Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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Travelessence – San Francisco

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Seven years after I left the San Francisco bay area, I went back for a holiday. DQ had been curious about the place where she had spent the first few years of her life, most of which she could not recollect. I was ambivalent about returning to a place which held great significance to me. I had become a mother and embarked on my first job there. But going back meant revisiting the place where I had been a part of a family unit with DQ and her dad – a unit that didn’t exist anymore. I wasn’t sure if I was ready or willing to face any residual demons that might reside in the streets of San Francisco. I wrote this some years ago. The lessons are worth remembering.

For most people, taking a vacation means leaving home turf and the associated work/chores/monotony and visiting an exotic location with a hectic daily timetable of things to do. I have always felt that the act of being on holiday, which implies a state of leisure is totally contradictory to the goal-oriented touristy approach that we take when we are in a new place, armed with cameras and water bottles. An easy solution would be to take a break and visit a known place, a location where the sights are not exactly new but familiar and welcoming, with no rush to be everywhere at the same time. Our San Francisco trip fell into this category. We had lived here before, the major tourist attractions still needed to be seen but there was no long to-do list. In theory, it was the perfect holiday getaway. In practice, it was another story altogether.
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We checked off the essential tourist activities including
• Golden Gate Bridge
• Lombard Street
• Fisherman’s Wharf
• Cable Car Ride
• Museum (California Academy of Sciences)
• Aquarium (Monterey Bay)

What I had on the list in addition, were multiple business meetings including dinner with former colleagues and visits to the homes of friends who still lived in the area. I also wanted DQ to try some new activities and she attempted bowling and rock climbing with different degrees of success.

While it feels like a lot was accomplished, if you look at it from the perspective of a tourist who had seven days to spend in the Bay area, there was so much more we could have done – Half Moon Bay, Point Reyes lighthouse, Sausalito, Angel Island, Alcatraz, Berkeley and Carmel… the list is endless. The San Francisco bay area is truly one of most scenic places to visit and like a gourmet meal which is delicious; it always leaves you wishing for more. There will always be more meals in the future.

The way to hold on to an experience is by savoring each tasty morsel as it rests on your tongue, not focusing on the previous such meal or anticipating the next one. At many times during this week, I had that feeling. Moments which were complete, discrete pieces of happiness, not yet falling like jigsaw pieces into the complete canvas of my life, but each holding the promise of more, if I would learn to find them.

I remember the moment we reached the top of Crooked Street after climbing up 3 steep blocks from Van Ness; and the instant before taking a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in all its glory, framed by generous clear skies untouched by the notorious fog. Perhaps it was in the few minutes we waited for the Hyde-Powell cable car as it was manually reversed, taking bites from the decadent Ghirardelli brownie ice cream sundae when I felt light as a dandelion blown free from its stem. I was suspended in mid-air, free from the burdens of past unhappiness that had lurked in the corners of my memories of this beautiful place where I had been fortunate to live. My fortune lay in my experience of both the natural beauty on display round the year and in the contrast provided by the dark days I had seen, illuminated occasionally by the bright spots that had been my life here for over 6 years.

In the final analysis, it was a great vacation. I had ventured out into the known. I came back; not quite whole, but a little more complete. Sometimes we fear what we know, more than what we don’t.

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A right to remember

tulip 2Was it the beautiful pictures of the Jefferson Memorial on Freshly Pressed a few days ago that made me nostalgic? Or was it the newspaper column on Sakura in Japan last weekend? Or did the pale pink bougainvillea flower that wafted into my balcony this morning trigger the memories? Maybe it’s just that time of the year when cherry blossom trees all over the world make their debut after a barren winter. And oh, what a debut! So many sweet memories rushed in to fill in the gaps left by time.

I remember the annual ritual that we followed each spring in those years when I lived in Maryland. I would take the train from Baltimore to Union Station and then transfer to the metro. A short walk and then – the breathtaking view of the Jefferson Memorial flanked by blossoming trees! Thousands of cherry blossom trees that dot the circumference of the Tidal Basin in Washington DC flowering in unison, a grand symphony of petals, responding to the baton of the most accomplished of all conductors, Mother Nature.

I still feel a twinge when I see cherry blossoms. Reading about the devotion of the Japanese to sakura makes the memory more poignant. It’s a flashback to a simpler time of my life, a phase of contentment, fulfillment even. I was a full time graduate student then, loving every day I spent in the lab pursuing my Ph.D. I was young, newly-wed, full of promise, in the country where dreams were supposedly routinely fulfilled for a person from India. DQ was not even a glimmer in my eye. We would sometimes pack a picnic dinner, complete with disposable plates, cans of Coke and even a piece of cake. Some years we found a carpet of flowers covering the walkways, ripped from the branches by the cold callous rain. At other times, we would drive down from suburban Maryland on a weekend to showcase the spectacular flowers for friends visiting from New Jersey. We hardly ever watched the parade. There are pictures in old albums stored away now in boxes, proof of happier times.

It doesn’t seem right, almost adulterous, to allow these memories to surface now. After all these years, to smile at the simple pleasures that had made life meaningful before things turned sour. I used to be equally enthusiastic about a regular day at school, a weekend in Atlantic City, a summer job in Delaware or a quiet evening walking around the Washington monument. Trudging around in a silk sari is one of my favorite memories of the Lincoln Memorial. Two weeks after arriving in DC in December, when we steeped out after the office Christmas party, a blanket of snow had covered every street and structure. My first snow! Neither the cold, nor the incongruous boots hidden within the folds of my magenta sari could hold back the sheer delight of stepping into fresh snow.

Am I doing something wrong? Allowing myself to be swept onto this pleasantly nostalgic train of thought? Why is it more acceptable to reminisce about the unhappy ending to my first marriage? In spite of my best intentions to move forward, pictures of innocuous cherry blossoms are sending a trickle of happiness climbing up my spine. It’s a pure unadulterated feeling. No blame for what followed. No regret for what could have been. No guilt for messing up. It’s like unexpectedly finding a family heirloom of special value.

It seems right somehow. There is a phase of anger and finger pointing. There is a time to grieve, for lost relationships, for a future that may have turned out differently. And when all such emotions are spent, there is a time to understand, to forgive. To know that there were good times, folded deep within the reams of memories where the repeating motif was sadness. Life is layered and rich. Every phase that throws up a challenge, also holds within it a lesson. I matured as much from the adversity that came my way as in the moments of calm. I learnt from my academic endeavors and also by handling what transpired outside the centers of education. Wisdom resulted from soul searching but peace arose from the gratitude for times like these.

With honesty and the clarity of hindsight, I find myself today in a place of forgiveness. Self-forgiveness. Like charity, compassion must also begin at home, with the self. As I think back to the younger me, excitedly throwing her arms out to feel the mist of Niagara Falls on my face, I smile indulgently. I am still that same person. Easily enthused by simple pleasures, licking my ice-cream slowly, giggling when caught in a sudden downpour, picking up a smiling infant on a bus.

I give permission to the real me to take charge.

tulip 1The tulip display in the Flower Dome is impressive. I stoop down to take a picture and I feel a bubble of laughter bursting forth.


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My very own Eat Pray Love story

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A month ago, HH and I were talking about the possibility of going away for a few days, without the kids. It would be the honeymoon we had chosen to defer. “Where would you like to go?” he asked.

“Bali” I replied, without hesitation.

“Why Bali?”

Bali; because it would complete my personal “Eat. Pray. Love” story.

I know it sounds lame. An attempt to replicate the iconic memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, a book I read many months after it hit the bestseller list, a movie I saw to check if it lived up to the book. While I loved the book, the truth is that the author and I don’t bear much resemblance on many levels. She was a young American woman in her thirties, escaping from a bitter divorce, childless, and on a yearlong quest of self-discovery in Italy, India and Bali. Ok, we do share a few overlapping themes as in divorce (although I had a child), India (I am Indian) and I have always been on a quest, albeit within the confines of what was possible within my social milieu.

Oscar Wilde famously said “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”.

I didn’t intentionally choose to visit the places that Gilbert wrote about in her memoir. But I had a tenuous connection, in chronological order, of similar experiences. I made random choices that took me to Italy on a holiday, to an ashram for finding myself and later fortuitously meeting HH, over a three-year period of time. Now that I am returning from a short visit to Bali, it seems like I deliberately sought to imitate a work of art created from a slice of life of a person who is very different from me.

It’s impossible to set a course for our life that duplicates another’s path. Ask any child of successful doctor parents who would rather be an artist or the scion of a business family who wishes to be a teacher, rebelling against the traditional path mapped out for him. The broad outline for my life was written by the society in which I was brought up. It was a formula that was family-centric and time-tested. Like many Indian women of my generation, I gamely chose to travel the beaten path, the only one endorsed by Indian society. Get a decent education, get married, have kids, be content. This is your karma, this is the script, follow it. And I did; until a twist in the tale took me on a detour into uncharted territory. I was divorced, with a child, and choose to live in a city where I could support myself, instead of moving in with my parents.

During one of my soul searching bouts when I was debating taking the big step towards divorce, my mother, a woman whose life epitomized the very Indian values that I was questioning, guided me.

“If you had not gotten married or had a child, you would have always craved these experiences. You have experienced life as a married woman and a mother. Now be free and do all the things that you feel were denied so far. Live the life you want with no regrets.” She didn’t live long enough to see me craft that life.

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I wanted to create shared happy memories with DQ and expand her horizons by traveling around the world. I love visiting new places and in the summer of 2012, a group of friends decided to go on a European holiday. We spent a week in Italy, loving the cuisine and the country, the romance of Rome, the flavors of Florence and the waters of Venice. We savored pizza and lingered in piazzas, fell in love with gondolas and gelato. We were speechless in the Sistine chapel and tickled by the leaning tower at Pisa.

A year later, I found myself waking up at the crack of dawn for the mandatory morning meditation at the ashram. I was accompanying a friend who was keen on completing a training course to be a yoga teacher. I had vaguely put that on my bucket list and the timing seemed right. Having been a regular yoga practitioner for over a decade, it sounded easy enough – a one month residential program at an ashram in Kerala. It was brutal. Four hours of asana practice, Geeta classes, Vedanta lectures and 2 hour meditation and chanting sessions every morning and evening. It was a revelation. I doubt I gained flexibility or lost weight but I did learn a lot about myself.

And soon after, HH and I decided we were serious enough about each other to consider spending the rest of our life together. I had loosely followed the life path Gilbert had drafted for herself but it was not in imitation. It was my intention to live a full life that opened up new possibilities for me. With the first step that I had taken away from the beaten track, I had removed myself from my comfort zone. While the challenges of a new way of life were intimidating, they were also liberating. I saw places, I met people, I took a risk. I let my guard down, I laughed freely, I embraced life.

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Bali, located so close to Singapore, was a not just a sensible choice but a perfect honeymoon destination. Plus it brought me full circle to my own Eat Pray Love trilogy. The final destination for all of us is fixed but we choose our own paths. From what was available to me, I chose these locations, these people, and these experiences. Each choice took me one step further on my journey. As each one I will make in the future will.

When it comes to life stories, I agree with Phyllis Theroux, who says “…we shape our lives like a story, how unconsciously we attract plots, outcomes, and other characters who undermine or complicate our unfolding drama. We supply the meaning – and therein lies the difference between one life and another.”


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My mirror and me

DQ and I attended the university open house yesterday. A scorching dry day in Singapore, filled with the expectation of a much needed rain shower. Thousands of youngsters milled around the information booths handing out brochures and balloons, information and ice-cream, facts and freebies. Loud music buoyed the palpable atmosphere of eager anticipation. Smiles and laughter punctuated the hot afternoon as prospective students did the rounds of the booths while worried parents milled around the financial aid station. DQ and I took the campus tour bus. We added brochures to our goody bags and took selfies with our balloons. We switched moods, sometimes she worried about what was ahead, I laughed at the kid dressed in an oversized mascot uniform. Sometimes I wondered how my tiny newborn had transformed into this budding woman and she seemed jubilant, mouthing the words of the song playing around us. At times, we were both silent, contemplating our own thoughts of what this moment meant to us.

How can I not get sentimental at such times?

My child is my mirror. I should have recognized this truth the week I brought DQ home from the hospital. My mother had come to help me for a few months and one day she stepped out for a few hours to visit Monterey with a cousin. I was left alone with DQ. She fussed and cried inconsolably. I couldn’t tell if she was hot or hungry. Cuddling her didn’t help. Leaving her in the crib made it worse.  With each hour I got more agitated and she in turn became harder to manage. I was in tears, feeling helpless and incompetent when my mom got home. Seeing her, I relaxed and handed over my wailing infant to her loving arms. And from that minute, all was well. DQ became quiet and took a nap. I wept with joy and took a shower. At that time I thought it was mom who had made the difference. Over time I realized that it was my frame of mind that DQ as reflecting, ever the eager untainted glass to show me my inner terrain.

I don’t stand in front of a mirror for long. It shows me gray hair and wrinkles, proof of the years that have passed; years during which I was too busy to appreciate my firm body and unlined skin. I gaze more often at DQ and her transformation. As she rehearses the speech she has to make at school tomorrow, I see her toddler-self trying to reach the bowl on the kitchen counter repeating “stoberry”. I drove her to play-dates not so long ago, now I worry about her going on dates. From focusing on looking presentable, she now focuses on her upcoming presentations. Her growth curve and my timeline are intertwined. But her outlook is not always mine. I am flattered when people say we look alike; she hates the comparison. People ask her if she will pursue a science education, like me and I know she will not. Just as I can’t make my image in the mirror to look like a younger me, I can’t make DQ become a second-generation avatar following in my footsteps. And I don’t want to.

My mirror doesn’t show me what I want to see but what I need to see. So does DQ. Today I am a person who is excited by learning; the prospect of expanding my outlook, which enhances the anticipation of new experiences. DQ seems hesitant. In her I see myself, more than two decades ago, in a new country, figuring out the next steps for graduate school. A little shy; extremely skeptical. I worried about fitting in, being understood, meeting expectations. The opportunity for pursuing higher education in the USA kept me going, the challenges of finding my place in a foreign system kept me engaged and I am forever grateful for that experience. DQ is at a similar threshold now. Looking at the sea of bright faces, hardworking Singaporeans of many races, vying for a seat in a prestigious institution. Not sure of her place in this system, wondering if she can keep up with the high standards.

DQ mirrors my own doubts at finding myself in Singapore subsequent to my choice to marry again. She just followed me. But I am excited to be here. I love being in a place of education and yesterday was no exception. I would like her to catch the contagious enthusiasm that pervades colleges and universities, its irresistible, wave of youthful optimism. I want to tell her what a wonderful time of her life this is, how easily she has found herself in a place where she can choose her course of study in an excellent academic environment, how she must count her blessings. But I refrain.

The best way to change what you see in the mirror is to change yourself. So I allow myself to be carried away by the exuberance of the surroundings, by smiling so much that my face hurts, by feeling excited and peaceful at the same time.

And I see my mirror doing the same.


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Take the bus

Water bottle? Check.

Jacket? Check.

Smart phone? Check.

Umbrella? Check.

I am ready to step out into the Singapore sunshine. With my pretty pink umbrella, I walk the 300 meters to the nearest bus stop. I confer with my phone to figure out the arrival time of the bus I need to take. 3 minutes, it says. And it does. I squint into the cloudless sky as I take a sip of water, allowing the others to board. I am heading to the Arts House for a writing workshop. Bus number 961 will take me there in 1 hour and 5 minutes, as per Mytransport, the bus app that I use. I find a window seat at the rear. The cool blast of air that at first feels refreshing and then freezing, makes me pull out my jacket from my bag. I get comfortable and look around.

Tiny kids in uniforms, carrying bulging backpacks; teenagers with weird haircuts; young men and women with flashy phones; many age groups, races and nationalities ride side by side, focused on getting to their destination. They all enter from the front, tapping their EZ link cards and move politely to the rear. The auntie with grocery bags sit next to the young man who dozes off but miraculously stops short of putting his drooping head into her lap. A young woman gets down with her foldable bicycle. The baby in his mother’s arms looks around observantly, as if preparing for his own turn to ride the bus independently. There is a low hum of conversation, people whispering into their mobile phones in Mandarin, Tamil, Malay, sometimes Hindi too. Those infatuated with their phones watch movies or play Candy Crush. The ones with scarlet headphones marked with “b” have their eyes closed, music meditation I presume. Outside, the lanes are filled with cars, inching along in the rush hour, unlike the bus that zips across secure in its own lane.

I was 13 when I started taking the public bus to school. A bright red bus with “BEST” painted in white, route 333 that covered the distance between Sahar Village and Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai. “How much is your bus ticket?” my grandfather would ask. “Why don’t you buy a half ticket?” he would persist. “I am more than 12 years old. Half-ticket is for little kids” I would reply seriously. In my home, being allowed to take the public bus to school was a coming of age milestone. My brothers had been given the go ahead when they turned 11, a fact they never failed to mention, to emphasize the special treatment I was given ‘because you are a GIRL”.  I didn’t mind. I was happy waiting in the line to board the bus, chatting with classmates, looking out for boys from the neighboring boys school. The buses ran frequently and I usually got a seat. The conductor moved through the aisle issuing tickets. I liked sit by the window, watching other kids get into their respective school buses, in yellow raincoats and gumboots.

Riding a bus in Mumbai meant arriving at your destination either drenched in sweat or monsoon rains. And with each season, I graduated from pimply teenager to diffident college girl. I took route 312 to Santa Cruz, a bus that went into the airport, in an era free of terrorist threats. A quick stop at Vakola church, a swing around the army cantonment and I would be at my college. Sometimes a group of students would venture out further, to “town”, to watch an English movie at Eros theatre. Or take another bus to Juhu beach to eat pani puris at sunset. The bus was always full of people. We asked for directions. We felt safe. And surprisingly, so did our parents, even though they couldn’t track us once we left home because phones were a luxury in those days.

My girls take the public bus to school in Singapore now. “Hats off to you guys for allowing your children to take public transport. And you just got here!” says the mother of Princess’ friend at school. HH and I decided early on that we would encourage the girls to be independent and travel alone. I agreed because I had done the same at that age. HH was reassured by the reputed safety of this city-state. We both were glad we didn’t have to drive them around as we were doing in India. Did I mention we don’t own a car here? That made the choice pretty easy for us. We send them out with water bottles for hydration and phones for connectivity. They always have enough money to take a cab in an emergency.

As parents we tell them to be careful, look before they cross the road and call us if they need help. But they will learn more from their own travels on these buses. Like the time Princess slept off on her way back from school and found herself far away from home. It was a day she had chosen to not take her phone to school. She panicked but found her way back fairly easily. She is the one who tells this story proudly now; a huge leap in self-confidence for a child who had been cared for extremely protectively till recently.

Or the time when DQ took her eyes off her Samsung S4 long enough to notice the pregnant woman who didn’t have a seat and got up for her; a kind gesture by a self-obsessed teenager.

One day they reached late. It helped them plan their morning routine better. Another day they got drenched in a sudden downpour. Now they take umbrellas. Everyday they carry their heavy backpacks but still have not learnt the art of taking only the minimum books!

I know that traveling alone but together with strangers on a bus will shape future experiences for them, like it has done for me. I feel at home in Rome when I try to figure out my way to the Vatican. I am alert in Paris as I take the metro. I love riding on the upper deck of the double decker red buses in London which remind me of my childhood. What better way to allow the personality of the city to rub off on you as you share the joint journey on a public bus? An immersive experience which grounds them while building a foundation for future travels in strange places.

Today they travel to school without us; tomorrow the world.


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What now?

This is the post I should have published first. The reason why I thought my life, which is strangely the same as anyone else’s but still very different, was worth writing about. And it had to do with an ad on Indian TV for jewelry.

I had been a loyal Tanishq customer long before I saw the ad – the one that shows a dusky bride walking to her wedding ceremony holding her little girl’s hand. As the bride and groom walk around the ceremonial fire, the groom picks up the little girl as well, including the child in the commitment to the new life with her mother. Not surprisingly, the ad made waves in the media and in urban Indian society. It was a wonderful visual, a great statement on the changing mores of Indian society that favored fair-skinned virginal brides for eligible bachelors of all ages. How wonderful for a woman to get a second chance, to be deemed worthy by a man who is willing to accept her child as well!

A friend sent me the link to this ad, soon after its debut in India. It reminded her of my wedding, she said. I had had a wedding ceremony the month before. My 16 year old daughter participated in it. So did my husband’s 10 year old daughter. It was the second time for both of us. And so we came together, each with a “plus one”.  Our respective families and close friends attended the event, blessed us, gave us gifts. We smiled for the camera, sorted through our material possessions and started a new life in a different country.

As individuals we knew what marriage entails, what we knew and expected of each other. In India marriage requires marrying the entire family, usually implying an acceptance of parents, siblings and varying extents of each other’s extended families. But in our case, this involved our children from our previous marriage as well. As we walked around the sacred fire, we solemnly took vows towards a peaceful life with each other, vows written for first-timers. What about our responsibilities to each other’s children? And to their extended families which do not include us? As we took seven steps together as husband and wife, we also had to step up to instantly becoming a step-parent. Was there any advice for that role?

As a child, the logical part of me always questioned what happened after the prince and princess stepped into the sunset hand in hand. There were no books then for the “happily ever after” sequel. As an adult I know there are innumerable books that offer advice now for happy marriages but I can’t seem to find anything to guide me in my personal situation. Undoubtedly I am older, perhaps a little more sensible, if not wiser but have very little experience to guide me through this phase of my life. A lifelong bookworm, I have looked to books for escape and enlightenment. The Chicken soup series provides some feel-good tidbits but there are no guidebooks for this first year of married life with a new spouse for an Indian woman.

After our quiet wedding we got down to the nitty gritty of starting over –  finding a new home, moving, getting the kids out of one school and into another, figuring out how to operate a household of four. Honeymoon, you ask? Even holding hands seems unlikely on most days. We go for family movies on Fridays, outdoor treks on Sundays and deal with schoolwork and homework on the other days.

My past unhappy marriage experience has taught me one important lesson – I must prioritize my relationship with my spouse if I want to build a happy family. And that seems the hardest to do.  Each of us prioritizes what needs to be done for the family and self and as we tick each item off the list, the hours in the day dwindle. Sometimes the only time we have together is the few minutes before we sleep, a time I would have spent reading a book.

Most days I feel bereft. All I seem to do is wait for the family that I sent off to school and work in the morning to come back home. I read, send out resumes, do errands. I write, I Skype. I do yoga. And I wait. Literally and figuratively – for structure and substance, for goals and guidance, for insight and inspiration, for enthusiasm and encouragement. I know that it will not be revealed to me in a momentary flash of brilliance. After all, the fairy tale took a while to get to the point of the happy couple walking into the sunset, but ever after is a very long time.


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Craving quiet

“Music is the space between the notes.”

                                                               – Claude Debussy

Children love to hear the story of their birth. And I was no exception. While the actual event of my birth was as momentous or uneventful as any other, the part that was of great interest to me, came a little later in the narration.

“People told me that giving birth to the second baby would be much easier” said my mother, “but for me all three of you took a long time to emerge. You specially. You were the chubbiest of the lot.” I was perhaps 10 years old when we talked about this the first time.  “Were you sad that I was a girl?” I asked, knowing the preference for sons that prevails in India. “I was not sad that you were a girl, but a girl’s life is a hard one. Looking at your smiling, innocent face, I felt a twinge that my little baby girl will also have to endure all that a woman has to bear in her life.” I didn’t really grasp the depth of that sentiment then, eager to proceed to the interesting part. “When I was a teenager, I once heard a neighbor sing a melodious song and I asked what raga it was. Ranjani, she replied. Even before I thought about marriage, I knew that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Ranjani.”

I was named after a raga in Carnatic music. So was my mother. I loved this story because it made me feel special; the fact that I was in her mind long before I was in her arms, an inquisitive and demanding daughter. Growing up between two brothers in a society that favored boys, this fact built my self-esteem along with so many of my mother’s statements during my growing years.

 I didn’t particularly develop an interest in Indian classical music at a young age. But I heard a lot of it. First there was radio, then television. The cassette tapes made music more accessible to that generation. My mother sang often. Although not a trained musician, she had a lilting voice and was a quick learner. She was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Carnatic music. Each morning the chanting of the Vishnu Sahasranama or hymns sung in praise of the Hindu gods roused us from slumber. The day would then gradually fill with a cacophony of sounds of the busy metropolis that was Bombay.

 Many years after I left home, I turned to music at a time in my life when I did not find meaning in anything else. I found a suitable Carnatic music teacher in America, drove 20 miles for every lesson. I memorized the notes, repeated after my teacher and practiced. I talked about music to my mother. Much later, World Space radio came to India with its dedicated Carnatic music channel, much to the delight of my mother. Although we lived in different cities in India then, we discussed shows and artists, dissected the nuances of compositions, praised the melody and beauty of the words. We bonded over sound bytes. Our favorite game was “guess the raga”. She was much better than any app that could guess the tune from the first few bars as it played over the sound waves. My best memories in recent years include the two trips we made to Chennai during the December music season to attend music concerts that play daily all over the city, a veritable feast for music connoisseurs.

 While my mother and I bonded over many things, there were some things about her that didn’t make sense to me in my early years. We would travel by train during the summer holidays. The scenery would run by, dry and barren at places, lush fields at others. Occasionally a lonely house would be seen in the distance; a dim light in the middle of nowhere.

“I would like to live there,” my mother would say.

“Really? Why would you want to leave the comforts of city life to live all alone?”

“Sometimes I want to be quiet and be surrounded by quiet. It’s not possible with the three of you all around. Plus the noise of city life doesn’t give me a moments peace.”

I found it odd that the charm of living in a big city didn’t fascinate my mother. Why would you trade the glitz and speed of a metro for a place where you hear no sounds except perhaps the moo of a cow?

 Only later when the need for solitude arose as a nascent sigh within me did I empathize with my mother’s wish for some alone time. The parenting path is filled with activities, responsibilities and demands. Whether it is the tinkle of childish giggles, the laughter of kids horsing around or the clang of pots and pans in the kitchen, there is always noise. Sounds surround you, mark your day and clutter your thoughts. Getting away from it all seems to be the only way to experience quietness.

And in that solitude you find the energy that keeps you going, humming softly through the days that seem to never end, with errands that pile up just as you finish others.

Just as the cadence of music is made up of the notes and the spaces between them, life needs these periodic pauses to help us reflect and rejoice in just “being”.

Here’s to reveling in rejuvenating solitude, refreshing silence, revitalizing stillness. Image