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.

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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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Albums and trunks, clearance or remembrance!

OF ALBUMS AND TRUNKS IMG_5699

I thought I would clear some clutter before the new year came in. Little did I think that it was going to be a crying jag of epic proportions.

IMG_5702Trunks: those wonderful things that store everything – I have many – and I thought to get rid of them!! Obviously I didn’t – to start –  it was the girls’ old files – report cards and letters – I was not able to throw out a single one. Then I found an old folder of all the cards that I had kept from my wedding – half those people are gone, but seeing those messages – obviously I just sat there, cried and packed them back into the folder. Backward in time to my own school files and dimmed letters from my grandfather, the ink is faded but the messages remain in that tiny scrawling hand, so many words of wisdom that carried me all this way.

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A dancing Bare Moms

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And dancing parents!

Followed the albums, ancient history, a whole story and so many memories. What a vast family I have, so many, many people that all come together to that one me! It constantly amazes me that I am the only person who has all of these people. Parental doubles, grandparents in quadruples, oh so many aunts, uncles, siblings.

An accident of birth, an accident of circumstance, an accident of plenty yet not any. To belong to so many people, yet to not wholly belong to any – it alternates between a blessing and a craving.

For the longest part of my life I wanted a place and a space that was answerable to none. Today I have it and love it, but, occasionally it throws up that odd alone feeling. This weekend was one such. Do I forget my family or does my family forget me? Probably all in my head and just the memories making me nostalgic and maudlin. 

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A little Maya

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A little Rifq

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Sisters!

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Youth.

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Friends, the dancing ones.

Bombay: Nostalgia and memories

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The Gateway of India

Bombay, for the last few years I have been coming to a different Bombay – what I knew as the suburbs, but where all the young ones, including my daughters live. This time the girls are not here and I am in old haunts and it is a trip down memory lane. Just how much I realised when I was sitting by the window of my beautiful old room in the yacht club, overlooking the Gateway of India and saw the Naval ensign flying off this venerable old building. Obviously I opened the window and tried to peer through the trees to see what was on. That’s when I heard the announcement for the beating retreat ceremony to be held there forthwith. It is a ceremony that I love, with the marching bands and the melodies. Imagine it in this setting, with the backdrop of the harbour and the ships.IMG_5558

I ran down and out into the street to see what I cold see. Naval personnel all over the place, for an instant, I actually thought of going up to the entrance and talking my way in. Then I looked around at the milling throngs and decided I had been in the enclosures often enough. This time I was going to be just one of the crowd peering in.

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The Naval ships lit up

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Helicopter fly past

Found a great vantage point on the median of the road in front of the Taj Hotel. I had to crane my neck to actually see much, but I could hear the music and I could see the colours of the sunset. The helicopters arriving and doing their bit, I realised I didn’t actually have to see any of it, my minds eye relived it all from so many times, but just the fact of being there – in that place at that time. The haunting melody of ‘Abide with Me’ and the naval ships in the harbour turning on their lights. I think all my ‘naval brat’ friends will understand exactly what I mean, there is a poignancy to the whole; pride and a belonging along with a sense of nostalgia.

That this was to occur just the day that I chose to be here, happy chance!

I am now sitting in the bar at the Yacht club, overhearing snippets of sailing conversation, some gentleman trying to get a pretty, scared lady to go sailing. I look around at the memorabilia of sailing lore and think how much I love the sea. I think i shall go sailing one of these days while I am here.

I am so glad I decided to stay here rather than with family and friends. It reiterates for me that thought that comes so often, how being alone can be such a blessed state. Though I would have taken that buggy ride if there had been someone to share it…..so….

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Lit in tricolour

The fortune of my life that throws up these magic moments makes me sure to thank the powers that be for the enchantments.

PS: My photographs are just for story telling not for their great quality!!

The great Taj Mahal Hotel

The great Taj Mahal Hotel

The buggy rides.

The buggy rides.

Bun tikkies and Kwality toffees

IMG_5515Next year we will have known each other for 50 years. We joined school as little girls with pigtails, today even our daughters are out of pigtails, yet we are still able to revert to that childhood and share the same laughter – it is the spa of friendship – which we revisit every year.

We shared the growing years, then grew apart to work, to nurture families and all the stuff that life involves. Some 6 years ago we all connected again to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the old school. Some of us had been in touch in bits and starts, some had been very far away, but that meeting probably came right at the time that it was meant to, we needed the reconnection and we needed that crazy bond that keeps us soaring.

We have spent the last few days together doing nothing in our very own spa full of healthy, home grown food, healthy oils and unguents – red henna and black henna experiments, mad stories and madder laughter. The old trees and gardens of a wholly quirky home allow for wallowing in the sunshine, the whole package allows for a rejuvenation of the soul with the sharing of every bitty, silly story and the whole hearted support of friends that will never judge.

Just how lucky were we that the parents left us at those grey gates to form these relationships that so importantly carry us happily through life.

An encounter in the Dhauladhars

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Many years ago I did an amazing trek up across the Dhauladhar range, crossing the Indrahar pass above Dharamsala, down into the valley of the Chenab and the ancient temple town of Barhmour. But feeling intrepid, we had decided to keep going and cross the crazy Kugti Pass aswell bringing us into the Lahaul valley and on again across the Rohtang into Manali and roads, baths etc. That this was a fabulous trek with many adventures is true, but I tell this story because during that trek we were travelling with the Gaddis, (Shepherds of the Himalaya) who take their flocks to the high pastures perched below these passes. We met one family while crossing the Indrahar, and they introduced us to another that was going upto Kugti.

259bd908e21fcd0d842a3d606e4c0e63Now a few weeks back I was on a short walk in the very same mountains with an amazing group of people who had come all the way from Ecuador to visit the Himalaya and also touch base with the spirituality of these mountains. We were doing a comfortable trek from Macleodganj, via Baal village upto the meadows of Triund, up beyond to the Lahesh caves and back. The age group varied from 30 to 78, all wonderfully positive and full of vim and vigour.

We had lovely clear mornings, but after the first day every afternoon would bring the clouds and rain. Every evening we would sit around the fire and recount what were the pearls of our day. It was a lovely ritual, but I can’t tell you how many times I heard that the pearl of the day had been ‘walking in the rain.’ This was just how positive the mood in this group was.IMG_5399

On our third day, while climbing up to the Lahesh caves and or the temple at the top of the hill, one of the ladies felt under the weather and so I walked back to camp with her, while the others carried on. Back in camp after she was comfortable, I decided to go find a likely rock and write, gaze, medititate in this suddenly found free time. The mist was swirling, I went and sat comfortably in the embrace of a likely boulder and the dreaming came easy. Shortly I heard the familiar bells of goats and sheep and sure enough they were all around me in minutes, appearing out of the swirly clouds like ghostly shapes. Along with them came the shepheard. He perched himself on a rock when he saw me sitting there and we started chatting, I asked him when he would head down and where his home was. Somewhere during that chat I asked where their high grazing grounds were – he said below the Kugti. That is when I told him that I too had crossed that pass with the help of some shepheards many years ago. He said, ‘I know, I was a young man then and I remember taking you and your friends to the top. You have not recognized me, but I do you.’

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It was the most surreal moment – sitting on top of a mountain in this misty haze surrounded by the tinkle of sheep bells and meeting a stranger who was an old friend. What a perfect afternoon that added another touch of magic to my many magic moments in these mountains.

Daughters and dreams

I have dreamt about it, my daughter has done it. Packed up her custom made flat in Bombay to move to Goa.photo

She has the most charming little house with a huge sit out verandah which is her living area, looking out on a motley garden with old trees. A typical old goan house with tiled roofs, open spaces it all feels exactly like what I always wanted, my camp turned into a bit of house. This is what Rifq is now living in and she is so happy, and the whole deal makes me utterly blissful.image

I arrived to see these twinkling candles lighting up the most beautiful space. My little daughter sitting there, reading of all things, the Mahabharath. I don’t know where they came so smart from. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Goa, hidden by old trees, she is sitting outside on her dining table to work, to eat, to be.

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I who never asked my children to live my dreams, find them doing so all on their own. Motivates me to live them too. My trouble is I don’t know which I want to live first – live in Florence and learn Italian, live in Buenos Aires and learn the Tango, go to Alaska to kayak or go to the Antartica to see the penguins and the Aurora Australis?

At the moment I am enjoying a weekend with both my girls, laughing madly, fixing Rifq’s garden and being happy with my intrepid adventurers.