We celebrated Valentine's Day ahead of time.
Does it matter? I don’t think so.
An opportunity came up and we travelled to Niagara Falls on the first day of February. The day was sunny, without a pesky wind to ruffle your hair or send chills down the spine; I had given myself permission to take the day off. I do love what I do, that is - write, but even I need to get away from my desk sometimes. My excitement knew no bounds at the prospect of seeing Niagara Falls in the middle of winter.
Gazing out of the window, I was suddenly reminded of my first visit to this iconic wonder of the world. That was in the month of September, the time between summer and autumn when hot days are followed by cool nights. A beautiful time of year in Canada. I had arrived in this country the previous month. That was a long, long time ago.
This time, however, we were travelling during the period when cold days are followed by even colder nights; a frozen earth bears brown trees, snowdrifts all over the countryside, and the scenery heartachingly beautiful.
We dined at the famous Skylon Tower’s revolving dining room in Niagara Falls. The slow rotation of the room is unique; from a height of 775 feet, we took in the spectacular views of the Falls and river from every possible angle you can think of. To be able to relax in the elegant and peaceful atmosphere while enjoying a delicious meal, was special. And, then the pianist began to play the piano. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The Winter Festival of Lights, Canada's largest free outdoor light festival presented by Niagara Falls Tourism is yet another bonus during this time. Festival theme this year is "energy" along an 8-km route where you get to walk (bundle up) or drive taking in spectacular displays at the Queen Victoria Park, Table Rock Centre, Dufferin Islands, Floral Showhouse and Niagara Parks Power Station.
Pictures I take will never do justice to this breathtaking display, I concluded, quietly slipping my phone camera back into my pocket.
Albert Camus wrote – “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer…”
Somewhat how I feel in these days of deep winter, snow lying heavy on the ground muffling noise, and when the sun shines it’s dazzlingly bright.
Some days are dark, dismal, steely grey clouds forming a pewter bowl where the sky is, and those days we need to dig deep within to find that summer so intrinsically a part of us.
The snow-laden tree in picture one is from the park when we had the first snowfall. It was pretty, poignantly so. Even with its bent branches, it radiated an aura of beauty. And, that is how we see trees. No matter how worn, bent, worm laden, they still appear beautiful.
How much more beautiful then, the same trees would appear to the human eye if clothed in the brilliance of summer colours?
Trees are beautiful, no matter the season.
How readily we admire beauty in nature. Yet, do not recognize the beauty of the human spirit ever present no matter the season of life.
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.
13 delightfully crisp degrees welcome me as I step out.
It’s 6:30 a.m.
In anticipation of a refreshing coolness, I am dressed in layers.
Silence shrouds the streets in a secret world
Parked cars stare with regal disdain;
A sudden whirring of leaves makes me look up a maple tree
and I catch the impish twitch of a black tail –
the squirrel throws me an amused look before disappearing.
I pause, drinking it all in. Then, carry on.
#life #september #pandemic2021 #amwriting #writingcommunity
A Love Letter to My Home
It has been more than two decades when we first saw the blueprint, liked what we saw and purchased what would be our first home here in Canada. Blueprints are too logical for me, I am a touch and feel person but you did not exist at that time so I had to be satisfied with lines, scales, measurements on paper and salesperson’s talk. Our meeting took place in a mobile home of the developer proudly displaying pictures of single, detached and townhomes. We chose you.
We travelled every weekend from Scarborough where we were living then to watch the progress of your creation – from a mere skeleton into this house that you would be in a six-month period.
I still have the first video footage of posts, columns, gas and electrical lines.
Then came the day of the move on an exceptionally freezing January day. Including a fierce blizzard. We watched with growing concern the swirling snow that reduced visibility; a raging wind swept against our eleventh-floor apartment window and the temperature dropped steadily.
During that nightmarish move most of my plants perished although they had been carefully wrapped in newspaper. Our kids were young and we, as new homeowners, had no idea how things worked in a house. Growing up in India, we always had things done for us.
It was cold. No, let me rephrase. It was FREEZING. How were we to know all new houses are cold to begin with? Thank goodness for wall-to-wall carpeting.
I remember dozing off at the top of the stairs where I was keeping watch over our young son as he slept in his own room. His dad and sister were bringing the last load of our belongings. Bone tired, all we wanted was to sleep. But there were things yet to be done.
2 a.m. My fingers are freezing and I can’t feel my toes. You seem to waken beneath my frozen toes, a sudden whoosh and you are quiet no more. The furnace has come on. In the apartment it was always hot during winter so we dressed in T-shirts and shorts.
The wind howls around your brick covering with the obvious intent to invade this space you have provided us. I shiver and wrap my arms around me to capture some warmth from my own skin while my mind wanders over the years to a house in a small town in India where I grew up. There, during winter nights, hyenas regularly visited our garden setting up a terrible howling and laughing to scare the living daylights out of us. My reflection breaks at the sound of a car door shutting. I run down the stairs, hold the door open, and welcome my family.
You will be here even when we are gone for you are eternal and will carry the essence of our being within you. Just like the original people who had their dwelling here. I feel their spirit in the breeze, in the quiet of dawn, on the sun speckled fence.
As with most people during the global pandemic, we have managed very little travel or entertaining. Instead, we have grown to love each and every corner of you, treasure and cherish the comfort and safety you provide.
It’s often said a house reflects the personality of the homeowner. I like to think, in our case, the opposite is probably true.
Stay safe. Keep smiling.
Purabi Sinha Das
#home #life #inspiration #family #hopeisheretostay #amwriting #writingcommunity #author
Letter Writing Can be Therapeutic
Why, then do we not practice this most elegant of exercises anymore?
We text, message, forward, share, tweet, even phone. Although this last item has been overtaken by the ubiquitous text.
I am sure if writing a letter is mentioned to anyone south of seventeen it will probably get a bewildered response, like, “Why write letters? Texting is way faster.”
Why would anyone want to spend time writing (with pen on paper) when a few words tapped on a keyboard will do the job. Better yet, send an emoji or a gif. The internet is swimming with these cute, seemingly “cool” images – all we have to do is choose which one to send.
And this is when you smile your secret smile for only you know how satisfying letter writing can be. That is, if you are of the generation that grew up writing by hand.
Choosing the right kind of paper – cream on cream, parchment thin; heavy white embossed with watermarked design; patterned borders on either snowy white or beige background. Texture, beauty, fine living all rolled into one of those stationery pieces we used to drool over.
When was the last time I visited a stationery shop? Do they even exist? And if they do, would they still carry anything resembling writing paper?
Letters from home helped me maintain my balance, stay grounded, rejoice in my identity, during those early years as a newcomer to a strange country. Opening, reading, re-reading, then answering the letter. I read and shared stories with family and friends and just by that action both our lives became richer for then we became the keeper of someone’s story, like a confidante.
Letters are private. Hugely personal. Opposite of social media.
My letter writing arsenal is pitifully small these days but it does exist stored in the red fabric folder. From time to time, I will go through the collection reliving in my mind those days when the words released from my pen turned into rivers – of thoughts and emotions – and journeyed onwards, by plane, and train, bus and bicycle, the edges of the envelope becoming a bit more bent as it passed from hand to hand, until reaching its destination. To be read and re-read. Stored in a safe place. Till it was time to pen a reply.
#lettersfromhome #amwriting #writingcommunity #writers #inspiration #nostalgia
When I am asked who is your favourite author, I say there are many. I have amassed a huge collection of books on almost any subject.
Authors are also poets, essayists, political activists and avid gardeners. In one of her recent posts on Instagram, Barbara Kingsolver shared some awesome pictures of flowers from her garden. Anyone who can coax pretty things out of the soil stands tall in my esteem.
My mother could make anything grow. I can’t. But if I am to receive a growing thing in a planter, and as long as I don’t transplant it, I know it will thrive under my care. I did plant some papaya seeds once and it grew into a tall tree. By then I had left home and did not get to enjoy the sweet fruit.
Funny how one thought leads to another. Like having a conversation with a close friend.
When I started the post, I was thinking of all the books and poetry I have read; then my thoughts veered towards my mother and how she cared for our garden in my childhood home in the small town of Hazaribagh.
It was from Ma that we learned – crushed eggshells, ground up tea leaves (dregs from the pot) and vegetable peel – all make good plant food. This was way before the world became fascinated by the 3 R’s – reuse, recycle, reduce. Ma said she learned about caring for plants from her father, our Dadu.
Something else Ma said once has stayed with me. We were in the garden that day, the smaller one in the courtyard of our house, and admiring the rose bush; it was winter, perfect time for roses to come alive. We had to be careful while snipping some to fill vases for this bush had thorns like nobody’s business. But the roses it yielded were glorious.
Ma said that Dadu had mentioned the red of the rose looks perfectly in place between its green leaves. In fact, one colour enhances the beauty of the other.
That is so true. Think of creation.
A fiery sunset has shades of orange, red, sienna, even gold.
Purple lavender, blue delphinium, yellow sunflower, red tulip, white carnation, the list goes on, all growing on green stalk surrounded by green leaves.
Then we have the Indian sari – six yards of gorgeousness in magical colours inspired by nature and looking perfectly normal.
It was tough to choose which one to share here, so I am posting pictures of three out of a burgeoning collection stuffed in drawers, shelves and cupboards.
Somewhat, like the question – who is your favourite author? There are so many whose work I find inspiring, fulfilling and rewarding. Hard to choose only one.
Keep well. Stay safe.
Purabi Sinha Das
#coloursofnature #amwriting #poetryinnature #writingcommunity #reading #indiansari #tradition
This piece was inspired by a writing challenge in the Spring of 2020 and organized by Sarah Selecky Writing School – an online creative writing school that approaches writing as an art. Just the outlet I needed when we were hit by the pandemic. I had to do something other than sit in fear expecting the worst to happen, and which did happen to our community, the global community.
We had to write for ten minutes by hand starting with “there’s something I’d like you to know” from the POV of the atmosphere.
This is my contribution.
There’s something I’d like you to know. It isn’t easy to be light and invisible in the midst of pain, anxiety, confusion, lack of laughter and constant cries for a miracle. I am aware of your plight. But at least when you think you can’t go on any longer the phone is at your fingertips. You call someone, anyone, they listen, commiserate, and might even inspire a chuckle or two. Who do I have? No one.
I see you in your homes hunched over your keyboard fingers flying as you pour out your soul. I see the priest holding prayer services via Zoom; students squint at computer screens; teachers do the same with some doing double duty as parent and teacher. .
How can I help?
When you sleep, I stay awake, like the doctors and nurses – watching, waiting – hoping for a miracle.
You hold your head with both hands complaining of monstrous headaches, sneeze like there is no tomorrow, and coming up for air from behind the barrier of a tissue, you point a finger of accusation at me to declare with cruel finality – it’s the atmosphere’s fault.
Every time this happens your words strike at my heart, like poisoned arrows honing in on soft unsuspecting flesh. I shudder and hide my face.
Is it my fault that you have stolen my friends, stately trees whose only fault lies in their over-generous hearts? They give, never asking for anything in return. Did you not consider, even for a moment, what your reckless actions would do? You plant male trees that give out pollen but don’t shed leaves. What harm has the female tree ever done to you? Yes, they shed leaves, so what? Just let the leaves be, use them for mulch. Oh, I don’t mean to go off on a tirade. But that’s the truth.
There’s something I’d like you to know:
I am atmosphere, nebulous, intangible, yet ever present.
You look at each other confusion writ large on your faces,
Who is this buffoon? You whisper under cover of your mask.
I hear, I feel. Although invisible, I am ever present.
Listen – I am the sky and heaven, ocean and sea, stream and creek
I lurk within the murky depths of a poisoned well.
In each grain of sand is buried an atom of me.
I stagger under the weight of thousand tears of the homeless
And I bring sweet oblivion to those that seek eternal rest.
I am also blood flowing out of a writer’s soul.
Do you see the sun awakening in yonder east? I am there, as well.
Then, when it goes to rest making way for the moon to arrive,
I wait in the wings ready to appear when it’s time to do so.
Atmosphere is my name, and I am here to stay.
by Purabi Sinha Das
April 10, 2020
Fruit of Passionate Faith
Batalha Monastery, Portugal
After navigating some very interesting twists and turns filled with medieval charm through the town of Batalha in central Portugal, we halt in front of a massive structure. Bathed in the glow of an afternoon sun, the monastery stands majestic, bones and flesh of someone’s imagination and beautiful enough to pull at one’s heart strings. Santa Maria da Vitoria or Monastery of Batalha.
The sheer architectural scale has taken me aback. This was created in the middle ages? I approach closer my eyes lingering in dazed fascination on the exquisite stone lacework of the balustrades along the top of the walls. Since the church is situated on a plain, we did not see it as we approached from the Lisbon-Leiria road. Nothing had prepared me for this.
If only stones could speak…
Sometimes they do. You have to quiet your mind in order to be able to hear.
Once again, the might of Spain comes in arrogant quest for more and more of our territory, Portugal’s villages hugging the beira (border) will diminish; swallowed whole if something is not done quickly. We pray day and night seeking deliverance.
It is the eve of the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, August 14, 1385. We are drawn up on the battlefield of Aljubarrota. We knew this was going to happen. Too many skirmishes at the beira forcing us to flee our ancestral homes, our fields laid to waste, our children hungry. But, our faith in our King Joao 1 remains high for he has been on his knees through the night praying to Saint Mary. Why should we be afraid?
My lord, a high-ranking knight in the royal army, is good to me because he knows I am honest and will do all in my power to see to his needs. He rides a great Lucitano three years old with flexibility throughout and freedom of movement. I care for this horse personally for he carries a most noble load. My lord tells me not to discount the small horse for they are quicker and smarter. I think I know what he means for this one is all of that and more.
Well, we routed our enemy. Memory of that fateful day will remain with me until I die. We were gravely outnumbered yet we won.
Our King Joao 1 has promised to build a monastery in Batalha in tribute to Saint Mary for granting us victory over the King of Castile. It will be handed over to the Dominican friars who having left town will need a place to live and carry on their prayers and meditation.
I hear work on the monastery has begun. Each time a village is established along the beira, a church is built. People are starting to live in these villages for that is the only way to safeguard our land.
I have asked my liege lord to relieve me of my duties for I desire to enter the Dominican Order. It is highly unusual. At first, he demurred, a glint of amusement in those war hardened eyes. Possibly imagining me, only half a man with downy cheeks kneeling in prayer at all times of day and night. I will never know how it happened but I heard myself chanting in a language I did not recognize. Afterwards, my lord took me aside and asked how I came to know Latin. I do not know, I said, only that I must go where I am called. My heart says to live the rest of my life as a monk devoting my time in reading, praying and looking after the soil. We must heed the transforming power of our dreams.
King Joao 1 of Portugal signed his last will on October 4, 1426. Among many clauses and testaments there was one striking feature. He specified his reason for building the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria or the Monastery of Batalha and his motives behind handing it over to the religious community of the Dominicans. In this way, he fulfilled his promise to Saint Mary made on the eve of the battle with the King of Castile that if he won, a Monastery would be built. The Dominican Order was devoted to Our Lady Mary; hence the Monastery was given to this Order.
Keep well…Keep smiling.
Purabi Sinha Das
(This is the third piece in a series recounting my time in Portugal).
#amwriting #traveltowrite #fascinatingbatalha #mywritinglife #traveltellstory
This is our third day in Lisbon; the first two spent in absorbing the sounds, smells, various nuances and life of the city. Now we are ready to venture out and what better place to begin than the pilgrim site of Fatima?
To tell the truth I know very little about this place, a town situated to the north of Lisbon and considered to be one of the holiest sites to Christians. I do want to know more, though, ever since I visited Montserrat in Spain where Mary, mother of Jesus had appeared to a shepherd boy.
Our car driven by a courteous Portuguese gentleman arrives on time and we climb in, ready to be entertained and marvel at sights we are sure to encounter along the way. The roads are well maintained, traffic keeping a steady pace, and most drivers are polite. Along the way cruise ships materialize on the shimmering waters of the Tagus and to my amusement I detect a Disney cruise line ready to disgorge their load of tourists.
How could I have known that this will be one of the most transformative journeys of my life?
It’s sunny, comfortably warm with some clouds on the horizon which is giving me cause for worry. When I mention I’d forgotten to pack raincoats we are assured there is no rain on the day’s forecast. There are different routes from other Portuguese towns leading to the Sanctuary of Fatima and since it is also part of the Camino walk, pilgrims from Santiago de Compostela in Spain arrive here to finish up their Camino walk.
Ahh, I understand, Portugal and Spain are neighbours. It’s natural the sacred Camino walks should converge at some point. I feel the beginnings of a certain excitement, quite different from what I had been feeling so far, for this is powerful touched with a sense of healing which only a weary heart can recognize. Our journey to Compostela in Spain had been so filled with wonder yet I had known even then that I am supposed to journey further. So, this is it. The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary in a small town called Fatima, in Portugal.
On the 13th. of May 1917 Mother Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field called Cova de Iria in the village of Fatima. She instructed them to return on the 13th. of every month. It is said that in October Mother Mary calling herself Lady of the Rosary revealed the three secrets of Fatima, relating to peace and world events to Lucia, one of the three children.
It’s 21st. of May so we have missed the great pilgrimage.
I falter for one second, the Basilica is enormous, very different from its humble beginnings and what my mind had pictured. Standing at the bottom of the steps I am feeling insignificant. However, my initial hesitation changes to firm resolve and I begin to ascend the steps leading into the Basilica.
This is why I came, to feel for myself the special feelings that can only be aroused when the heart is seeking. The Basilica is beautiful its walls decorated with ornate carvings, the altar housing precious objects and paintings. Fortunately for us there aren’t too many tourists so we get to actually sit in one of the pews and let our gaze rest in reverence upon the altar. At last, a sense of peace is beginning to descend upon my restless spirit when out of habit my hands start to root around in my purse for the notebook, I stop and fold them back onto my lap. There is no need to write I tell myself for this moment will be imprinted upon my heart.
They were tending sheep when the Virgin Mary appeared. I wonder what must have gone through their young minds. Were they afraid? Or simply curious? Like children anywhere, they might have been dazzled by the aura of glory shining around Mary, Mother of Jesus. Perhaps even wanted to touch that light.
At this point, I have to give in to an overwhelming desire to check out the tombs of the children and I rise from my seat to wander over to the corner where they are situated. They were so young, Jacinta and Francisco, passing away at 9 and 11 respectively. And also, poor. But then didn’t our Lord seek out the poor and the innocent? The camera in my hand clicks. Then I walk quietly out of the Basilica.
Their cousin Lucia to whom the Virgin Mary spoke entered the Dorothean convent to learn to read and write as instructed by Our Lady and became a Carmelite nun. She died at age 97 in the year 2005.
In the far distance, my eyes fall on a group of people making their way, on their knees, to chapel. The chapel is situated exactly where the children saw Mother Mary. It’s a long walk under a relentless sun. Mass is about to begin so I hurry to take my place, clutching the rosaries I had picked up earlier. From where we are standing, almost at the edge of the crowded chapel, of a sudden the tall figure of a priest comes to view so I approach him to bless my rosaries. As mass is finishing a couple in bridal dress is escorted to the front where they are joined by priests. We couldn’t witness the wedding for lack of time but I would have loved to.
There is a lovely story about this place. Back when under Moorish occupation, it is said there was a beautiful princess named Fatima after whom the place was named. When Christian forces reconquered Portugal and Spain the princess Fatima married the Spanish Count of Ourem, converted to Catholicism and changed her name to Ouerana. However, the town continued to be called Fatima.
Keep well…Keep smiling
(This is the second piece in a series recounting my time in Lisbon)
#amwriting #lovetotravel #lovetolearn #travelstories
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