Hope springs

‘And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that the space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.’ (Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, 1958)

I’ve been very sad recently.  My childhood home in India which was locked up, had been burgled. Not satisfied with not finding much there (yes, we were very poor), the thieves then ransacked the place, even ripping apart the mattresses.  Even if a home has been a very humble place, with not many things there, it still has its memories. It was also my first home and a place I always went back to.  I learnt to walk there and play with the children who lived nearby.  Our school was nearby.  So many people came there.  The address is forever etched my heart.  My beloved uncle and my father both passed away there. That place was the centre of my universe for decades until I left but I always came back to it whenever I visited India from the UK. My British born children loved it too.

Then this burglary happened- totally out of the blue. I felt violated myself because my home was so intimately connected to me- it was who I was, it was my body. The mattresses that had been ripped apart lay on the same bed that my father had died.  I was angry and helpless. But there was nothing to be done. When I was praying, the thought came into my head, ‘You need to concentrate on yourself. There is nothing to be done by getting angry or upset’.  And then I read about the people in Australia who had lost everything in the recent bushfires- and precious things like their pets, photographs of their childhood, livelihood, etc.  Tragically some had even died trying to save their homes. I began to feel grateful that such physical evidences of my life were still there- photographs, mementos, and my memories too.  No one had been injured during the burglary.  I heard a woman say about her home being destroyed during the floods in the UK, ‘After all, it is just bricks and mortar.’  And I thought about all those people around the world who had lost homes, left their homes fleeing wars or other disasters, or were even homeless.  Suddenly I began to see a brighter side to everything- and really how lucky I was.

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Black mountain on fire, February 2020 (image: Wikimedia commons, Saritha Balram)

Then today, I saw this- a little tiny shoot of a cactus plant.  Cactus plants are quite difficult to grow at home from seeds but somehow this little thing had managed to sprout. I felt like it was saying to me, ‘Don’t give up hope.’  It is still a long way from becoming a proper cactus plant but I thought this little thing has struggled and found a way to come out of the dark sandy soil, so could I come out my own dark place.

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My tiny cactus plant!

A hero

I have not been to any David Bowie concert but his music has existed alongside my growth as a person. His talents, not just as a ground breaking musician but as someone who is as a holistic as an artist can be (poet, actor, director, producer, writer, dancer, etc), has been so inspiring. Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a wealth of influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, German Expressionism, Mime, Japanese culture, history and Jungian psychology. He has often described himself as a ‘magpie’ and he was able to synthesise diverse ideas and use them in his art. Coming from a poor working class family, it must have taken immense courage to proclaim his ideas and intent. As the philosopher Michael Foley says, ‘Appreciating art is not passive but active, not reverential but familiar, not a worthy act of self improvement but an audacious and cunning ruse. To seek out what stimulates and makes use of it- this is the work of art.’ And Bowie was a master at this and so his entire life became a work of art.

From becoming totally immersed in his various personas- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, etc- to his campaigning for others- from Tibet to physically disabled children and to his perceptive thoughts on the internet, death, illness, etc. he comes across as a total person. He acknowledged his mistakes without arrogance or defensiveness (watch his interviews on Youtube) and his fears and died a hero. There was no drama about his death unlike his pop personality life. He even made his death into a work of art and then took his bow, humbly and quietly. I never realised how much influence he had on me until last Sunday when it was announced that he had gone. He wasn’t perfect but he was a hero. And most importantly, his life has taught us that we can be heroes too.  Here is a video of him tapping out his song ‘Heroes’ using a bottle cap on his shoe, raising money for physically challenged children at the Bridge School concert, 1996.

filling the world with likes

I am sure you’ve come across ‘haters’ and trolls in your time using the Internet.  While the temptation might be to write back, using expletives and anger, there are better ways that stop the haters which I have used successfully-

  1. First, try explaining or asking the hater what they mean?  That usually stops them because they don’t want to!
  2. Use humour, without being sarcastic or bitter, to turn their comment into something funny!
  3. ‘Like’ their comment.  This gets them really puzzled and they stop straightaway. I once had someone getting really angry and argumentative and then stooping to make fun of my name as well.  So I ‘liked’ their comment and they stopped.
  4. Ignore them completely and they stop as well!  There are some fights you can’t win.  Trolls love to have a battle- don’t give in to that.

There is too much hatred in the world already and so the best way to stop that and spread some love is by having a laugh and using ‘likes’.  I don’t think I will be using the Facebook ‘Dislike’ button because of this reason.

When children grow up

My younger son is now at a stage when babyish words, songs, cuddles, etc are an embarrassment.  He has his smartphone which he uses to organise get togethers with his friends and his own time.  He doesn’t need me to wake him up or remind him to do his school work. I don’t have to pick him up from school or take him there.  He was the last of my babies- who has grown up.

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Needless to say, it is sad for me.  Although there is much more time I have for myself, there were many days, when I felt unwanted and abandoned.  It took me many weeks to dissociate my feelings for myself from that of what was happening to my son.  He had to grow up, of course and I knew that.  Gradually I have learnt to be grateful for this time that has suddenly been released to me and be grateful for that independent young man he has become.  Life is a series of losses- as we age, we lose people, we lose things and ultimately face the biggest loss of all, life itself.  However, that is what life is and if we can accept that and learn to be grateful for everything, then all our love and humanity will be revealed in what we do.

how to live to be a 100

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This is my friend, whom I have known for 25 years. He is sitting there with his card from the Queen to congratulate him on his 100th birthday and the two cups of tea he made, one for me (he will never allow me to make the tea!).  (In case you wondered, when people turn 100 in the UK, the Queen sends them a birthday card)  When I met him last week, I asked him what he thought was the secret to being 100.  Of course, one must allow that unfortunate accidents and illnesses cut short one’s life, so if those are to be discounted, then he said the secret is to living a long life is being ‘open’ to life.  We then talked about what being open to life means.

One meaning of being open is about being grateful for what life brings.  David’s wife died more than 40 years ago and he still clearly grieves for her but he is grateful to have seen his great grandchildren and his own children and grandchildren leading happy lives.  He was a tiny boy when the Great War broke out and he was a young man who served in the RAF in the WWII. After that he settled into a life of domesticity and peace, working for British Council until his retirement. He is grateful for the chances that life gave him.  David has been a Buddhist for more than 30 years.

The other meaning of receptive, he said, was about being kind to people. He often tells me the same story (and I pretend I have not heard it before).  This is about his friend who hated ‘doctors, Jews and blacks’.  Once this friend collapsed outside a pub with a heart attack and he was helped by two young men who probably saved his life.  David visited his friend in hospital and found him to be a much changed man.  His friend who now had a different opinion of doctors, said, ‘You know what, one of the men who saved me was black!’ To which David responded, ‘Then the other one must have been a Jew!’  Being receptive and open means being kind to all people and free from prejudice.

Over and over again, most old people who have lived a long life, say similar things to me.  I can’t remember even one bitter and angry person who has lived a long life, even with the benefit of modern medical care.  David’s friend unfortunately was not able to mend his ways, despite being very rich and died early, always complaining and bitter.  So there you are, live a long life by being open and receptive!

think before you speak

Elderflower stall

Yesterday I called my younger son ‘stupid’ in front of his friends.

This morning I apologised to him profusely and told him that it was not him who was stupid but I.

Yesterday I had been helping out at my son’s school annual summer fair.  I had made some organic elderflower cordial which he was selling at a stall.  I had given him some spending money for food while I was running another stall.  After he came back to ask for more money, I realised that he had used his money to buy my own elderflower cordial at his own stall.  I don’t know what kind of logic he followed because he could have had that cordial any time at home.  The cordial was supposed to be sold to visitors.  Of course, now he had run out of money to buy food.  In the heat of the moment, I called him ‘stupid’ for doing that.

This morning having had some rest, I thought about the repercussions of what I had called him. First I had insulted him in front of his friends.  Second, thought occurred that perhaps he had been generous and honest (also rather loving of his mother’s elderflower preparation), rather than been ‘stupid’. Third, I was mindful that whatever we call our children, they become that.  I remember all the phobias and fears I have inherited from my parents and it is only now, after several decades I am getting rid of them.

I thought of all the alternate ways I could have dealt with the situation. I could have taken him aside and told him that I could not understand the logic of his actions.  I could have joked and told him in a pleasant way not to spend any more money buying things that we already had at home and instead, spend his money on food.  I thought I would have never spoken to an adult like that and yet, felt free to call my own son stupid.  Surely I was also stupid. So this morning, we had a little chat about it and he said that he had been hurt by what I had said. I said I was very sorry.  I also explained why I had said what I had said, wrong as it may be.  We both laughed it off.

Children pick up on little things we say rather thoughtlessly; and what they say and do later are reflections of what we are saying and doing.  I would be mortified if he called someone else stupid.  So I have decided not to be stupid myself again and think before I speak! I also gave myself a pat on the back for apologising to my son.  Hopefully that is something he has also learnt to do now.

an investigation

DVreeland quote (from a Facebook post by Rose McGowan)

To date, nearly 12,000 people have liked this quote and almost 60,000 people have shared it this Facebook post from Rose McGowan. I found out later that the quote wasn’t from Diana Vreeland.  What led me to investigate was that somehow it didn’t quite ring true for the personality of Diana Vreeland that I had read about. That quote had the twinges of sour grapes.  Diana Vreeland would have been far too intelligent for that.  As a fashion editor, she found something good and attractive in everyone she met. She had the knack of highlighting a quality or physical feature that an art director with less imagination might try to hide (for example, focussing on Barbara Streisand’s nose for a Vogue cover).  That quote made no sense to me at all. I tried to see if it made universal sense ( just try substituting prettiness with ugliness and female with male) and no, it didn’t.  I asked myself, ‘What if a person is born pretty?  Or wants to look good?’ Even animals have an instinct to groom and look better.

Diana Vreeland said in her biopic, ‘The eye has to travel’ that there is only one good life- and that is the life you want and you can only make it yourself. She made the best of what she had and the best out of the people she worked with- models, photographers, art directors etc.  She was a hard taskmaster and sometimes not a pleasant person to work with.  Her own children resented her neglect of them and her husband was off having affairs.  However as far as attractiveness went, she knew the way.  She herself wasn’t born pretty but she made the best of what she had and is remembered for her striking looks and fashion sense.  So I wondered why would have said something like that and investigated it via the ‘Quoteinvestigator’- http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/06/03/prettiness/

The truth is that quote was actually lifted from a 2006 blog post, ‘A Dress A Day’, by Erin McKean, (included within the original context of what Erin wrote it will all makes sense)- “I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.” I agree with Erin McKean.  Prettiness is a subjective quality and should not be an obligation.  Health and happiness are far more important.  A person’s real beauty comes from within.  Diana Vreeland loved life and was extraordinarily curious- that made her beautiful. Why compare yourself with another and judge your looks- follow the example of Diana Vreeland and accept yourself.  Just be happy to be who are- you are not your looks! PS- And always question things you see on Facebook- that way you learn a lot!