a publisher now?

Happiness and purpose all due to a packet of milk and a pansy.

The River

IMG_5738I drove across the bridge at Hardwar, and that first sight of the Ganga brightened my heart and set me smiling. It happens every time – the river, the mountains and that forest act like an elixir. The guard at the barrier to Rajaji Park, smiles and waves you through, the road winds through the forest and it feels like old friends welcoming you. Every vista, the trees and the grasses spell home. The old guard at the inner gate who has been there forever, recognises and waves. This time I took the road along the left bank all the way to the Garur Chatti bridge, by passing Rishikesh aswell. How I do love this part of the world and what a beautiful drive it makes with non of the traffic and noise, the perfect way to enter this home stretch after the maddening road conditions all the way from Delhi. Suddenly, it all washes away, the sunlight makes tree shadows dance, the road along the canal brings memories of elephant meetings and butterflies.

Three days at camp – blissful sunshine, the sparkling river with all her familiar nuances and time to stare despite being there to work. It is never work surrounded by that view. I found a new rock and spot to replace the one I lost. Sitting there and talking to the river as in the old days was a healing that has been a long time coming. She was my friend and confidante for so many years and washed away many a care and I thought I had lost the connection. Now as I sit and watch, the cliche of life flowing like a river resounds  – the turbulence, the obstacles, the depths and shallows and all through it, the constant flow. How many, many people before me have thought and said it, and how many more will say it, the point is how many have found wisdom, strength, succour on the banks of how many rivers? This one is just special to me – I think all rivers are special – but the Ganga truly is my friend and I am blessed to still be able to live on her banks whenever I choose.

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