Monday, 16 November 2015

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Friday, 13 November 2015


The other thing that has kept me from the sinking sands of attachment is Hukum. It is central to Sikhism and to most other religions as well. Crudely translated, it means, God's Will. Hukum is that which we cannot change by our efforts; that which has to be; that which is natural and in accordance with the Cosmic Order, or Design. How often I have been reminded of it in the past weeks when, again in the words of Nanak, I have burned in baking fires and knives have sliced through my heart. But as soon as I remembered to remember that this event is hukum, I was cooled and calmed.

Wisdom, if we court it in peaceful times, cultivate and make it a habit, will come to our aid when we need it the most, when without it we are in danger of perishing.


I am very hopeful these days that my mother with recover to some extent at least. Yesterday when I said 'I love you mummy,' she made a sound in her throat. I thought it was accidental, and repeated myself and she did the same. I was certain she was trying to say 'I love you too.' She had done this in the hospital on the second day of her stroke, said 'I love you too.' I was thrilled because whenever I said those three words her response was always 'thank you.' Those were in fact the last words I heard her say before she slid further into her stroked brain -- who knows where? I was very happy yesterday, like a child. Strange how the mother child bond never changes in a way. Though she is now my child she is still my mommy.

But later in the later, watching her slumped in her wheelchair like a sack I despaired that she wasn't going to make it. My spirits slumped, too. The fact remains that even if she recovers to some extent (my hope is that she will recover the way our friend Arny's mother, who had a stroke at 93, like my mother, recovered after her stroke, and was around for another five years), her demise is inevitable. In all this yo-yoing between hope and despair I have to keep this inevitability always in view. Hope, no matter how strong, has its limits, and unless we reconcile ourselves to the death of a loved one, we will be imprisoned in our attachment to them. All the sages say attachments that make you sink (in the words of Guru Nanak) in scalding waters are to be avoided. What this means to me is this: that one does absolutely everything possible to give the loved one a fighting chance to survive but not be attached to the outcome. This, of course, is also the lesson of the Bhagavad Geeta. It is worth keeping in mind and living by.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Merciful doing, merciful method, merciful material. When I awake in the middle of the night, go into my mother’s room, hear her labored breathing, coughing, congestion -- though she has been nebulized and suctioned by the nurse several times during the night -- go into a spasm of sorrow and helplessness from her perhaps not imminent but inevitable death, unable to fall asleep again, it is doing, method and material that save me. And, of course, hukum.

The thought of merciful activity, even at 2 a.m., propels me out of bed. I go into the kitchen with my by now cool hot water bottle, fill the kettle from the tap, turn it on, put some water to boil for warm lemon water to drink, look at the hexagonal patchwork cozy -- in uplifting cotton prints -- of my hot water bottle, and am rescued. What a word: rescued. I turn to the dictionary – another rescue aid. Saved, freed, delivered. To shake out, or off. Yes, of course, when one spasms in sorrow and begins to sink, in Guru Nanak’s words, in the steaming, hot pool of attachment, one wants above all to be rescued; to shake off the scalding water and be free.

One step, and then another. Squeeze the lemon into the cup, drop the peel into it, too, pour hot water, fill up the hot water bottle, return to my recently ‘remodeled’ room, place the cup on my new Gujarati table, put the hot water bottle under the quilt, take out my computer from the drawer of my new secretary desk, sit down on my little chair upholstered fondly by my mother in a deep maroon material with self-print flowers (is that the phrase?).

I have never thought of the material world as something that could rescue, though I have always endeavored as much as possible to surround myself with beautiful things. Perhaps I have wanted to be rescued all along. Beauty rescues. Design, the lovely prints and pattern of my patchwork cozy, rescues. And of course – and I have always known this – words rescue.

This has been the longest time I have been without word: extreme busyness from mid-September that took me to the brink of a breakdown, and then, without respite, my mother’s stroke at 2 a.m. on October 22nd. Almost two months without word, merciful word, to which I return through the material world.  

The material world, beauty, method have, in retrospect, saved me all along. Buying, stocking supplies for my mother’s ‘new’ life in which the old order and life has disintegrated, rearranging, re-ordering, re-patterning, has been my thrust since we brought her home from the hospital on the 24th of Oct (and several trips to the Emergency). And then, I have been shopping! Yes, shopping has rescued me, too. I realized that if I am going to stay with her long term, I must have a congenial room to retreat to. I have lived in her house, in a room arranged by her all my life every time I visited, and now I wanted a little corner that would be my space; hence, the Gujarati cabinet, table, secretary, a little bamboo lamp whose light I adore. I have, in the midst of my sorrow, had a bit of fun, too. Life, undying life, rescues.

This is as far as word will take me today. I tire and must meditate. More, if word is merciful once more.

Friday, 25 September 2015


You know, sometimes one simply has to take time off from all one's compulsions and obligations. It's so easy to go with the inertial energy to do, do, do. Even this blog has become something I felt I had to keep up with along with a million other things. One is not one's obligations and there is a life beyond compulsion. There is, of course, a balance to be maintained between discipline, work, obligation and utter freedom from it all.

We have donkeys in our village that carry loads of bricks and sand and other building materials up the hills. I saw a donkey once run away from his owner and it took him half a day to catch him and load him down. Well, I am that donkey, and instead of half a day, I have taken a month. I am going to run away some more, especially into the forests in the wonderful October light.  Who knows? Perhaps I will never be caught again!

Monday, 31 August 2015


I recall an incident from Charlie Chaplin's autobiography. He was traveling in a train from some place in Europe where he had resounding success to some other place. He said, thinking about his success, "I feel so empty."

To nourish the heart and soul we have to turn elsewhere -- and really, there is only one other place, where we anchor ourselves to the Beloved. This does not exclude loved ones in the least. We must work on our earthly connections for our own needs, keep friends and family close to our hearts while staying detached. The detachment part is easier written than done, but that must be our endeavor.

There, writing about it already gives me perspective and makes me feel better!


31st 2:30 a.m.

Afflicted with a sense of isolation and aloneness that being in the lap of the family does not mitigate. It is something inner, though prompted in part by the outer. Tensions in the family, or perhaps it is because I was pulled out of my heaven for the sake of a tooth; or that I have finished Malini and a vacuum has moved into its place, a vacuum in which I feel the lack of a family, children, grandchildren, the comfort of older people; or that as one gets older the life not lived begins to assert itself. These sort of sum it up, but there is always something mysterious about a down, something analyzable, something, perhaps, God-given, to experience, drink to the dregs, not resist. Yes, I feel I have accomplished a lot, fed my cursed (I think today) ambition, but it feels empty, isolating, without heart. I will have to ride it out the best I can. The only way I know how is to plunge into my other project. But no, I must take some time out and feel all these emotions or they will haunt me in my dreams. I am more than a writer: a human being. And I must nurture the needs of this being the best that I know how. October, and all its activity, will help, I hope. Though I am primarily a home body, I can understand now why people love to travel so much. It tires you, distracts you, gives you the illusion that you are not isolated. It can also relax, if I can learn to relax into a mode of existing different from my habitual one. 

I understand now my dreams about overshooting the home. Though I love my freedom, it can constrict and incarcerate me in its dreadful boundlessness. 



Malini in Whirlwood is complete, at 58,842 words. Divided by 40 years= 1471.05 words a year = 4 words a day. The number of words will change, but not much. Yesterday I gave all but 3 chapters to Amiya, my grandniece, to read. I was hoping to have completed it before I left BP yesterday but couldn’t since I came here to Chandigarh for Rakhi. I slept most of the way down, much of the afternoon, and six hours at night though I fell asleep around 5 for another couple of hours. I have stayed indoors all day with the curtains drawn in a dark room. Had a non-morning, eating too much, then after lunch meditated – ah, I will never abandon it now! – and plugged myself in. I have many little revisions to make, touch up, as it were. Tomorrow morning I’ll go over the last three chapters, print them, and give them to Amiya. I have to read the script one more time with the ending in mind, and then I will let it sit some more before sending it off. 

Meditation is the key to my digestive health. I can do it anytime of the day, under any circumstances.

Now, to return to Book 2 of the Sikh Saga and complete it by the end of September. Had some wonderful ideas for the ending. Only the execution remains. So, I will have, God Willing, arrived at the end of my goal for this year.

P and I at loggerheads before I left. He’s working hard, too, painting up a storm. When we are both tired from working too hard, we do not get along. He gets impatient and snappy, and I can’t handle it. Days in BP so lovely I can’t wait to return. But I go to the dentist’s for a new crown, the old one having broken off, and won’t be able to leave before Thursday or Friday.



I'm working a bit backwards, posting things I have already written in my journal and which are still relevant.

I had promised a long while ago to make my posts as personal as my journal entries: to have an audience for my musings, but more importantly, to write as honestly as I can about my inner state to let people know that inner lives can be tumultuous and often difficult for most of us, and to take heart.


Had a much-needed dead day yesterday: couldn’t get out of bed. It is the same mysterious illness I had this time last year, with energy levels touching zero. This morning, too, I tried to take baby steps to put away some clothes but after just a few minutes I am back again in bed. The body lags while the mind keeps pace, only if I stay in bed and do a little bit at a time, like work on the final chapter of Malini Book 1. The end is in sight though I will need to go once more to the beginning and add in a few things the ending demands.

Another dream last night, the third, in which I overshoot my home. I am in a train going towards Chandigarh but fail to get off at the stage and return once more to Ambala from where I think I will simply take a taxi back. There is a saint in Ambala that I want to see, but fail to do so.

I don’t know what these dreams mean – but the phrase, overshooting my home – makes me think, in the context of this illness, that it means going beyond the periphery of my energies? Leaving something essential behind? Or, being free? As usual, I prefer the latter interpretation: More and more freedom from my needs that lock me down when I would fly. Specifically: the long lists I am constantly making to organize my bi-continental life; to stay in control of my day; to achieve and be productive; to get out there and sell myself and my books, the last of this list being particularly bothersome though I persist. There is the launch in Delhi in Oct, I have been invited for the Lit Fest in Kasauli in October, the 50th high school reunion, also in Octover, the New School talk in early December in New York, the talk at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in February, all of which hangs like a weight over my head. To add to this there is the trip to Hawaii for one of Payson's reunions in January. 

If I don’t stay on top of my list, I feel like I am slipping and sliding into old age.

Even writing this list has given me a headache and I must stop here. I marvel at, and almost envy people who retire and do nothing. But I must not crib. This is my life. And that is why I must accept my dead days with gratitude.

But I am going for it all, not resisting. Emerson's poem, Give All to Love, has been my guide through much of my life. It is also consistent with Guru Nanak's message to lead a full life: 

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, Kindreds, days.
Estate, good fame,
Plans, credit, and the muse;
Nothing refuse.

“Tis a brave master,
Let it have scope,
Follow it utterly
Hope beyond hope.
Something, something.
“tis a god,
Knows its own path,
And the outlets of the sky.
“Tis not for the mean,
It requireth courage stout,
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending.

Something something.
Leave all for love. (it is about detachment) and ends
Heartily know,
When half-gods go,

The gods arrive.