Tuesday, 29 April 2014


The next morning I was eating steamed vegetables – beans, broccoli, beets and carrots that I had brought with me in a cooler – and ma put her hand on my bowl and pulled it down to herself with a force I did not think she possessed, and said, what are you eating? Are you eating something nice? I told her there was more but she was not interested in the vegetables.

At 92 she still manages her kitchen but has run out of ideas of what to make and seeks change. I went to her as she sat on a tall stool, hunched over her sink, barely reaching it, looking like a little gnome, and said, ma, don’t eat a heavy breakfast. I am going to brings idlis and dosas from Sagar (her favorite South Indian restaurant). Her eyes lit up. But of course, she didn’t heed my advice, ate a whole aloo kee roti instead of half as I suggested, and was also ready for the lunch when it arrived. I sat by her (she mostly eats in bed now) and kept saying, ma, don’t eat too much, you had a full breakfast, but she didn’t listen to me, and all afternoon and evening she was unwell – which mainly manifests as depression and a hankering for my father.

So, I am motivated this time to change her diet, give her variety, and also good nutrition. I have bought her an excellent juicer for mausamee and anaar, and Indian orange and pomegranate. I could sing a paean to the power of juice as well.  

As an aside, she has brushed her teeth – manually – for twenty minutes by the clock each morning all her life, with the result that she still has her own teeth.


When I arrived home this time, my mother looked really weak and run down. I thought, looking at her, is this it? After eating fruit I sat by her eating nuts from a bag that I had brought with me. I did not offer her any because I knew from years of experience that she never takes anything to eat from me, worrying that I might have touched it with dirty hands.  When I was about to get up, she said, what are you eating? I showed her the bag. She reached in, took one cashew – always her favorite -- and put it in her mouth. Well folks, it wasn’t just the fact that she did this that amazed me, though that in itself was amazing. It was the effect the cashew had on her.  

She sat up, her face looked bright; she began to chatter as usual. It may be an exaggeration but I swear by the power in nuts. They have become my staple these days. I eat fruit, vegetables, some fish, and nuts. I have lost three pounds, and I feel better than I ever have. I have more energy and my brain in not in my stomach, digesting un-nutritious pabulum. If you eat too many of them, then that will have ill effects, too, mainly weight gain. But in moderate amounts they are the best sort of calories and fuel.  


There are some types of people – many of us, actually – who don’t know how to receive. This inability has long roots. First, a lack of generosity: they don’t want to receive; they fear it will obligate or bind them in some way, or that receiving shows a lack of independence, or worse, weakness. They have been defended by an ego that wants to go it alone and take pride in it.  The ego also has a contrary face: they feel they are not worthy of receiving.

I have used the word ‘generosity’ because it takes enormous generosity of spirit to receive with humility, to receive with the knowledge that receiving is often, if not always, a way of giving. As an example, when my mother takes something from me, I feel blessed. When she struggles, refuses, makes a scene, it takes a lot out of me and makes me feel helpless. As another example, she eats the wrong food – spicy things, or bread that has so much gluten that even young people choke on it -- that don’t agree with her. The lack of good nutrition has weakened her. I made her some almond butter (her teeth can’t chew whole almonds) what a fuss she made. But this morning she had a taste of it and liked it, and I was thrilled.  She had given something invaluable to me: peace that she will now eat better than she has been, all her life.


When I arrived in the city, entered her house and her bedroom, she was sleeping on her back, straight and unmoving like a corpse, covered with a sheet, her arms at her sides. I thought, ‘this is what she’ll look like when she’s dead.’ 

I opened the refrigerator and there in its sparkling inside was a tray of grapes, sliced melon and chicoos. Wow! Just what I needed after a day of driving and eating nothing. Quite a contrast to the last time I arrived earlier this month from the US and found a few shriveled grapes and a rotten banana. The contrast goes back, way back, when there were no welcoming signs each time I arrived home – no fresh towel hanging in the bathroom, no jug and glass of water in the room, though the room was always, because of her OCD, sparkling, squeaky clean. In fact, one of the last fights my parents had before my dad died was about this. He was bedridden and asked mom if she had put a clean towel and fresh soap in the bathroom. My mom blew up at him for some reason, probably for questioning her about her housekeeping abilities, or reminding her how dear I was to him, or some such thing. He was left shaken and shivering in his bed. My mother herself told this story to me.

My father, on the other hand, always sent a note and fresh fruit and food in a cooler through the driver when I arrived in Delhi, “dearest Kamal, welcome home!”

I greedily ate the fruit and she had woken by then. I gave her ten kisses, and she did not pull away, as if I had the cooties. She just sat there and let me kiss her. The other huge change in her is when I say, ma, I need to go run this or that errand, she says, okay, call Pandit, the driver. Earlier, she would throw a huge fit: you are always going out; you don’t come to visit me, just to do your own work. And, miracle of miracles, she now thinks about me. When I ask her if she needs something from the market, she says, but you are so busy with your own things, I don’t want to burden you. When I told her it wasn’t a burden, she asked me to do several things and thanked me profusely. She had me go to the jeweler to replace a fallen diamond in a ring she wants to give her favorite nephew’s wife; buy panties and bras – “But take the money from me! I won’t have you do my work and pay for it!” Well, she’s more accepting of help from me now. She is almost ready to start receiving, something she has refused her entire life from anybody.

This change has come about not so much by itself with time as a change on my part, too.  I have not been the best of daughters, either. Last time I was here she wanted to invite her nephew for the day and wanted me to be present the whole day to chat with him. I refused. I was jet lagged and had too much to do. Besides, I always have to make a trip and buy some barbecued chicken, etc when he comes. But I felt bad about refusing. This time I resolved to take out a whole day to do it. I think it is changes in me that have changed her.

This topic of mother and daughter is a deep one. It deserves a book, if I didn’t already have too many projects.

Friday, 25 April 2014


There has been a time lapse between my writing some of these posts and posting them. I am now a day away from leaving for the city, to be with my mother, receive Payson when he comes to India, and fly off the same day to Mumbai.

Twelve days after coming here, I finally have internet. People steal wires here to sell the copper that is in them. Also, people do something very horrible -- they cut the wires and throw the live wires in the water of our stream to kill the trout en masse, without concerns that they are breeding now. The direct result of this is we don't have electricity for days!

But I have enjoyed my stay here -- almost two weeks; loved my precious solitude. This is my yearly dose of it. I am almost sorry I have to leave here -- falling into a fine rhythm. BUT one flexibility is the greatest of all virtues, and I am almost happy to be leaving here as well.



Kaamiya was written thirty-eight years ago, and although it won the Sultan Padamsee Award in 1977, this is its first production in a Hindi translation by Ramgopal Bajaj. When Bajaj (Bajju) called in up in the US to tell me he was doing it, I was quite surprised. I had quite given up on it, not in any despairing sort of way, since I have, over the years, become quite accustomed to the idea – not without some buried embers of hope! – of the possibility of my some dozen plays gathering dust on the shelves before becoming a meal for drama-loving silverfish.

Upon re-reading Kaamiya recently, I felt it held up rather well after all these years. In light of the above-mentioned fate of plays, one has to become one’s own best fan and audience. But there are, I hope, objective reasons for Kaamiya’s contemporary relevance.   Some human issues are temporal and some eternal. I believe Kaamiya addresses both.   

The first, though it may seem tangential, is the underpinning of almost all plays by and about women. It concerns the universal human right, in every enlightened society, of every individual to live her life on her own terms. This human right, of the freedom to experience and experiment, so easily and traditionally granted to the male of the species, is still denied the female. She has been deprived of the fundamental right to choice in issues relating to her body. Though some things have changed – there are many more females in professional fields than 38 years ago – many more remain the same the world over. Apart from the considerable and overwhelming political/social/economic issues, there is the right to self-determination in sexual matters. Whether by directly mandating that women’s clitorises be cut off, as in Africa, or by conditioning them into thinking their sexuality is somehow more ‘sacred’ than men’s, women’s libidos have been kept imprisoned over the centuries to perpetuate iron-fisted, hard won patriarchy. We know from mythology and archeology that a matriarchal system with its corollary of unambiguous parentage prevailed before it was overthrown. In a screen adaptation of Kaamiya, I have addressed this issue.  

Second, in addition to the age-long political/social/religious global climate in which women’s needs and desires have been repressed, is the eternal necessity for every human being – male or female --to make the journey to self discovery, a journey impeded by the norm, by societal/familial/moral injunctions. This is particularly relevant to India that is so entrenched in double-edged tradition, and where the roles of women have been so defined for them. Tradition keeps life in tact but is also keeps a society from growing to its fullest potential. While many are adapted to tradition, many are trapped in it. I have experienced first hand the suffering and ‘quiet desperation’ caused by the traditional way. This is not to say there is less suffering in beating out your own path, like Kamia does. There is probably more. Suffering is a human condition, but suffering caused by one’s own choices, if one is self-reflective and committed to be being a conscious human being, is more purposeful, productive, life and consciousness enhancing.

It is important to have the perspective where fulfillment for women equals fulfillment for men. A female’s lack of fulfillment will affect the latter first. This is a joint journey, and relationships – whether platonic, passionate, hetero or homosexual – must be. We are made to relate, for it is only in the crucible of relationships that love is forged. Kamia’s search for love and home with someone who will love her for who she is, is every female -- and male’s -- search.

It’s never too late to hope for a time when young girls and women have the right to experience life, all of it, without fear and condemnation; when male and female will walk together, both upright, hand in hand, on our globe, working together to make it a better and more inhabitable place for everyone without exception.       



You know, most of us live our lives in retrospect, in the shadows of irreversible events. When someone we love dies or moves out of our lives, we regret it and feel sad (though in our unawareness we are angry and resentful). If I had come back to the absence of either Foxy or Bhalli (my dogs), as I had done with Tiger, I would have been upset.

Instead, I came back to healthy looking dogs that had been well fed, well looked after and well groomed by Himmat and Meera. 

Yesterday, I took them out for a walk across our stream. On my return they bounded and played, something I love to watch and take sheer delight in. As I stood in front of the house my heart swelled in gratitude that they were still here; that my fear – each time I leave that I won’t see them again – had not actualized. I want to spend my days here giving thanks for their precious presence. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014


As a footnote – but not a footnote in my heart; it is part of the main text of my life – for the first time my mother said to me on the morning I was leaving – I am very sad today. Generally, she would quarrel with me the day before I am to leave. Quarreling was her way of breaking with me so she wouldn’t have to feel sad about my leaving. Now her consciousness is in her heart and she can admit to herself, and me, that she is sad. How much subterfuge we make (is the correct word?) in keep from admitting and acknowledging our sadness! I feel that if we could do so, we could prevent wars, and a lot of heartache. 


It’s always a long drive up here to our mountain home, longer this time (almost 12 hours) because the roads were bumpy and congested.  I am tired when I arrive here, but happy. Nothing like the greetings of dogs to make you feel entirely happy and at home. Miraculous, Payson called from the US at the exact moment the dogs greeted me, to say, ‘welcome home.’ Miraculously, too, the electricity, which is invariably off when we arrive, was on, so the refrigerator could be turned on and the frozen fish and other things I got from the city in an icebox could be transferred to the freezer.  Because I arrived rather late in the evening I decided to not unpack till the next morning and just get into the bed Meera made for me while Raju made me a soup. All day the next day – cold, cold and wet – I did as much as I could, and our wonderful staff got the kitchen and pantry where the mice had made a mess by partying and doing as much damage as they could in our absence, in excellent shape.

Today I am doing what I have not done for months and months, and enjoying it thoroughly – sitting in bed with a hot water bottle, the warm gas stove on full blast,  the dogs warm on their beds before it, and giving THE SINGING GURU a final (famous last words) edit. When I got hungry, Raju brought me fruit – mangoes have started to come in from the South, and papaya – and a gluten free roti with butter and an egg. Yum!

So now, my third life has begun. It will be interrupted briefly in about 10 days when I return to the city to spend some more time with my mother, receive Payson when he arrives, and fly off the Mumbai on the same day to see my play, KAAMIYA, produced.