Reverb 10.30: Gifts

I like this Reverb10 but it still digs into the much-dug-into bits of my life, all through the same writing exercise. Here goes, anyway.

December 30 – Gift Prompt: Gift.

This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year? (Author: Holly Root)

Small gifts, meaningful gifts. There were several of them (lucky me!) in 2010. Off the top of my head: -

  • The Best Friend and I had a fallout just before she moved to another continent. I didn’t meet her, see her off or even call her. I felt she wouldn’t make the effort if I didn’t, so why bother. But I was wrong. She called, she reached out. And our friendship is back on track, stronger if at all, than ever. And it’s all down to her. What a wonderful gift!
  • S and I have known each other years and always gotten along. But this year he magically turned into my guardian angel. He was there to listen, to offer advice, to articulate my confusion and finally, for endless bear hugs through all the darkness of the first half of the year.
  • Shirrin was in Mumbai more than once this year. Meeting her is always a surprise. I don’t know why we get along so well but we do. Just talking to her is a gift, being able to do it sitting across her (instead of on a cross-continent phone call) and more than once a year was a delightful suprise!
  • Adi came to town and made it a special point to set aside a day for me. For a man of such popularity, a full day was the most wonderful gift he could have given me.
  • The boy cooked for me on our second anniversary. What more can I say? :-)
  • My parents met the boy, didn’t pressurize me to set a date and when I asked them what they really thought, said, “If you’re happy, that’s really the only thing that matters.” :-)

Reverb 10. 29: Chain Of Events

I was offline through the New Year weekend but I really want to complete Reverb10. So here they are in one shot.

December 29 – Defining Moment

Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year. (Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

2010 was a year of slow-moving but big changes. The first half of the year was spent drifting through darkness, muddling my way through the confusion and betrayal of old friendships gone sour. The second half unexpectedly sped up after meeting the boy. It hasn’t all been roses. We’re very different and we get along – quite literally – like a house on fire. Playing firefighter in a relationship is quite exhausting. But it also teaches you much, so very much about yourself. So at the risk of sounding really corny, repetitive and whatnot, that’s the chain of events that affected my life last year.

Reverb 10.28: Hell & Back Is An Achievement

Grrr to another repetitive and uninspiring Reverb10 prompt. So I’m going the opposite way again. If I was frivolous in the last post, I’ll be ridiculous now.

December 28 – Achieve

What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

(Author: Tara Sophia Mohr)

I’ve said it so many times in so many ways and here it is all over again. I want to have that novel done with and out on the shelves next year.

How do I think I’ll feel after that? I’m petrified that it’ll actually happen. What’ll I do after that? Go back to spreadsheets and emails to clients about meetings? Return to a world where matrimony is the single biggest event in a woman’s life? And wait for the resurrection in importance, also known as motherhood? I’m seeing spots, I think I’m going to throw up. Okay, I’ve written that down.

Hmm. Queasy and petrified. Ten things I can do to feel that way today:

  1. Turn off the lights and watch a horror movie alone. Any horror movie, even Ramsay Brothers. Especially Ramsay Brothers.
  2. Go to Delhi
  3. Watch a double bill of Action Replayy and Tees Maar Khan
  4. Build a time-machine, go 48 hours into the future and stand in the middle of a Mumbai road. (Hint – HAPPY NEW YEAR!)
  5. Get back with the abusive ex-
  6. Go back to the boss-from-hell (who screamed at me daily from across the office & sabotaged my computer)
  7. Drink too much tequila
  8. Do 7. on an empty stomach
  9. Work my way through stale, suspect fried food after 7. and 8.
  10. Torture myself through a list like this simply because I have to have ten

Reverb 10.27: That’s Cold

Tch. Very blah Reverb10 prompt. Blah and so done over. I’m not even going to try at this one. Well, not really try, that is.

December 27 – Ordinary Joy

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

(Author: Brené Brown)

Boyfriend? No, that’s huge.

Cooking? Naah, that’s pretty big for a kitchenphobic like me.

Writing assignments? Ordinary? You’re kidding, right?

Okay, got one. Last year Mumbai didn’t have a winter. Not even the piddly breeze that blows about and puts a flu into every second chest in the city. We sweltered all through Christmas, New Year and when May happened, no one even noticed.

Three years earlier, we had such a dramatic winter that even those damned smug Delhiites had to sit up and take notice. Joyfully, we went shopping and picked up sweaters, jackets, coats, scarves, shawls, shoes and socks. Nada after that.

Ten days back, the little hairs on our arms begin to stand up. Getting out of bed got harder. The sudden urge to snuggle trickled through even the most touch-worn of this city. Throats got queasy. Voices became hoarse. And a joyful (and raspy) whoop sounded across the city.

“It’s winter!”

Reverb10.26: The Way To This Woman’s Heart

This Reverb10 post will be very quick. Not because it’s boring. Actually it’s lovely. But it just will be quick.

December 26 – Soul Food

What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

(Author: Elise Marie Collins)

It was nearing the end of the monsoon. Weeks had passed and the ‘OMG really?’ feeling that I woke up to each morning, had ceased a bit. It was still early enough that we tiptoed around each other but not so much that we stopped at that.

We had done the fancy romantic dinner, complete with wine and fine dining in our first month. And a new house had just occupied much time and attention in both our lives. I hadn’t gotten around to thinking about what we were going to do on our second. Then he made a suggestion. In a hesitant, halting voice, peppered with ‘If you don’t mind’ and ‘Only if you think it’s a good idea’, he suggested a home-cooked meal. Did I mind? Did I?

It was the sweetest thing anyone has ever proposed to do for me, let alone actually done. The kitchen was foreign territory to him and utensils were like alien weapons. But he went online. He asked a female friend for advice. He visited a bookshop and bought a book. And he narrowed it down to something he thought I’d like and that he’d be able to manage – pasta.

On the 17th of September, we went shopping together for the ingredients (I insisted). I couldn’t help hovering around to watch him. He looked at bottles and packets and scratched his head. He popped down to the store for a bottle-opener and returned an hour later with a mysterious (dangerous-looking) contraption that neither of us has been able to figure out yet. We ended up breaking open the olive oil can with a kitchen knife. I showed him how to chop the tomatoes. He improvised (on his first cooking attempt!) and grated some cheese after the pasta was almost cooked.

An hour later we spooned the reddish sauce onto the white pasta on plastic plates. It was delicious. It was the best meal I’ve ever had. Call me corny, call me old-fashioned but what could possibly touch this cynical ol’ feminist heart more than a man who – against all odds – cooks a nice meal for her?

Reverb 10.25: A Green Christmas

A photo Reverb10 post! It makes for a nice change. Also, it calls to the old challenge in me about trying to say something with a picture instead of words, of playing peek-a-boo with my readers by showing them something that is me and yet not instantly recognizable until it is explained.

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

(Author: Tracey Clark)


Say hello to my window garden. Does it seem odd to you that I would introduce my plants to you? Pet-owners do that all the time and if you ask me, animals are a darned bigger nuisance.

Late last year, the doctor down the road was having his clinic renovated. I’d drop in for papers and he’d chat. One time he pointed to a green plant close to his table and complained about a patient who had asked for it but never came by to pick it up. I must have looked interested, because, without asking me, he clipped off a branch and handed it to me, asking me to put it in a little water.

I took it home, cradling the thick, fleshy green stem with its stiff leaves, in my hands. And instead of a glass of water, I took an old clay pot I’d saved from somewhere and filled it with mud. Then I stuck the stem into it and gave it some water.

A couple of days later, the leaves were still green so I continued to water the plant. I was up most nights and on my breaks from reading or writing or when I was on the phone, I’d sit at my window, sometimes putting my feet out of the window and resting them on the airconditioner. I nearly knocked over the plant a couple of times. In time, I shifted to a window-chair and got into the habit of stroking the leaves. I always liked the spicy, snappy smell it left on my fingers.

A few weeks later, I thought my ajwain plant looked lonely so I brought in a few mustard and jeera seeds in another old pot to keep it company. The mustard shot out almost immediately, with daily watering. The jeera never took. Mustard I’m afraid lived a very brief but dramatic life. It would look droopy just like a bent old man, in the morning. After I watered it, a mere half hour later, it would up and about, gadding with the other plant and flirting with the sun. And by evening, it would change colour to a yellowish-green. It died out in a few months.

I experimented with cooking, with lessons I had learnt off the internet (which even brought me this writing commission). I fell in love with another plant called basil (a distant cousin of the more familiar tulsi). I couldn’t find the plant anywhere. Even the plant-sellers who wheeled their wares past my colony gate each week couldn’t help me. Somehow I didn’t care for the blooms and petals in their colourful stock. I wanted only green things, edible things, plants that could integrate with me someday, through fragrance and food.

Finally, I picked up a packet of pesto leaves in the supermarket, ostensibly for yet another pesto-treat. But I picked out the freshest looking sprig and planted it. It actually took! Within a week, it was glowing a greener green than I’d seen in the supermarket. In a fortnight, it had shot out flowers. In over a month, the stalk had visibly grown. More basil plants followed with future pesto-menus. One restaurant gave me a packet of seeds as a special giveaway with the bill. And they turned out to be the elusive basil seeds. Not all of them took but I nurtured the ones that did, with pride.

At its prime, my garden had ajwain, mustard and basil all in flower and which could give at least 3 leaves each to flavour my fingers and my food. I rarely cooked with my plants. They never seemed big enough to cut. And in time the leaves would wither away and I’d clean them off, promising to cut the next batch that came up. Eventually my basil plants withered away took, leaving only tall brown stalks. I still water them, hoping that a magical little green leaf with show up suddenly.

I’ve discovered something magical with this garden. There is nothing quite like watching life grow, right under your care, in front of your very eyes. I’m not an animal person so pets are out of the question. People come with their own set of issues and norms and barriers. But plants, plants never let you down. They ask for so little – some water, some air, some sunshine and if you have it (I really do believe this), a little love.

I’m not one of those crazy women who ‘talks’ to her plants. But I do spend time with my garden, as tiny as it is, every single day. It’s the first thing I look at, when I get out of bed in the morning and the last thing that I see before I turn in for the night. When I’m back from a short trip or even a daytime visit, it’s the first thing that I go and check on. Even when I take a break, I like going out to look at my plants. Occasionally I touch them, stroke a shoot, pick out a yellowing leaf from the mud, angle the pot a little better towards the sunlight or just sigh in smiling satisfaction.

I really love my garden. It’s shown me a different side to myself. A side that can care and nurture without feeling the effort. A side that takes take great pride in something that means so little to anyone else in the world. I feel like the garden represents a new aspect of me that I had never known existed, before. A city girl who always lived in concrete and metal structures….and I’m a green-thumbed gardener! Who’d have thought?

Someday I would like to have a living space big enough to accomodate a garden I can walk around in. I’ll want to grow basil (of course), tulsi, jasmine, rose, tomatoes, lemons and the plant that started it all for me – ajwain (in the picture, it’s the plant on the extreme left).

Reverb 10.24: Home

I’m back from a packed weekend with a number of intense experiences and I’m doing the next three prompts in a row so there’ll be patterns and repetition. Okay, you were warned. Here goes the first Reverb10 prompt.

December 24 Prompt – Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead? (Author: Kate Inglis)

Monsoon. A tiny (you won’t believe how tiny) flat on the ground floor of an unfashionably locality in suburban Mumbai. The rain lashing against the single window. An occasional earthworm getting in through godaloneknows where.

It was the final gasp of the pitchy darkness that had engulfed me in the first half of the year. I hadn’t had the time to think about it, make sense of it. And finally I did. So I remembered. And I grieved. And I raged. And I bitched. And I ranted. And I cried. A lot. Not the nearly poetic, beautiful tears cascading down my cheeks. But unsightly swollen eyes and runny nose, hacking sounds as tear glands struggled to keep up with the outpouring of emotion.

When I was all spent, I opened my eyes. My face was buried in an old tee-shirt whose smell felt alien then (and that I would come to recognize with clarity). A rough face pressed down on my head. I shifted, reality and the present coming back into sharp, sudden focus. The arms around me tightened perceptibly.

Where are you going?

It’s getting late. I should get home.

You are home.

And I was.

Reverb 10.23: What’s In A Name?

This is a novel Reverb10 prompt and I’m afraid it needs me to do a little thinking. I’d fallen into the habit of ‘default writing’ with the last few repetitive prompts.

December 23 – New Name

Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

(Author: Becca Wilcott)

I never liked my name as a child. Nobody managed to spell or pronounce it right. People added to my misery by droning ‘Ramaiyya-vasta-vaiiyya’ each time I was around. Ha-bloody-ha, it stops being funny after the first million-odd times. One of the first things I’d do, I decided, when I turned eighteen, would be to change my name.

My father listened to my woes and nodded gravely. “Your name, you do what you like with it after you’re an adult” was his policy. When I whined about having to wait, he pacified me with the story of how the name came to be.

When I was in creation and little less than a shapeless lump on the obstetrician’s screen, my parents sent out for applications for baby names. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone who could claim to offer a suggestion were consulted and asked to send their list of names. Dad, ever meticulous, compiled all those lists. Names were chucked if they were:

  • More than three syllables long
  • Had strong religious connotations
  • Were too common

And based on the remaining names, a top five list was compiled and circulated to the consulted parties. Dad and mum made their additions to the list. Apparently a name that gained great favour in the process was Aishwaryalakshmi (the goddess of wealth, prosperity, bounty). Thankfully for me, dad rejected it outright since it failed on his first two criteria. He also added that in all probability no one would use that name and it would end up being shortened to Ayesha, a name that no one else liked because they thought it sounded too Muslim/North-Indian. Personally, I quite like the name Ayesha. It has a nice ring to it, is not terribly girly, is not too region-specific. But the family was adamant.

After much deliberation and around the time I was ready to make my debut, they finally managed to agree on a name and thus my birth certificate was inscribed Ramya. It is a Sanskrit word and means a number of things including beauty, pleasantness and grace. But my favorite interpretation of the word and the one that dad really homed in on, is harmony. Thus it represents music, balance and aesthetics, all in one.

Somehow by the time I was eighteen, other things took precedence. I guess I also grew to like my name. I am Ramya, after all, it is me. I’m finicky about people pronouncing and spelling my name right (and you won’t believe how many people don’t!). It is a nice name and it defines me.

Of course, my blogging identity has revolved around the name of IdeaSmith. That wasn’t something that had quite as much thought put into it but it fit well enough. People abbreviate it sometimes to Smithy or IS or even just Idea.

I’ve had a number of nicknames over the years, in the manner of all human beings subjected to the horrific experience of school. Rambo (from my waterbottle’s sticker), Ramiyuzz, Rum-yum (my gang was going through a ‘Sanskritum’ phase where every word was appended with an ‘-um’) Ramses and Rum-yeah!. They’re all funny derivatives of my name and I don’t mind them so much anymore. Funnily enough, those names have come to become a part of me as I’ve taken on characteristics ascribed to them. Yes, I tend to be a bit of a macho-girl, I have a thing about mythology and rum is my favorite drink.

I’ve rambled on and still not answered the question. I can’t imagine what I’d call myself if not one of these things. I guess just about any name that doesn’t connect to, or derive from this one would do, just for the novelty of it. Let’s see…

  • Ranjani (because ‘i’ ending girl names always sound nice to me)
  • Shloka or Moksha (semi-religious I know, but I like the sound of both of them)

I can’t think of another name but here are some criteria I’d like to list. Ideas, anyone for names?

  • A gender-neutral name
  • An Indian-sounding name (not necessarily Hindu, just Indian)
  • One with an unusual sound in it like ‘z’
  • One that represents an interesting idea. Musical references would be good too.
  • No goddesses names
  • Nothing that could be mangled with too many/too few vowels
  • 2-3 syllables

Reverb 10.22: A Ticket To Kolkata

Getting today’s Reverb10 prompt in just 90 minutes short of midnight. It’s been a day of making deadlines by a whisker! It’s actually a great question since it is so different from the same old-same old ones that have come before this.

December 22 – Travel

How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

(Author: Tara Hunt)

I don’t remember visiting any new places in 2010, more’s the pity. I went to Pune (twice) and that’s about the extent of my travel outside Mumbai. Last year I managed to visit Chennai, Marakkanam, Pondicherry, Pune, Hyderabad, Goa and Alibag and in 2008, I toured the Greek Islands and Turkey. This hasn’t been a great year for my suitcase, I admit.

One place I would really like to visit is Kolkata and for a number of reasons. First, it is the only major city in the country that I don’t know intimately. I was born in *shudder* Delhi, visited Chennai each year in the summer, lived in Bangalore for 3 months and call Mumbai home.

Secondly, it appears to be the cultural haven that none of the cities familiar to me, are. The Kolkata that I imagine is full of books (and book-lovers), art, music and culture. Maybe that perception is incorrect, maybe it is outdated or maybe it’s true. I’d like to find out for myself.

Thirdly, it is the city of a number of people I’ve known and loved. A very many of my Bengali friends trace their roots there (obviously). Precious grew up there. Adi moved there earlier this year. Trisha (new friend…yay, yay!) is there. And finally, the boy himself calls himself a Calcuttan (his description, not mine). The place you come from, that you call home says a great deal about you. Each of these have been people that have shared my home city and my associations with it. I would love to be able to do the same with them.

Reverb 10.21: Time Travel

I like this Reverb10 prompt. It reminds me of the start of a Richard Bach book I loved as a teenager – The Bridge Across Forever – where the author writes a letter to the boy he was. This is a letter to the future but I like the idea of communicating with other-time selves.

December 21 – Future Self.

Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

(Author: Jenny Blake)

Me in five years

I’ll be thirty-six at that time. If the bloodlines are anything to go by, I’ll retain my tall, lean frame and my youthful looks. I will probably also be beset by a number of health problems that don’t make themselves visible but make life damned inconvenient. There’s things I might forget by then, and will need to be reminded of, when I’m thirty-six.

  • I was overlooked as a kid and a teenager. Self-esteem was squashed but I had dreams and friends. In my late twenties and even now, as I enter the thirties, I’ve hit babedom. It’s brought problems, not the least of which are jealousy, sex objectification, assumptions of being stupid and my feelings being taken for granted. I might be greying, widening and not very attractive, five years from now. This is to keep perspective.
  • I might (hopefully) be in a steady, committed relationship and have been for some time. The closeness will also mean loss of mystery, onset of some ennui and personality clashes. When I’m tearing my hair out in frustration or more realistically, in the moments when I wonder what I was thinking, I’d like to be able to remember. Falling in love is a magical experience and whatever its consequences may be, live without it is just not worth it.
  • I might be a failed writer with a folder full of unfinished documents. And I may have missed every boat possible to any kind of ‘success’ destination. I will probably rue some of the decisions I am currently making. I want to remember that I’m following a dream. It’s something that takes great courage (indeed, it took me three decades to muster it and even then I’m falling terribly short at most times). It’s something I must never stop being proud of, even if it never brings glory, fame or money.
  • I may be a regular aunty-next-door who manages the household and family. I may be Ms.Respectable who babysits, whose younger friends ask for career guidance or love life counselling. But I did drop out of college for a year. I did call my placement co-ordinator a pimp for insisting I accept the job at a place I’d been propositioned at, during the interview. I did turn my back on the campus and hold my ground till I got a remarkable job, last in the batch. I did win corporate accolades, regular and some remarkable. I did walk away from a respectable job to follow a dream. And I did manage to write an entire novel (even if it is just one Word document on a computer and no one reads it but me). I’ve lived a special life and I never want to forget that.

Me in the year ahead

Breathe. That’s the most important thing. The trick is to just keep breathing.

I may fail. I may hit a wave of success. Everyone I love may die. Everyone I care for, may turn on me. I may be the most popular person on the planet. None of these may happen. But I need to make sure I keep breathing.

Me a decade ago

My dear 21-year-old self,

I know you’re not going to be surprised to read this because you imagine stuff like this all the time. Yep, I’ve been receiving all the letters you’re been writing to me, all this time. Communications across time have considerably improved. I’m glad you got the letters down and decided to worry about postage later.

What’s life like, a decade later? Well, there’s plenty of stuff that’s been invented. If you had any money of your own I’d advise you to invest it…but never mind, you don’t have any money of your own. Strangely enough, you’re great at managing it when you have little and as you get older and more money comes your way, you’ll lose that talent. Don’t stop hoarding and don’t shut down that habit you have of putting away little notes and coins in hiding places to surprise yourself later. Yes, of course I know about all of those. I found those little money-gifts, remember?

You’ve sailed over many of the body image issues that your peers faced in adolescence. You’re going to hit a biggie, in oh, about two years from now. It’s going to take everything you’ve got, even your bloody intestines and turn them inside out. You’ll be robbed of everything that can possibly be robbed from you, including what little weight you do have.

Are you still reading? Good, you always had nerve. You don’t realise it yet but you do. That’s the one thing that won’t -cannot – be stolen from you. And many, many years later, a whole lot of ‘Why did that have to happen to me?’s later, you will be able to accept that knowledge of that fact was worth all that you paid for it.

You’ve already had your horoscope drawn by an enthusiastic relative and you’ve analysed yourself on various pop-culture fronts. Have fun with it. Belief is a powerful toy, like fire but you have a strange ability to be able to play with it. Ignore what everyone says about your love life. I won’t tell you more. Just ignore it and follow your heart. It is about your heart after all, why should you listen to anyone else? Believe what they say about your talents and abilities, though. It’s true and what’s more, believing the good things that people say about you will give you the confidence to make it all come true.

Did it all come true? Well, I’m still standing here, aren’t I? Do I sound happy or unhappy to you? :-) I’ll leave you with just one thought. It only gets better with time. The thirties are fabulous and I’m off to a good time! I’ll see you in another ten years!

-Much love,

Me, 31

Okay, that wasn’t short but it was fun! :-) It reminded me of another very old post, also full of time travel.

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