I was woken this morning, not by birdsong, but by a light that suffused the entire bedroom in a surreal glow. Piercing through the curtain at the window, this glow had danced in to settle on my closed lids, urging me to open my eyes. At first, I thought I had overslept but a quick check told me it was just 3 a.m. I walked to the window, lifted the curtain, to stand in fascinated awe drinking in the beauty of a landscape that only the first snowfall can bring. The first pure joy of the season where the spirit meets the mind to acknowledge this is happiness.
Later, instead of focusing on a brisk walk, I meandered over to the park, my faithful companion during the winter months.
The morning walk turned into more meditation, than a walk, as my gaze swept across the familiar fields, playground, and benches, stopping only at the edge of the woods bordering the park. I recognize the role of this, and the other places I walk, in my creative make-up; I respect them. Every so often I will pause, listen to the silence of a hush-filled dawn as this one, feel its breath upon my face. This is the earth, who, even in the throes of winter, is alive and in her aliveness is what we call life.
I remember well those days taking public transport to work, the air of camaraderie among fellow travellers. Even loaded down under the weight of winter outerwear, it did not take away from the mutual delight of witnessing the first snowfall of the season.
Take a pause, wherever you are look around you. Make each minute count. They are tiny but packed with immense possibilities.
Stay safe and well, my friends.
Purabi Sinha Das
Settling comfortably on the cushioned seat of the bus, I lean my forehead on the cool glass of the window. It’s been an exhausting and exciting day.
The free day trip to Playa del Carmen offered by the resort caught us by surprise. We accepted and hopped on the bus.
Mexico, made up of thirty-one states, stands in the southern part of North America and most of the country borders the Pacific Ocean to the south. Besides the U.S., it shares a border with Guatemala and Brazil in Central America. We are staying in Playa del Carmen, a resort city along the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo. I learn playa means beach in Spanish. And Quintana Roo is one of three Mexican states that make up the Yucatan peninsula and is the most popular state to visit.
I know Mexico is famous for gold and silver but the spectacular display at the Hacienda Matises & Co. of artisanal talent blew me away. She, of the golden tiara on jet-black tresses; he of the powerful silver encased body of a God, shaped their passion into fantastical shapes that glowed and glittered forever. Even the sun and moon, and the stars, I am certain, bow in obeisance. My eyes stayed glued on the artisans working behind glass windows bringing a delicate balance between precision and beauty. Think artist and mathematician rolled into one.
Then a short ride brought us to the iconic 5th. Ave. the happening place where it’s de rigueur for tourists to congregate.
I didn’t stop to shop, instead continued to walk weaving my way through throngs of tourists, eyeing the vast array of visual delight displayed in stalls and store fronts along the avenue which seemed to go on forever. The Spanish tongue, with a smattering of English sprinkled in between, danced in the air adding an extra sparkle to the leaves of trees that must have stood there for a very long time, welcoming guests from the far corners of the globe. Oh, what a wonderful world!
Our bus is slowing down. I have been dozing and open my eyes to look out the window. There is traffic; the sun is setting. I shut my eyes and return to my reflections.
In a clearing in the jungle, there, before my bemused eyes, is a sort of meeting place of men, women, children all intent on the task at hand. They don’t even look up when I stop to stare. Although I am an alien in their world, no one questions me. They are friendly and caring, holding an arm when I stumble, or, gesture for me to sit down. When I show signs of flagging strength, I am given a tumbler wreathed with moisture from the afternoon heat. It is filled with juice from the hibiscus flower. My thirst is quenched. Again, when hunger pangs make me double up in pain, I am given a drink made from rice and vanilla, and sprinkled with cinnamon. A clay plate is proffered, I grasp it in my eager hands, and devour the cactus salad with gusto. Yet, no words. Only silent kindness. Fortified, I resume my perambulations.
Statues of gods abound here. Chaac, the Mayan deity for rain; Ixcjel, Moon deity; Itzmana – ruler of heaven, day, and night. He teaches humans the science of medicine, numbers, the calendar and writing. Hun Hunahpu – maize god. For the Mayans, maize is not just a crop. It represents who they are.
Such beauty, I muse, touching a brilliant orange hibiscus. Immediately, a red blur spreads before my eyes. Through this blood-soaked mist, scenes of such violence unfold that I fall down fighting to close my eyes which remain open. The beautiful jungle of moments before has grown dark and suffocating, the trees bent with twisted arms, grimacing in pain. The people who had tended me have vanished without trace. I raise my aching head, a dreadful premonition grabbing at my throat, and I understand. The Europeans have arrived.
There is movement around me. People are shifting and mumbling, saying goodbye to new friends, discussing dinner which will be served in a few minutes. I stand up with the rest of the tourists, settle my backpack on one shoulder, clamber down the steps, and find myself walking towards the beach. I am not hungry for the people I met earlier in the jungle, fed me.
Music from the resort reverberates in the night air lifting some of the heaviness from my spirit. Although I had promised myself not to scroll the internet I do so now to learn there was a mass burning of Mayan literature around 1562 resulting in the loss of information about the Mayan gods. However, incredibly amazing ruins in the Yucatan bear evidence of the density of population and how important agriculture was for the Mayans. All dating back to at least two thousand years. In many ways the indigenous civilization of the Mayans was more advanced than their Spanish conquerors.
I am gratified to learn that 50 indigenous languages are spoken still including Maya in the Yucatan; Huastec in northern Veracruz; Nahua, Tarascan, Totonac, Otomi, and Mazahua mainly on the Mesa Central; Zapotec, Mixtec, and Mazatec in Oaxaca; and Tzeltal and Tzotzil in Chiapas.
I gather my wandering thoughts, pick up my backpack and turn towards the lights of the resort.
“The most regretful people on earth,” the poet Mary Oliver said, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets whose words always resonate for me. I am hoping you will understand my crazy and weird compulsion while writing a piece, to swerve into another world, where imagination mixes with reality. Do come along – I would love your company.
Dear Friends, I want to share my thoughts about the day when our world changed forever on September 11, 2001.
I did not know any of the victims. But the shock it brought remained within for a long time. Grief never ends just becomes less harsh with time, I suppose, and with that I will have to comfort myself.
After it was all over, the sun would have risen the next day. Invisible tears of nature’s grief would have been wrung out of the beauty of many-hued flowers, shiny ripeness of fruits, the glistening leaves of trees trembling in shock and disbelief.
Even the tiniest living being on this planet would have grieved as they had never done before.
Alak and I had made the trip to the former World Trade Center site, called “Ground Zero” at the time, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attack. At the sight of the crater like hollow in the ground where the Twin Towers had once stood, such desolation swept over me that I was incapable of taking pictures and merely stood with bowed head in silent prayer for the departed souls.
September 11, 2022 marks the 21st. anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There is now a memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center complex occupying approximately half of the 16-acre site. The memorial’s twin reflecting pools are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest human made waterfalls in North America.
Lives lost forever. Dreams crushed before they could even appear. The unborn to remain unknown.
Dusk approaches clothed in midnight blue while stars appear, one by one, in the beyond where a pristine moon waits in the wings. Time for me to wrap up.
I leave this picture of a stunning sunset in Barbados taken in September 2019, as a meditative prayer.
Stay safe and well.
In the hush of dawn, I stand transfixed in our tiny backyard, camera in hand. Emotions swirl through me. Joy, delight, wonder. It’s hard to explain emotion, right? You just feel it. A quickening of breath. Lightning of the spirit. A buzzing in the brain.
Such are the feelings I experienced gazing at this miracle. A potted plant that had almost died inside the house. I was heartbroken. How do I give it the breath of life? I pondered, touching its dry leaves. I couldn’t throw it so I did what common sense dictated. I brought it outside.
Each morning, I stepped out to the backyard to see if anything had happened while I slept.
One day, I saw a little green leaf peeking at me. A miracle!
And, day after glorious day, tiny bright red flowers kept appearing. As if out of nowhere.
My sturdy little plant #theonethatwouldntgiveup probably sees her own beauty in the worshipful delight on my face as we greet each other at dawn, every day.
What I see, is her determination never to give up. Her message that I should also keep going, no matter how tough the going gets. Stay focused. Concentrate on the job at hand. Create stories. Write poetry. As if my life depended on them. This little trooper knows writing pumps oxygen into me.
#amwriting #poetry #nature
There’s nothing quite like entering vacation mode with a suitcase to pack. However, that’s an art I seemed to have forgotten when I started. Two plus years of never boarding a plane had done its number on me and I was woefully unprepared for a trip outside the country. How many clothes to take? Shoes? Personal items? What to pack?? Added to this dilemma, there are new rules and regulations to follow now.
Our chosen destination Cuba beckoned! Hurry up, it seemed to say, we are waiting for you.
I don’t do well in heat and yet I loved Cuba. It was different over there because I wasn’t following a schedule. I had packed a notebook but never wrote. I had packed a book to read but didn’t go past the first short story. This was my third time in the beautiful, lush, island country – one in a chain of islands created millions of years ago - where the beaches are clean, the sand soft as powder, the waters so spectacular in their blue, green, turquoise fusion you might think your imagination is playing tricks.
We hired one of those classic 1950’s car, a Bel Air, and with the top down, drove with the wind whipping up a delight to the town of Varadero. Our driver, ever the courteous Cuban, took pictures for us. Then a horse and buggy ride through the town itself. Even here, the buggy driver pointed out places of interest and although, he spoke mostly Spanish we could make out what he said. We had booked a day tour to Havana which I was looking forward to since I have been there before and knew about the old colonial buildings and the really beautiful shops. However, it was heart rending to find most of the haunts I loved devoid of action – the after effects of the pandemic, I supposed, as I trudged along the cobbles stoned paths of old Havana. I tried looking up the cute boutique I had shopped at before, but couldn’t find it in the row of many shuttered doors. I had come here to recover from my own burnout but the devastation wreaked upon our global community by the pandemic is ever present. Each one of us bears a scar or two.
Cuba does not import produce, unlike in the west, offering locally grown fruits and vegetables in season. This way one gets to enjoy the local cuisine. Tostones, that's pan fried green plantains, and rice and black beans, quickly became a favourtie. Breakfast was always a plate of juicy mango slices, guavas, watermelons and pineapples. Then there were the unforgettable smoothies made from mango, guava, papaya, watermelon or pineapple. Your choice. Cuban food is typically meat-centric bearing heavy influences from Africa and Spain because of the slave trade. The famous Ropa Vieja, meaning literally old clothes, is a dish of shredded beef cooked in tomatoes and served over fluffy white rice. The name comes from an old Cuban tale of a man who was too poor to buy meat. Instead, he shredded his clothes and cooked it praying it would turn to meat. Miraculously, it did. The dish is a symbol of hope and resilience in Cuban culture. I fell in love with the Yuca, another word for Cassava root. Boiled or mashed, or cut up like French fries it was always present at the buffet. Cuban desserts with their combination of tropical flavours and warming spices are mouth watering to the extreme. You must have some, at the very least, if not a whole lot. The Arroz Con Leche or sweet rice pudding made with rice, milk, sugar, lemon zest and sometimes star anise, is sinfully delectable. Cuban shortbread cookies, the flan, and my personal favourite Dulche de Leche Cortada - milk and sugar cooked over a slow fire until thickened into a rich caramel milk curd and infused with cinnamon. We loved it because it tasted like gulab jamoon, a traditional Indian dessert. Similar to our Indian culture, in Cuba food is at the center of celebrations and everyday life.
Driving through the countryside, I was constantly reminded of my hometown Hazaribagh. The same green hedges, banana and mango trees lining the roads, gated houses sporting pink tiled roofs with gardens along their sides, meadows and fields. Nostalgia running rampant.
Now that I have emerged from hibernation, I am filled with hopes for the future. We had been hearing a lot about airport line-ups and were somewhat nervous. However, everything went well, despite a last-minute fumble when the pilot announced they had forgotten an animal in the hold from the previous trip and the plane had to reverse, open the hold and let the poor thing out. That set us back about forty minutes but at least, the pet and its owners were re-united. Despite these hiccups, our arrival in Cuba and consequent vacation in a fabulous duplex that was a stone’s throw from the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, went without a hitch.
I inherited Ma’s Bou-Bhaat saree.
Loosely translated in English – bou = bride, bhaat = rice or food. This saree, I am wearing in the photo, belonged to my mother. She wore it on the day of her Bou-Bhaat.
After the bride has entered her husband’s home, soon to be her own, she stays indoors only to emerge the day of her Bow Bhaat – usually a few days after the wedding has taken place. This is because the bride would have travelled from another city or town. On the day of the Bou Bhaat the groom’s family invite family and friends to a banquet. The new bride is introduced and blessed by all; she will share in the meal. I have been told those older customs had neighbours bringing food for the bride and she would only eat from her husband’s house at the official banquet. I don’t believe this was the case with Ma as a new bride.
My hands are gentle as they take the saree out of the cupboard, unravel the many folds, and lay it out on the bed. Royal purple with silver embroidery running the length and breadth of this absolute gorgeous six yards of Banarasi silk tissue, woven with very fine silk threads that give the texture of tissue. Extremely delicate and absolutely divine. Handwoven from Banaras, city of mystics, where the holy river Ganga flows clothed in gold from the morning sun and jewelled plumes of thousand floating lamps during evening puja. Where weavers weave their magic into yards of Banarasi silk sarees.
I let my eyes rest on the saree and immediately a sense of peace floods over me. Time to showcase Ma’s saree, I tell myself firmly, and begin to drape it around me. I have only once worn it outside, to an event, and never after that. Afraid I might mess it up. Ma’s benediction rises; I feel the power of her strength of character, who she was and how she brought us up.
After her wedding, Ma would have left for her husband’s home – a journey of roughly four hundred miles. They must have taken the train. Who else was travelling with them? Our aunts, Baba’s sisters? Our grandmother and great-grandmother? I don’t know because I never asked. Something I regret to this day.
In India, during the time I was growing up, we never thought of asking our parents about their childhood or growing years. Why was this? Why did we not simply ask? Did we not ever imagine that, once upon a time, parents themselves had been children? In all fairness, I believe this had to do with respect for our elders. We thought it would be bad manners. We did not want to pry.
Ma did share some stories about her childhood – the time when the horse that drew their carriage turned ballistic and almost killed them; or the time when she leaned against the car door that had not been locked and fell out. The wound wasn’t too big, thank goodness, because the car was stationary at that moment.
Another time, Ma told us how she had been chastised by an aunt for exposing her ears and was made to rectify this breach of conduct before stepping out of the house. Females, at that time, had to wear their hair in a special way that their ears would not be exposed.
I decide to sit on top of the stairs for the photograph. Lighting isn’t the best, and there may be unwanted shadows. In my anxiety to not trip on the saree and ruin it, I forget to remove the picture from the back. Now, I can’t help but smile as I begin to type. I know Ma will understand.
#bengaliculture #amwriting #heritage #family #familystories #author #amreading #poetrycommunity
"March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." It's an old English proverb of unknown origin. In the west, this month can be cold and windy with sudden blizzards and snow-storms. It is also the harbinger of Spring. Growth happens - on trees, in bushes, shrubs and thickets. Creation uncurls, and steadying herself on a still-frozen ground takes stock of her situation. She is ready. A fitting month to celebrate women!
So, it was an honour to be invited to an interview by Ayesha Sardar of Public Allies Inc., a non-profit organization, and share the platform with local author Sutha Arulanantham on March 24th. Here's the link https://youtu.be/1Ss0-Qm0OY0
Kindness is like a warm shawl on a cold day.
A number of years back I was journeying to an appointment at a hospital that was quite a distance from home. Armed with the numbers and locations of the various trains, buses and/or streetcars I was supposed to take, I started on my way. But soon realized my meticulous preparations hadn’t prepared me for the mishmash of streetcar lines, bus stops, flashing lights, whizzing cars and hurrying feet.
Exhausted by the long journey and completely out of my depth in this part of the city, I took refuge in a bus shelter to review my situation. A quick glance at my watch confirmed my worst fear. I did not want to be late and must quickly find my way out and to my destination.
Soon a woman sauntered in. She was dressed in a pink jogging suit, and looked to be about 50 or 60. Stamping out the cigarette she had been smoking, she looked me over before saying in a gruff voice - good morning. I responded. She smiled. I did the same. She asked if I was okay. That’s when I almost broke down. But controlled myself.
She seemed to know her way around these parts and when a streetcar screeched to a halt where we stood, she ushered me up the steps; after speaking to the driver, she took a seat opposite me. Two stops later on the way out she told me that my stop would be coming up shortly but not to worry, because she had told the driver to make sure I got off safely. When the driver announced my stop, he pointed out the hospital. As I was getting off, he told me where to take the streetcar for the return journey to the train station. And then, he said, good luck. Possibly because I was going to the hospital.
I wonder where these people are now; how have they fared during these exhausting and sometimes frightening times; are they safe? Are they well? I will never know. However, I will never forget them and their kindness.
An act of kindness has the power to change one’s life – of the giver and the receiver. It can turn a freezing day into firelit warmth; give sadness chance to hope again; connect people.
Book titles intrigue me. What makes an author choose a particular one? Why this and not the other? Of course, the story itself must have a link to the title; otherwise, it will make no sense.
I have always had a fascination for the moon. Mysterious and cool; at times bewitching but always present promising yet another new day. We have a full moon. A waning moon. And who hasn't heard of the sickle moon. Each with its own secret power.
So, when some readers began to ask me why I chose the title of my novel Moonlight – The Journey Begins, I thought it was time to share my reasoning behind it.
Chandni means moonlight in Bengali. The moon is rather special. She appears to be quiet staying in the background letting the sun get all the glory. There comes a time, however, when the moon will sweep aside all obstacles to achieve that for which she is created. I am speaking of the moon’s role in the life of the earth and seas – the gravitational pull which is the primary tidal force.
And so, we return to Chandni my heroine. Just like the unassuming moon, when the time comes Chandni will fight against all odds to claim and possess what's hers by right.
Moonlight - The Journey Begins available in paperback, hardcover and e-book format at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, itunes, Kobo, Nook, Indigo and FriesenPress Bookstore
Cold, clear, crisp, with a wind to match. Or, cool and sunny. Both with a blue sky above like a canopy of joy. Winter. Which one of the two do I like best? Since I have experienced both, I can say without a doubt - both.
Fields of snow, a gale-like wind, tall trees with heavy white-laden branches. Hands stuffed in the pockets of a down filled jacket, feet in fur-line boots, woolen hat pulled down to my eyes. I am determined to walk. Good stuff, they say. Don’t ask who ‘they” might be – they are there all the time. I agree exercise in the outdoors pumps up oxygen making the brain work. And, you do feel good after. We learned that in school. On cold mornings when all we wanted was huddle at our desks, one teacher, in particular, made us march and run. We hated it. But, now, I understand why she did it and thank her for her wisdom.
Mary Oliver says in her poem – White Eyes,
“In winter all the singing is in the tops of the trees…” where she imagines the life of a bird in winter, sleeping in his nest on the top of a pine tree.
I encourage you to read the complete poem – you will be drawn in immediately, as I was, into a world that surrounds us which we ignore. How many times have I missed the chirping of birds as I walk briskly in an effort to pack as many steps as I can? Many times, to be completely honest. Now, while walking, I hear the chirping of birds. They seem happy. I want to see where they are and look around the frozen landscape. Finding no flying creatures, I continue on my path. However, there are plenty of bushes; add good strong trees with long limbs, and it tells you there’s a whole world carrying on over there. Such a delight!
It took me a while to come to terms with winter. This cold northerly one, so different from the soft, cool winters of my growing years. Although we did have cold rain in January. That didn’t put a damper on things. Youth doesn’t care if the air is moist, the floor damp, room cold. They are wired differently. At some point, we have all been there.
I have first-hand knowledge of the power of the lowly charcoal brazier. What warmth and comfort it brought us during our growing years! The dining room had an electric heater. We loved the charcoal brazier and plotted and planned to have it indoors all night. But our parents would have none of that and the container was banished outside before lights out. Upon reflection, I have to agree that the brazier with its combination of heat and comfort is perhaps one of my fondest memories of childhood. And why I love winter.
I remember having to climb up snowbanks piled high in front of the bus stop. This made it equally challenging for the driver to open the door to let in passengers. Streets were never cleaned well in those days. Things have changed - salt trucks are usually out before the onset of a snow-storm.
Winter is a time of waiting as the earth renews herself to the tune of drowsy lyrics sung by her companions also doing the same. For us, it can be a time to learn patience, tend to our inner selves, enjoy a slower pace. Rejuvenate our spirit.
Take care. Keep smiling.
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