Growing up as a young adult, two things scared me to death–marriage and commitment. No, it was not because I grew up in a household that was tearing apart or because I was  surrounded by hate. Quite the contrary. Marriage was something I never associated with myself; worse I never used to think I would ever be lucky enough to fall in love. Yes, along came a man who changed all that (more on him later). My college friends and peers taunted my “single” status for ages; some even giving me meaningful advice that I should stop intimidating the opposite sex with my radical views and should learn to act dumb and tender. How was I to make someone like me or fall for the “fake” me was never explained?  And there were those who thought I was a sexless robot; who was only interested in landing a job and cementing my reputation professionally.

How could I explain to them that my idea of love was just too high? That it wasn’t about expensive gifts and comforts, that it extended way beyond things that money can buy. I consider my own parents and grandparents to be the most romantic people, I’ve ever met. They belong to an era when there wasn’t any Valentine’s Day, when you didn’t have social media to declare your love, expensive gifts or trips around the world to make the other half feel desired. It was simpler times and love too was simple.

My thatha (Grandpa) was a tough cookie. He was a stoic man who rarely displayed any emotion. A man of uniform– perhaps his uniform brought in him toughness and discipline rarely seen in others. If I was afraid of anyone in the family it was only him. The only man who could straighten out this wayward, rebellious kid. I could never understand how my poor ammuma (granny) spent an entire life with him, raised four daughters and sailed through the ups and downs that life throws . To me, ammuma was everything thatha was not. She was gentle when he was tough; she was sweet when he was strict. She showered me with love when all he did was drill some discipline in me. She was chalk when he was cheese.

I could not imagine two people more different who were put together in marriage. It was an arranged one like the norm those days in India. For a long time, I felt they carried on the relationship because it was considered as a pious institution. But as I grew up, I learnt an interesting story from ammuma. I learnt about this tough man who gave up his only love; his uniform to be with her. To help her raise the kids (something which was solely woman’s job those days) and to leave his comfort zone, his moments of glory to be with her; love if nothing else is about putting the other person before you.

Yes, times got tough (like times do) and even money was slow but their steadfast love for each other kept the worst things at bay. For ammuma, thatha was a hero not because he constantly declared his love to her but because he gave her wings to fly, an independence which most of women (of later generations) take for granted. Love for them was a giant leap of faith in each other. Annoyingly enough, they could even speak each other’s thoughts.

You see why I thought love, marriage and commitment was too difficult  to fathom? My standards were just too high. It is not about expensive gifts or sexy candle night dinners.

It is about being a powerful team. It is when I don’t have to pretend anything with my man. It is when he treats me like an equal in every walk of life. It is about an unflinching faith.

And yes, it is about finishing sentences.

 

DhanyaNarnia
London.
A city always on the move.
A bustling, bubbling cauldron of many cultures, much to the chagrin of certain tram ladies.
A city characterised by the spiffy hum of several relentless minds.
The time is morning rush hour. Between sips of strong coffee and stretching; I stand waiting patiently to get my daily tube ticket. The sun was certainly out but the mist in the air was audaciously challenging it to shine brighter. Suddenly, there is a chorus of deafening booms. Westminster, the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben lets out a screeching alarm reminding us to rise and shine, to shake off the last signs of snooze. I take the ticket; the helpful ticket-teller gives me necessary directions about which line to take. I am alert…at least for the moment. There are so many lines—Victoria, Jubilee, Metropolitan etc, so many changes and so less time to process it all.
I somnambulate and find myself amidst busy silhouettes jostling their way in a mélange of stylish suits, polished shoes and boots. With newspaper tucked on one side, a suitcase in one hand and the-all-important coffee on the other, they are an epitome of style. As the tube chugs in, everyone experiences a collective sense of alertness. Ready, steady and go. From somewhere a sharp voice reminds us to–MIND THE GAP.
Minding the gap, in less than ten seconds, I am in. Hurray. In the closed somewhat intimate space of the tube, everyone seems to be in some unconscious synchronized choreography, darting the headlines on their I-phones, rhythmically moving their head to the I-pod, reading the free newspaper Metro, skimming through their Kindle. I take out my own, try to get lost in the pages of my e-book. I think I look nonchalant; I hope I have blended in. Soon it is time to step out. Step out I did; only to get enveloped in a streak of grey. Grey skies were at it again! The streets were getting wet with the slow pitter-patter of raindrops. But thank God, I had the accessory dearest to every Londoner—the quintessential umbrella. Snooty yet a savior.  I unwrap it, smoothen my skirt, tighten the jacket and march forward. I look London, I feel London.
Walking down the Queen’s memorial walk near Green Park, crisp autumn air kisses my face. The park is full of men and women dressed in stylish leggings and the shortest shorts running despite the nip in the air. Welcome to another slice of London life.  I reach the famous Buckingham Palace after crossing the War memorial and find myself surrounded by ebullient tourists hopping around feverishly, snapping pictures, hoping to get a glimpse of the Queen or Kate Middleton. Suddenly, it all goes silent. It’s time to change the guards; I am told.  The air is filled with guards’ bands and military music; new set of guards come out to take over the duties from old ones. With their red jackets and huge bearskins; they are an eye-catching sight. All of us look around, laugh and smile at each other; the differences of race, colour, and language are kept aside.
Time to move on; I walk along the St. James’ Palace catching in the local sights. On the streets, I can hear a myriad of faces of different races lending the city a beautiful, vibrant charm. Perhaps, it’s this variety which makes London a global hotspot. I find myself near St. Paul’s Cathedral, an ornate structure built between 1675 and 1710, a centre for arts, spiritualism, learning and public debate. The cathedral which was in news in 2011 for the anti-capitalism protests is said to attract people of all faith. Its legacy cannot be contained in the narrow borders of religion and perhaps is another testimony of the city’s multicultural fabric .
I still don’t know who is a true Londoner, but I am mesmerized by the variety the city offers, where each different culture comes together, integrate and become something greater.
As I step into the tube; I feel my cheeks flushed.
I think I am in love and it is going to be an affair to remember.

I wrote this poem after the brutal gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old in Delhi.  Yes, India is a land of paradoxes but no where it is felt more than in our treatment towards women. We pray to God and Goddess for sons. We celebrate our Goddesses only to ill-treat our women. Agreed not everyone is like that, agreed that not all families think of women as burden but by and large in India women are second citizens. I wrote this keeping our own prejudices in mind. Shakti in Hindu mythology is the personification of the great creative power. She is the great divine mother; the epitome of cosmic power and sacred force. She is revered and feared in equal measures. I imagined a place where even Shakti is crying because her daughters are abused and made to feel inferior in every step. I’ve tried to reflect this through this poem.

With her beatific smile and eighteen arms

Carrying many weapons and riding a tiger

Tall and proud.

She is the supreme goddess;

The slayer of all demons and evil.

The Mahadevi, she inspires fear.

People throng to pray to her.

To absolve their sins.

Spending hours singing her glory.

They beat their chests.

Cry hoarse.

For her kindness.

Her Gentleness.

The invincible answers

Smiling enigmatically.

But today the smile is gone.

Throwing her weapons.

A tear falls.

She is crying a silent cry.

For her daughters

who are attacked

their dignity taken.

Their gender treated

as a curse.

Teased and taunted.

Battered and raped.

Demeaned and killed

by the same men who

pray to her.

Yes.  Shakti cries

Hoping and praying

for her darling daughters’