Short Story Archive for Life:

survival instinct


Painting is by Amrita Shergill
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
? Anaïs Nin 

These words resonated deeply with me as I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. Fear disables, browbeating into submission. Was conditioned early on that sacred vows are for life, no matter how throttling. Karma can make sacred into scared in no time. You learn to live internally, biding time. It mattered not that it took a heck of a long time taking toll on mind and body despite a healthy survival instinct. Courage is as courage does depending upon one’s viable options. Enough said.

When time was ripe and options opened up, courage did expand life. Fate, destiny, karma, survival instincts along with nurture play a majorly role and I make no bones about it as I’ve thus lived and survived.

in this life of mine….Part 1-6

Have taken many cruises – one long many mini ones – waters with unknown depths fill me with pleasurable speculations about lost treasures in sunken ships, pirate’s booty and at the same time fill me with inordinate fear of drowning. Two near death mishaps in childhood years have left this indelible scar. Mom tried to rid me of it by immediately having me join swimming classes and I can swim but it has become a throbbing fear under my skin.

Trees give me maximum pleasure and I feel inexplicable affinity to them. No matter where they are seeded and/or rooted, trees always move upwards with serene adaptability. They remain unfazed whether environment is inimical or conducive to growth. They keep burgeoning in height and girth. I feel they have this special tie to the sky and like mischievous kids wish to tickle star bellies with their claw like branches. I can sit and enjoy the sight of trees flirting with sun’s rays and breezes for hours. Light puddling at foot of trees in lacey relief can look rather intriguing. Guess I am an unashamed tree hugger.

Traffic lights come in various shapes, sizes and forms and can be fun to view. Old fashioned Gas lights are a huge draw for me and I’ve managed to photograph a plethora of them during our various journeys across world’s face. Recently we visited this old
Town in Idaho called Wallace with its solo traffic light –due to some quirky mayoral ordinance this traffic light was removed and the whole town was so upset that they held a full fledged funeral at its passing. We viewed this famous traffic light resting in its coffin at the city’s museum. (chuckling)

I am an unabashed people watcher. Have met so many different people with whole gamut of quirks, mannerisms and habits – wish I could enumerate them all here.

Part 2

have this inordinate repulsion of reptiles. I think I can safely lay it at the door of childhood conditioning. When I see little kids caressing and touching snakes in all dimensions, it fills me with awe and horrified fascination. The story of kissing a frog and turning it into a prince- I wouldn’t be able to do that for all the tea in China and not $$$ as I have always maintained that I have tea in my veins, loving a good cuppa any time of day or night. Growing up in India, one gets used to seeing snake charmers and cobras. It becomes old hat. When I heard fellow travelers holding their breath and tittering in excitement at the sight of snakes in busy town squares in Morocco I was mystified. So much hoopla and fearful squealing and then it dawned on me that they’d never seen snake charmers and it made sense. I also recall mendicants and even young kids going around begging for money with snakes in their hands calling them “nag devta” snake god in India. Lord Shiva, one of India’s holy trinity Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiva) has a snake around his neck and perhaps that is why snakes are revered by some people in India – I am merely hitting in the dark here. Lord Krishna, incarnation of Vishnu has my total devotion and allegiance and I’ve had several wonderful experiences in my spiritual quest. One I can share here. Many know of it already.

After I lost my first husband, I was leaving for USA from Delhi for my niece’s wedding when on the way I saw this beautiful blue statuette of Krishna in a jewelry shop window and I was at once attracted to it. I went inside and asked to buy it but the shopkeeper said it was their store deity and not for sale. Rather despondent, I left the store after much pleading and after having gone the whole length of the street I heard footsteps and heavy panting behind me. It was the jeweler and he signaled me to stop. Quickly he handed over Krishna statuette saying “the lord wishes to travel with you”
I was completely and happily taken aback. “What! I cried! Okay “how much? I asked” He said “thakurji” (lord) is not for sale and hastily retreated as no one was in his store.

This little Krishna has been my constant companion and travels everywhere with me. Somehow he is tied up with my immense love and longing for my departed parents.

Life is wonderful and full of mysteries. One must maintain an open heart and mind
as anything and everything is possible. As we say in Hindi “Kuchh bhi ho sakta hai”

Part 3 – July 26, 2014
Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Others stay awhile, make footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.~Anonymous

Dajiba (Daji Rao Udeg) came into our lives when I was maybe five or so years old. Somehow he was the missing puzzle piece in the game board of our life. With his easy going nature he soon welded and became part and parcel of our household. He was the all important pivot around which the wheel of our lives ran full circle.

Being a Maratha Brahmin, he was quite fastidious and kept himself scrupulously clean. He carried a small portrait and a figurine of the three headed god called Dattatreya standing in front of a figure of a cow. We north Indians were not familiar with this figure of god or form if I remember correctly until Dajiba came along and introduced us to this image of god. Our house reverberated with stories of Krishna and Lord Rama and now Ganesha and Dattatreya entered our threshold as well. The more the merrier. .As it is, our household had an open kitchen and any roving mendicant, yogi, priest, monk or a Kashmiri Haata- sufi was welcome to stop by and have a meal— my mom never ever turned any one away from our door empty handed… she was a loving generous gentle soul- I think all three of us cherished her and shielded her innocence and gentleness- it was a kind of role reversal where she was concerned as she was quite unworldly.

Dajiba as he was my second mom even though he was a Maharashtrian brahmin and was married w/children- but he was an ascetic at the same time and a strict disciplinarian as he kept himself pure for Devdutt (his lord) to enter his body so that he could cure others- he owned farmland in Ratnagiri near Bombay but due to lack of rains and other weather vagrancies, was forced to come to Bombay in search of work and providentially landed in our household and never left us until we left Mumbai in 1972- he was with us for almost 20+ years and I have seen him perform miracles with my own eyes. some people are just healers with a gift from god- He coincidently left our employment at the same time as mom passed away and we left Mumbai to return to our ancestral home in Amritsar…

I am flooded with memories, basking in undemanding and unadulterated love extended by Dajiba and parents on me! This is my tribute to Dajiba an unassuming great man indeed. I think he has passed on. My sister took care of him till his end by way of financial and other needs etc.. He was very proud and dignified. Since he stayed so long in Bombay, his family had disowned him including his wife.

Dajiba, was like a shaman, a witch doctor or a Christian divine healer. He had that touch when he lightly touched a sick forehead. he transferred all the pain and fever to his own self and thus healed the sufferer in the process. I once asked him why does he do that? He had said that Binabai I am very strong ” chinta nako karo amhi bhara aahe” (do not worry I am fine- which confused me as he’d double up writhing in pain for hours before he’d recover and sit up. Mom always gave him tea and sweet biscuits lovingly to brace him up! Even though I was a brat in my growing years I was slightly built and my poor six two footer dad would worry a lot and have me hang from monkey bars, feeding numerous spoons of that icky cod liver oil, chyavan parash (healthy ayurvedic sort of jam) and a burfi (sweet) as a reward! So due to bad tonsils, I was feverish all the time and this fever Dajiba would promptly transfer to his own body and refused to let me suffer!

In fact I was blessed with love of three and half moms actually! Mom, Dajiba, my elder sister who was 11 years older and my middle sister Neena. Mom and dajiba were the epitome of love but eldest was a real terror and took exceptional pleasure in chastising me and slapping me when no one was looking! I had too much pride to let anyone know that she’d hit me but would take sweet revenge with my tongue and took to praying real hard at the nearby Hanuman temple and even gave Rs.1.25 every Tuesday from my pocket money saying please get this one married off early promising more money and sweets to Hanumanji! (monkey faced Indian god). Finally she was actually married off early and I was full of joy but when the day dawned, I was in for a rude shock- I realized I actually loved her a lot. Such is life- you realize full worth of a person only when they are going away. This sister has in later years picked up the pieces of my shattered life twice and made me whole again- we lost her a few years ago. Middle one Neena is only a couple of years or two elder to me but was always motherly and took me under her wing shielding me from elder’s wrath, often. The other thing Neena did for me for which I was eternally grateful was that she ate my lunch, dinner etc as I hated to eat veggies etc. and the parents were never the wiser!! I could survive on puddings, jellies, custards for ever and ever and loved them best.

Another person I remember from my childhood is our tuition teacher Miss Kaur- she was engaged to brush up our math and reading skills in Hindi and English. Ms Kaur always asked our mom to oil our calves before tuition and these she would smack with her ruler if we did not give correct answers! My two cousin sisters and Neena and me would sit there rubbing our calves in pain but not crying out aloud as we were too humiliated by it and furious with Ms Kaur. Luckily she too got married off quickly to a sardar(Sikh) from Singapore and we gleefully saw her off at Victoria docks, Bombay as she sailed away in a huge ship for Singapore.


My Sister Pushpa

I miss your great strength
and resourcefulness

I miss your spontaneous cackle as
There was nothing you couldn’t tackle

Any challenge life threw your way
You met head on with nary a sway

You came through for me, without fail, now
I feel bereft without you and rant and wail

From rich ore of our memories, I have mined and
Strung, a necklace with all the gold nuggets I could find

I’ve bid adieu to all sadness, lingering bitterness, cherishing
Just our enduring love, mutual affection and dearness

Your memory is still fresh, leafy green, time
has neither taken its toll nor robbed its sheen

Your hospitality was legendary
You entertained all and sundry

You were my big sister and I loved you
But came to know how much only after I’d lost you!

Part 4 – July 27th

More on Dajiba…
Every evening after work, people would gather in the hallway outside our door with various ailments. They had more faith in Dajiba’s healing powers than modern medicine. They would throng armed with x-rays and medical reports and after a few sessions, leave fully healed. Once there was this person suffering from TB – I recall seeing the lungs become disease free (spotless) after Dajiba healed the man in a couple of sessions.

Once my brother-in-law was visiting us from Punjab and when Dajiba transferred my fever on his person, he was horrified. He made me sit down next to him and explained that what I was doing was wrong. In allowing this transfer I was changing my karma plus creating a vicious cycle. I promised to never let Dajiba heal me again. I vowed to fight it out myself and did keep my word.

Dajiba enriched our lives in many ways. Despite his all pervasive spirituality, he was totally steeped in Maratha culture and brought that into our lives thus enriching us with all the gaiety and color of state of Maharashtra.

Whenever Dajiba took leave and went home, he left behind his cousin Pandu to work at our place in his stead. This Pandu was a real character. Ebony black in color, he had red eyes and red lips due to constant paan (betel leaf) chewing. All the female domestic help loved this Pandu and found him very attractive. He was married and now due to all this female attention, wanted to divorce his wife as she was childless and a shrew to boot but she refused to let him go. So one day while she was asleep, he put ink on her thumb and pressed it on divorce papers thereby getting rid of her. When he narrated this to mom and others we were horrified by this rascal.

One particular incident has stuck in my head. Dad’s younger bro’s daughter got married in Bombay and became a frequent visitor along with her mother-in-law (MIL) – This MIL was a cheerful soul bursting with energy. She loved having frequent gatherings in her home celebrating various festivals, events. One day as she was leaving her home armed with a shopping bag, a teenage boy approached her, beseeching her to employ him. He only wanted a small salary and room and board. My cousin was newly married and they still had house guests. Hence help was sorely needed especially someone who could run up and down the stairs. He was hired on the spot. After a few days, the kid called Ramu became utterly devoted to the MIL. He fulfilled her wishes even before she expressed them. From bed tea to foot/leg massage before bedtime, he did it all cheerfully, mystifying rest of the family. His devotion was extraordinary. After a couple of years, we got the sad news that the MIL had passed away due to a massive heart attack. We were stunned. Parents immediately left for the funeral and other rites. Upon return, they shared this with us….

Ramu, the servant had become inconsolable at the passing of this lady and in sheer misery had gone and jumped off the roof as he couldn’t envision life without the mistress. We were shocked to say the least never having heard of such a bond. Truly, real life can be strange and wondrous.
My cousin and rest of family left Bombay as they couldn’t bear to live in the city anymore without their beloved mother.
Prior to our leaving Bombay in 1972 Dajiba had found a good job at the Govt. Secretariat as a peon and he stayed there until passing away

Part 5 – Aug. 6, 2015

Will take a leap into my most trying “dilli years” and return to amchi Mumbai years later.

After Bombay I found that ( Delhi folks) dilli ke “humlog” left a lot to be desired. They cared more for what you had on you, in your pocket and home rather than the kind of person you were, unfortunately – guess it was their loss. Enough said.

Due to a major run of bad luck my faith got tested again and again but never wavered.
Krishna (kanhaji) had taken me by hand even before He decided to accompany me to USA later. Had some wonderful interaction that not only flooded heart and mind with utter bliss but also reinforced my faith, keeping me going forward. Felt neither forsaken nor abandoned even once.

After the catastrophic “wrong injection” hubby lay literally dying and I was clutching at whatever straws were to be had. In retrospect I realize why people get suckered in by so-called psychics, healers and charlatans. Sadly no one was genuine like our beloved “Dajiba”. It is not ignorance that drives a person under such circumstances but sheer helpless impotency. Medically, doctors had given up. Hence these exercises though costly kept one engaged and falsely assured that “you were doing your best” as far damage control was possible within your powers. I did all that and much more. Woke up at unearthly hours, chanting whatever was the current flavor in suggested mantras plus getting mantras chanted by pundits who did that as a livelihood and whose enunciation of said chants would be impeccable.. One last thing, during these trying times was that I tried to feed, black crows, black dogs, brown cows or whatever was suggested, ants, fish et al.. Even tried feeding needy humans with food packets. Sadly as luck would have it, neither the animals nor the humans would accept nor eat!

It was rather ironical really. One thought there were starving people, urchins out there plus the stray beasts and feathered friends. Even the black dog ran away without eating. Amused and frustrated plus sheepish came home with my Nepali cook bringing back the food “offerings”. Guess, when luck runs out, it keep running.

One last straw as suggested by someone was to visit the renowned and much revered temple of monkey god Hanuman in Connaught Place, New Delhi. They said all of one’s wishes got fulfilled at that temple. After making suitable arrangements at home, I went to that temple for reverent viewing and pleading.

Finally when I stood in front of the deity I was stunned. Instead of Lord Hanuman, all I beheld was my resplendent Lord Krishna. I rubbed my eyes again and again. The vision
Stayed put. This sight took away all my agony and pain and filled my heart with utter bliss. I realized I was in his care. He knows what he is doing, why was I wasting my time? After this visit, I did not engage in any other rituals, prayers etc…..more later..

August 9, 2014
Today I happened to catch George Clooney’s movie “Up in the Air” where he specialized in terminating employees on behalf of those employers who were too squeamish to wield the axe themselves. One experiences the emotional overflow mixed with shock.

In September 2011 both Ganesh and myself were waiting at Dulles airport Washington D.C. homeward bound when our flight got cancelled and all passengers were bused to other DC airport, Ronald Reagan Washington Intl. to catch alternate flight home. As we waited to board, I made friends with a lovely Nigerian lady who was strikingly beautiful. She too was waiting for a flight back to London. As we chatted, we shared usual information about ourselves. She told us that she worked for a major oil company and was head of processing dept… I had heard about most departments but “processing” was a new one. I asked for further clarification meaning job description. Upon hearing her further, I realized that it was simply a euphemism for axing people to put it bluntly. I was a bit disconcerted and had wondered how she felt when letting people go and get a good night’s sleep, afterwards. I was reminded about a shattering incident related to this topic.

My first (late) hubby was close friends with a Puerto Rican office colleague. They’d worked together for several years and we’d met each other’s families as well. We stayed in touch even though we’d gone back to India during depression years and he had stayed employed at same company which was convenient as he had a house close to place of work.

Later when I got remarried and returned to USA to live in New York, I contacted Rafael and his wife and they were very happy for me. We spoke to each other on and off over the years. Then one day, I got a call from his wife. She was in a complete state of shock. She told me that he had committed suicide. I couldn’t believe my ears. After working for same company over twenty five years, he had been suddenly let go. He simply did not know what to do with himself. He would teach his grand kids piano and do a bit of gardening but his heart was simply not in it. Loss of job had broken his spirit and he took that fatal step. I was absolutely aghast. I had spoken to him just a day before but did not detect any depression from his tone. Otherwise I am confident that I would’ve talked him out of it. This sense of loss and regret stayed with me for a long time. Even his wife and son quizzed me about it a few times trying to make sense of it – “had I suspected anything etc. etc…” It has left a profound scar on my heart.


Confession of a bookworm

Once upon a time, on any given day I used to read one-two books on daily basis.  With photographic
memory and an inordinate love for lingua Anglais it was pure manna for me. Being an outdoorsy sporty type as well,
I used to play with friends after school until sun died down and cows went home!   At home, I’d curl up in nooks
and crannies being quite slight in build and dad would have devil of a time searching for me and admonishing roundly
as he worried about my poor eyes –but in those days I rather fancied “spectacles” salivating for a pince-nez
on my perfectly formed nose!  Later when I did get them as a wish fulfillment, I learnt to hate them malevolently! Ha!

I read just about everything I could lay my hands on but “thrillers, whodunits and then romances” were genres
I liked most in that order.  Books found me like magnets to metal.  Friends, acquaintances unloaded their piles
on me throughout the years and I’ve happily obliged.

Then I got married, became a wife and mother.   Arranged marriages are usually hit or miss – mine was a huge miss-
enough said.  For quarter century I lived a full fledged internal life behaving like an automaton externally.
I never thought there was an out until destiny declared ‘enough is enough’.   Books had become a distant dream
during this period of my life.  Then destiny decided to turn my life on its head and I got remarried.
I came into a house of book lovers in the big Apple no less!   My suppressed love for words surfaced
and I swam in it deliriously.  Regardless of good or bad times, I never lost my sense of humor –fake
or genuine; I took my laughter pill religiously. Above all, I survived. Writing became my outlet and poems
are my lazy way of expressing what’s in my heart and I think I’ve become adept at it- I have to be grateful
to two office colleagues who literally kicked my behind to get me started on my writing gig.

Now that I have a free hand and total freedom, I find that even though books give me a high like none other –
am unable to stay put and read one at a go – my long suppressed persona is like an imp that has suddenly
whooshed out of bottled life and wants to drink life real’s elixir firsthand and travel gives me these
highs and lows.  I greedily drink nature in its full regalia with my 20/20 vision post cataract surgery
and being a people watcher I get further entertained.  My home is overflowing with books that I fondle
lovingly; consoling them with words like “one day when I retire and come
to a full stop” I will sip you page by page cover to cover like my favorite masala chai!
Until then hold your horses”

What to do, life is short, I need to be everywhere in person, eyes all agog in wonderment.  Still, that has
not stopped me from downloading books on my IPad and also buying “spined” ones.  That is it – my confession
in a nutshell.  I may also suffer from ADD -(attn. deficit disorder- maybe) lol ~ Finis.

Vows – 55 word Micro Fiction

Carved hearts by childhood’s pudgy hands patiently waited for love’s caress.  Destiny had other plans.  Time brought them face to face at same airport.  Sluggish veins gained momentum.   Linked by facebook they recognized each other easily.  Both now unencumbered in sunset years, flew to Las Vegas to fulfill old vows.  Next revisited childhood’s favorite tree.

A surrealist masterpiece, René Magritte’s 1928 painting, The Lovers, (via google images )

A Miracle Needed

Today was D-day.  Neo prayed desperately. Lab. Rocky howled. A year ago Doctor Neil performed emergency surgery. “Injuries are superficial. This beauty will heal fast”. He thought. Monica returned for last check up.  She realized she’ll miss him.   Attraction was mutual. Their marriage was more between two business houses. Monica and Leo were childhood friends.  Their son Neo’s was a miscalculation. Monica dumped him in nanny’s arms shamelessly.  Leo adored his son.  For baby Neo, nanny, Daddy and Rocky were his world. Dr. Neil collected information on Monica.  He resolved to have her by hook or crook.    He became privy to Leo’s movements. ER “I am dog tired!” Callously he killed the patient.  He was alone.  There was no paperwork.  Shift over; he sped away with deceased. Leo was drunk when he left the club.   He hit gas pedal hard.  Crash!!  He hit something,   passing out slumped on wheel. “Hello 911! Headlines blared, “Playboy Leo kills competitor Mark in cold blood.”  Witnesses had heard Leo threaten Mark at club barely an hour ago. Neil had masterminded whole sequence of events like a maestro.   He patted himself. Everyone bayed for Leo’s blood.  Shocked Monica realized she did love her husband.  It was time for damage control.  “I will save him”, she vowed fiercely.

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