Divinity in the Dock

Sometime in 2014, the troubles we were having with our landlords escalated a whole lot, and we were suddenly staring a case in the face. We went scrambling around looking for lawyers, trying Twitter, tapping into an almost defunct network in Mumbai, and many other less than stellar options. We did finally find someone, but he was worse than useless.

In all this turmoil, we as a family, and my mother in particular, retained a strong thread of faith in the divine. Many years ago, we had read a book about a swamiji in Karnataka who spoke to Devi Mookambika.

[Any scoffers and trolls and so on can just leave now, because I cannot muster up the energy to get into a discussion. Take what I have to say with a pinch of salt, or move on.]

Swamiji himself had passed on, but his son had taken over his mantle. He happened to be coming to Mumbai shortly, and we went to meet him.

Let me say this: Guruji, that’s Swamiji’s son, is a wonderful, kind, caring, gentle man. He takes the time to provide succour to many people, and several devotees had found answers and solutions to their problems with him.

We were, as a family, quite enamoured of him. He asked for nothing in return for his presence and caring; not money, not gifts, nothing material, not even time. He gave of himself with the expectation of nothing in return.

One fine day, my mother narrated an incident that she thought was miraculous to him. The lady at whose house he stays in, when in Mumbai, asked her to write it up and send it to her. They have compiled devotee experiences into books, and this was meant to go into the latest one.

Now my mother is verbose. So when she wrote the experience, she made it HUGE. Well over 6 pages, if I remember rightly. So she asked me to edit it. And I pared it down, fixed some punctuation and grammar errors, and we sent it off to them.

A week or so later, we get a call from them. Would we be able to come over for a chat? Yes! we said, of course! So we went.

Turns out, they were rather impressed with the episode, and were wondering whether we would consider looking over the other episodes too for consistency and so on. My mother promptly divulged that I had edited her episode, and lickety split, we were both on board.

Now, to be perfectly clear, we were deeply honoured and thrilled to be on board. There is a concept known as seva in Hinduism, which translates to ‘service’. It is generally intended to give off oneself in the service of someone else’s or a greater good.

We spent a year and change working on that book. My mother first rewrote many of the episodes, filling in what she felt were narrative lacunae. Later on, Guruji gave her phone numbers to call, and she interviewed devotees about their miraculous experiences, recorded them, and wrote them entirely.

I edited each episode after she was done. Thrice: Line edit, paragraph edit, and final edit. She reread them to ensure I hadn’t ‘taken all the emotion out of them’ because apparently my style was ‘too cut and dried’ for this type of project. Mea culpa; I cannot disagree.

Then Guruji wanted to hear each episode. Not read, mind you, HEAR. So she read out each one, at multiple reading sessions, going well into the night. He added missing bits of information, and the episode would be marked as “unedited” once again.

After all this was well underway, and the book was taking shape, I said that there needed to be a glossary for the non-English terms used in the book. Not everyone speaks the same Indian language, and thus cannot be expected to understand everything. I also put in an index, and my poetess aunt wrote couplets for each episode.

We handed over the final manuscript in early 2016, I think. After endless revisions, and sleepless nights, coupled with work obligations, tensions with the ex and my family, my father’s deteriorating health, and my mother’s increasing frailty, it had all become a monumental load. We were relieved to be done. Or at least I was.

Then dad passed away, and Guruji was unavailable to us. He sent us a message of condolence, and that was it. After all the love and energy we poured into this project, and the innumerable obstacles we had shouldered in its development, our family warranted a text message of condolence.

Ouch.

We never did try and reach out to them again, because the feeling of betrayal ran deep.

Anyway.

The book, as far as we knew, never saw the light of day. We didn’t expect anything, so occasionally when we remembered, we checked online for it. Then, a friend said that the book was finally published. This year. 2018. Two full years after we were done with it.

It was a jolt. Mum took it calmly, because in her mind, there was disassociation with the whole thing. I didn’t know how to react. I haven’t figured it out in the interim. I would say that my reaction has been somewhat detached overall.

Today though, we saw the book in a store. Most of the extra work we put in: the glossary, index, the couplets have been stripped off. The text of the book appears to be ad verbatim as per our manuscript, except for a few stories tacked on the end.

Finally, mom’s episode, the same one that catapulted us into the situation in the first place, has been removed.

None of these things bother me, for some crazy reason. I was never happy with my work, because I thought it wasn’t crisp enough and didn’t reflect my editing style adequately. But mom. She was a little crushed. The effort she lavished on the book is put aside; she is sad because my work was so summarily incised. We agreed that our names should not be published, so there was some consolation in that they didn’t appear.

Right now, I feel tiredness and faint bewilderment. One day I will figure out what exactly I feel about it. Today is not that day.

[PS: I am not making any of this up.]

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Beautiful Miracle

Seeing as the last post was about kids, I remember this post from my old blog. Seemed appropriate.

An Extraordinary Miracle

I would like to recount an extraordinary story I heard from someone. On hearing this story for the first time, any doubts I harboured about the existence of the Great Divine, a. k. a. God, dissolved instantaneously. It was years ago, when I was very young. I have often heard this story repeated, and each time it send a thrill up my spine. Without further ado, the story goes somewhat like this:

It starts off, like all good stories, with a young couple. This couple was highly successful in their respective careers, although remarkably short-sighted about the future. There was no thought given to tomorrow whatsoever. Most Indian couples (I forgot to mention they were Indian), think about progeny at some point of time. These two, perhaps being the exception that proves the rule, didn’t. Children, as a concept, firstly, were lovable, secondly, belonged to other people, and thirdly, will happen at some distant point in the future. And hence, after six years of wedlock, it still hadn’t struck them.

They were based in Dubai, hailing originally from Mumbai. A love marriage had resulted, as a consequence of working together in the same work environment, and constant bickering. But that is another story altogether.

The lady in question, has a sister; a twin as a matter of fact. At that time, she was unmarried, and in Mumbai. She desperately wanted her sister to have a child. So, one fine day, she trotted off to Shirdi, to the hallowed precincts of Sai Baba. There she made a plea bargain, of sorts: ‘God, please grant my sister a child; I will visit this temple five times.’

During this and the subsequent five trips, her sister in Dubai remained blissfully unaware.

It was on the occasion of the fifth and final promised trip, standing in the queue to approach the Samadhi, the twin prayed: ‘If you are going to fulfill my wish, Lord, I want the rose from your head, as a token.’

Now, as an aside, if you have ever been to Shirdi, you know that the crowds are enormous, and, in general, chaos reigns supreme. Standing in the darshan queue is a feat that requires around five hours of patience and, to make matters worse, the queue is serpentine, coiling its way through the building, spilling into the temple premises and sometimes even onto the road.

On reaching the beautiful marble statue and Samadhi, she bowed her head in obeisance, and turned to make her way outside the temple. She was hailed by the priest, who, in front of her unbelieving eyes, grabbed the rose of Baba’s head, placed it in her outstretched hands, and said in Marathi: ‘You asked Baba for this rose? Baba has granted your wish.’

She reached Mumbai the same evening and, at the crack of dawn the next morning, her bemused sister calls up from Dubai to say, she was pregnant.

Quite incredible, isn’t it? When I first heard this story, I was spellbound and speechless. But nevertheless, I believed it without a moment’s hesitation. Why? Because the couple in question are my parents, the twin is my dear aunt, and that is how I was born.

Note: This was an article I had written for my college magazine. I really loved this one, on so many levels: I was really happy about how it turned out, it’s a subject dear to my heart, it reflects a portion of my existence and it was the first time I really believed I could write well.

My mother told me her version of the story as well. That was considerably less divine, and, in keeping with my parents’ general style, considerably more hilarious.

After an evening out at Copper Chimney in Dubai, my mother started throwing up. When she went to work a few days later, she found that her stomach upset [spoiler alert: me] hadn’t gone away. So she went to the hotel doc.

The doc asked her what she think had happened and her symptoms. He checked her, and then asked: “Mrs. Daya, could you be pregnant?”

My mother, being a complete naive nitwit, laughed, and said no. Quite emphatically. So he asked again: “Do you mind if we do a test to check?”

Of course not, suit yourself was the response. Um yeah. She was pregnant. The evidence is typing this post right now.

PS: My name translates to the title. First name: Miracle. Surname: Beautiful. Humour that’s right on the nose.

Ganpati Bappa Morya 2017

I do one of these posts every year (here is last year’s), and since last year I have been on a mission to make the pooja less elaborate. The reasons are two-fold: firstly, I am tired a lot and the elaborate set ups, with fresh flowers, ghee and oil lamps, the separate idol for pooja, and more besides, take a LOT of effort; secondly, my heart has just not been in it since we lost Dad.

This year, mum and I decided to keep it small. “Small” though is a relative term. It turned out quite big, but after perusing last year’s post, I see that at least it was smaller than that one.

I didn’t have fresh flowers at all this time. No separate idol for pooja, and no paan leaf pooja either. I got rid of two of the oil lamps, and lit the candles only once a day. The entire process took half an hour less each in the morning and the evening, and honestly we didn’t even notice that it was reduced. So success, I guess. Next time, might well be substantially smaller than this year.

Here’s hoping. And a picture.

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Ganesh Chaturthi 2016

About 10 days ago, I was so shattered from the incessant demands of Ganesh Chaturthi pooja that I cheated and posted a photo collage from years gone by. The truth of the matter is that I was partially tired, but mostly depressed. This is the first festival without my dad and his absence felt like someone had pummelled me all over.

Festivals in India, as all they are all over the world, are family occasions. In my household, the family consists of a tight-knit group of 3 people: mom, dad, and me. We shared the joys and work of festival time together. Mom cooked, I set up the altar, and dad did the shopping. This year, I did the shopping and the setting up. I was drained of energy by the end of it all.

Mom and I decided to keep the festivities small, because our hearts weren’t in it. But the definition of ‘necessary’ grew and grew till I ended up with an elaborate pooja, very like the previous year. The only two things I left out were fresh flowers (although I did drop a pretty penny for a garland), and the paan leaves for the pooja. Ah well.

I actually used more lights than the last time, and sure enough I spent ages cleaning and setting up the lamps every morning and evening. But it turned out beautiful, so I guess the effort was worth it.

img_20160905_204929The whole set up.
img_20160905_204953The big Ganpati idol, which has a story of its own. No visarjan.
img_20160905_205012The little silver idol for the pooja stuff.
img_20160905_205024 A glass of water, in an exquisitve crystal glass bought by my grandfather, and the panchaarti.
img_20160905_205057 Coloured lanterns on the ledge above for a little backlighting.
img_20160908_114700 A marble statue given to my father in Jaipur. He loved that little thing.
img_20160908_114723 China coasters that my grandfather bought in Holland.
img_20160908_114735 The lit brass lamp catches all the facets of the crystal.
img_20160909_200603The end.

Ganesh Chaturthi Through the Ages

I’m exhausted today, after a long day of working my ass off for Ganesh Chaturthi. So I’m going to cheat a little and just post pictures. Not of this year’s festivities though, because those aren’t over yet.

GC - 2005 2005
Image(405)2006
Ganpati (6)2007
DSCN00812008
DSCN0514[1]2009
110920105312010
0272011

[Missing 2012. :-(]

IMG_04282013
10357442_10152652109788815_7498626150861944914_n2014
IMG_20150917_1654562015

Most of these were at home, but first few were during college, and I was absurdly young and clueless about the festival. So I made do with limited funds and small bits and bobs that I could find at short notice.