The art of work


The wipers in our car are working overtime. The skies have opened up, and the rain falls in thin transparent sheets. One layer of rain falls, gets wiped away, and for a mere fraction of a second the world is visible, before another sheet falls.

And thus it goes on till my husband and I reach the concert venue. The concert venue is partly open air, with free seating. As we take our seats, the rain slowly peters out; only the ‘backbencher raindrops’ are left, rushing to join their peers, dropping in huge plops from the roof.

Rich Indian classical music fills the air, as the singer transports us to a different world, making us emote. My husband steps away to take a call. Very soon, a little girl of about seven comes and takes my husband’s seat. She has a packet of wafers in one hand and what looks like a small piece of thick cardboard in the other hand.

She adjusts herself comfortably on the seat, looks up at me and smiles. What a lovely and heart warming smile, I think. I smile in response, and wave hello! She says hello too.

After a few minutes, she touches my hand. When I look at her, she shows me the other side of the cardboard. It is an artwork of a three-dimensional flower in a pot. I mouth a wow and clap gently.

Courtesy – clipartlibrary.com

I ask her if it is play dough. “No, this is air-dry clay”, she says.

She lovingly runs her fingers over her creation, and asks me, “Do you like it?”

I tell her that I like it. She then says, “I like it too, a lot.” And her eyes light up. She continues to admire her artwork and looks content.

I realize how difficult it is to experience this kind of joy from the work we do. We are constantly striving to perform better, to attain the goals that we have set for ourselves. But with our sights set only on these bigger goals and destinations, we seem to have lost the art of experiencing the joy in the good, simple and everyday tasks that we perform.

Another lesson learned from a sweet little girl!

Lady Luck – A short story


When Jas, short for Jasmine, woke up that morning, she felt the sudden urge to burst into tears. She promptly indulged the desire by sobbing into her pillow. Her prospects looked bleak – she was out of a job, she had very little money left, she had a pile of unopened bills, her landlord would pounce on her the moment she stepped out of her apartment, and to top it all she had no family, no parents, no siblings, nobody. She cried bitterly – anger and self-pity snaking up and down like a sinusoidal wave.

Jas finally mustered the courage to get out of bed – to face another day of uncertainty, more job applications and many telephone calls. She dragged out a huge sigh from within, and with slumped shoulders walked to the bathroom to get started with her day.

She had three interviews lined up that month, one was in fact scheduled for the very next day. As she peered at her face in the bathroom mirror, she realized that her eyebrows needed some threading and trimming. She had to look at least reasonably presentable at the interview tomorrow. She would have to part with her precious money, but it had to be done. She set off to the salon at a brisk pace.

As she walked through the crowded market, the man at the lottery ticket shop was shouting to all passers-by that it was the last date to buy tickets for the state’s Summer Bumper lottery. The jackpot was four million.

Courtesy – http://www.istockphoto.com

Jas laughed, walked past and stopped. On a whim, she walked back and bought a Summer Bumper Lottery ticket. She was suddenly filled with hope and a strange feeling of elation. She smiled to herself, as she stuffed the lottery ticket into her bag and walked towards the salon.

She sat down and told the beautician what she wanted done, totally oblivious to the other ladies around her, all of whom were in various stages of beautification!

The lady in the seat next to Jas was Mrs.Briganza, one of the richest women in the city. She watched Jas and thought to herself how beautiful the young lady was – tall and slender, with a good complexion and beautiful hair.

Jas made brief eye contact with Mrs.Briganza, and then looked straight ahead, though she could still feel Mrs.Briganza’s eyes on her.

The beautician quickly threaded Jas’s eyebrows, and as Jas stood up to take her wallet out of her bag, her bag fell from her hands, and all its contents spilled out on the floor. Jas quickly stuffed everything back into her bag, made her payment and left the salon.

Just after Jas left, Mrs.Briganza found Jas’s lottery ticket under her chair. She told the beautician to run quickly and give it to the young woman who had just left, and to whom it most probably belonged.

The girl rushed out only to see that Jas had already crossed the street. She waved and signalled to a woman on the other side of the road to call Jas. When Jas turned around, she saw the beautician waving a small paper at her. She thought that the girl was asking her to come back and take the receipt for her threading. She waved her hand and signalled that she did not want it.

The girl looked puzzled and went back inside. She handed the lottery ticket to Mrs.Briganza.

When Mrs.Briganza went to her office, she called her assistant and gave her the ticket, and asked her to check the results when they were published.

The lottery ticket and the incident at the salon were soon forgotten by both Jas and Mrs.Briganza.

On Wednesday the next week, Jas sat in line to be called for an interview at the offices of Point to Point Logistics. She clasped and unclasped her hands, waiting for the ordeal to be over.

It was finally her turn. She walked in and saw a lady seated at a huge desk. Jas felt that she looked vaguely familiar.

When the lady looked up at Jas, she seemed startled, and said, “Hello Ms.Jasmine Ray, I am Mrs.Briganza, have a seat”.

Mrs.Briganza remembered the young lady so well, and she remembered the lottery ticket also. The interview went smoothly, and just as Jas got up to leave, Mrs.Briganza said, “Do you remember dropping….”

And the telephone rang. MrsBriganza signalled for Jas to wait as she answered the call.

It was her secretary, who said, “Mrs.Briganza, do you remember the lottery ticket you had asked me to check? Guess what? You just hit the jackpot of four million.”

Mrs.Briganza said, “Thank you, my dear”, and slowly put the phone down.

In a calm voice she said to Jas, “Sorry to keep you waiting Ms.Ray. You will hear from us shortly if we choose to hire you.”

Jas walked out of the cool airconditioned office into the hot summer day, and joined the sea of people going about their lives.

The Yellow Bag


It is 7.00 p.m. and my thoughts are already on tomorrow’s things to do list. I click in exasperation, as I realize that I need to dash to the supermarket for some essential supplies.

I quickly pick up my wallet, take my cloth shopping bag and rush out of the house. This cloth bag has become an integral part of every shopping expedition. Easy to carry, and eco-friendly too!

During my childhood, most shops – especially garment and jewellery shops packed the garments and jewels – that customers bought – in bright yellow bags that had the name of the shop printed in bright red letters on both sides of the bag.

One simply couldn’t miss these bright yellow bags. They were made of cloth and were well-suited for heavy-duty wear and tear. My mom carefully preserved these bags, and used them to send stuff across to her friends, or to go shopping with.

But my siblings and I, and most other teens I presume, were mortified to be seen carrying these bags. They were not ‘in’, they were loud and attracted attention. They did not go with the cool, smart teen images we had of ourselves; and we weren’t going to go anywhere with a bright yellow bag accompanying us and thereby reduce our cool quotient!

We tried reasoning with our mom, when she argued with us that it was just a cloth bag, a very useful one at that, and that there was nothing wrong in using it.

The yellow bag or manja pai as we called it was ubiquitous at home, in shops and on the streets – flashes of yellow and red, faithfully carrying money, vegetables, books, and everything else that people needed to carry on with their everyday lives.

We, on the other hand, wanted plastic bags, and paper bags…or trendy looking bags in lovely shades that suited our cool personas.

And then, time flew by – and our streets and shops were flooded with plastic bags – light to carry and easy to use – or so we thought.

And slowly, the yellow bags faded away.

Plastics took over our lives, and with time, lots of plastic bags were found in the bellies of fish and other sea creatures, plastic bottles floated in the sea, plastics were everywhere!

With the passage of time, awareness came to people.

And now, cloth bags are back. And I suddenly feel nostalgic for those yellow bags, and for those simpler times, when our planet was greener, where we were probably helping the planet, one yellow bag at a time.

Monsters that hiss


I am in a deep sleep; deep in dreamland, deep in nothingness, totally oblivious to the evening that has just passed or to the day that is about to break in a few hours. And in that transition period, when today has not yet passed the baton to tomorrow, I am suddenly being shaken awake.

Completely disoriented, I wish the person away, whoever it is. In a few minutes, my head clears a little, and I can hear panic in my daughter’s voice.

“Amma, Amma, wake up”, she says in a whisper that is also strangely shrill.

I groan in irritation. “What is it?” I ask, dragging the words from my sleepy brain.

She says with some urgency, “There is something in my room that is hissing.”

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

I am jolted-awake now. Hi…ssss…ing? My brain, though, is slow to react. My daughter repeats it and insists that I come to inspect.

“I heard it twice”, she says. I get out of bed and tie my hair up into a tight little knot. This somehow gives me the energy and the strength to find the source of the hissing monster in our house.

On the way out of the bedroom, I turn back and see my husband, happily asleep. I tell my daughter that we will wake him up as well, one more member to the team.

Why should I be the one to hunt down hissing monsters late at night? I prod him awake. Nothing. I tell him about the hissing. He mumbles and says something incoherent, with his eyes partly open.

I prod him again. But he has already dropped off.

Well, I am irritated now. This irritation preps me to track down the source of the hissing. I march to my daughter’s room and carefully inspect her table and the areas near the window, from where she says she heard the hissing. Nothing, nothing at all.

And, just then, both of us hear a loud hiss from the table.

I burst out laughing. The hiss was from a brand-new automated air freshner that pumps out a fragrant spray at preset intervals.

My husband and I had set these air-fresheners up in all our bedrooms just that evening, and we had forgotten to inform our daughter.

“Amma, you know how scary that was?” She says laughing with relief, and also at the absurdity of this late night sojourn.

I turn off the freshener, and walk back to my room, still irritated that I was the one who had to go looking for hissing snakes at night.

The next morning, my daughter and I share details of our midnight adventure with my husband and son. My husband then says, “I told you last night that it was the air-freshener”.

Ahhh…that was the mumbling we heard. I roll my eyes.

Soon, my kids leave for school. My husband is about to leave. He goes to the bedroom to wear his tie. I follow him, and start making the bed.

His back is to the dressing table, and suddenly there is a hiss, and he jumps, startled.

That was air-freshener number two.

I laugh.

The look on my husband’s face – priceless!

A hundred years


I am filling up an online form. When I am filling in the date, I accidentally type the year 1919 instead of 2019.

One typo error and my mind travels back in time to a hundred years ago. I wonder what the world would have been like at that time. Then I think about my family. My grandmom would have been a little girl of about nine. Slightly older than one of her great- grandsons is now.

My grandmom had eleven siblings. She was the ninth child. When my siblings and I were kids, we would badger our grandmom to tell us stories about her childhood. She would talk about her marriage to my granddad and the grand celebrations in their village to mark the occasion.

When my grandma was in pigtails and ribbons, the world was at war. Between the two wars, she grew into a beautiful young woman, got married and had her children.

Image courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

We always lived in a joint family, and I can still remember how active my grandmom always was – right from sunrise to sundown. The kitchen was her realm, and her energy flowed from there in the form of love, cooking and chiding.

Every morning, for as long as she was active, my grandmom would finish her morning chores and rush to the temple to pray. On her way back, she would stop to buy vegetables and fruits. If she was planning on buying a lot, she would ask one of us, her grandchildren, to be on the lookout from the top of the hill where we lived. When we would see her at the bottom of the hill, we would skip down to help her carry the heavy bags home.

The moment we got home, she would give us candies that she had bought for us – in small brown paper pouches – lemon, orange and raspberry flavoured.

Time flew past, and we grew, went to high school and college. Each time we came home for vacation, we realized that our busy grandmom had aged just a little more than the last time we had seen her. When she was in her mid-seventies, she retired from her domestic world, handing over the reins to the next generation.

She spent her time reading books, or meditating or praying. She would watch some television on and off. But her eyes would light up the moment any of us went and sat next to her, to talk to her. She would ask us questions about our lives and hold our hands in her small wrinkled palms, demonstrating her love, without saying much.

My dad would come home every evening from work, have his shower and dinner, and sit down with his mom, asking about her health, her cough and about her day. He would lovingly bring her dinner, a glass of water, and her medicines, every night.

Our grandma always had a ready stock of mint lozenges that she ate to soothe her throat. She stored these in a small pouch. One of the highlights of the day was when she would call us and give us these lozenges to eat. She would break them up and give us just a small bit. We cherished both the lozenges and the love behind them.

It is 2019. A hundred years have flown by, since a small girl grew up in a time before ours, and became our grandmom. And now, our parents are at that age, vulnerable and frail.

Where did time fly? When did we become this responsible?

It is literally as if someone changed 1919 to 2019 with the mere flick of a button – a hundred years, four generations, lovely memories and the relentless onslaught of time.

Clarity


I am in a cab that is stuck in heavy traffic. All around me, drivers are tapping their steering wheels impatiently, while some others are busy on their phones.

My phone’s battery is at a meagre 5%, and with no messages to check or people to call, my gaze wanders to the buildings on either side of the pavement. I crane my neck to see the trees lining the road. The blue sky appears bleached under the glaring sun. The leaves on the trees filter the sun’s light in various patterns, each pattern unique.

Amongst all these trees with leaves is also a wise old tree that is bereft of leaves. A sudden movement on this tree’s branches catches my eye. I realize that it is a bird, a crow.

Picture courtesy – Illustrated by Ann & Ani (image copyrighted)

The crow keeps moving up and down one particular branch. Up, down, pause, up, down, pause…the crow keeps repeating this for sometime.

I wonder what the crow is thinking. Is he worrying about his loved ones? Is he confused about choices that he has to make? Is he testing the tree for its suitability for him to build a nest and start a family?

The crow continues pacing. After a few minutes, he stops, his head clear. He has made up his mind. Soon, he flies away.

This is quite similar to how we humans behave too, especially when we are confused, and have to make choices or have to take firm decisions in our lives.

Sometimes, we require ‘alone time’ in our minds to sift through our thoughts, think through the consequences, process them, and then come to a decision.

Sometimes, we pace up and down our living rooms, or embark on solitary walks, thinking and evaluating.

And always, when we look within, the right answer comes to us, at the right time. It was always there, it just needed us to choose it.

And then comes clarity, and a sense of lightness.

Just like the crow that flew away into the sky. Free now, that the decision had been made.