Saturday, December 31, 2011

A new dawn

Dear friends,

As the stars of the old night trail away
and give way to another promising dawn...

I wish you all things happy and wonderful
in this new year.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Remembering resolutions

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice."

~ T.S. Eliot

Just five more days rumbling away for the old, haggard year to end. This morning I felt that bothering impatience, the sudden sluggish pace of something that inches towards its completion. Like the traveler who travels resolutely for miles and days, but feels depleted of all zeal when just steps away from his destination. By November I could already feel this year was history, but now it seems as if the time has stood still. How awfully slow the minutes crawl and for what! Shouldn't a handful of days pass by in a wink? Strange are such philosophical transactions, often questioned but always unanswered.

The time has come to look back at the colourful mosaic of flashbacks that this year has been, at all the possible permutations and combinations of the laughs and the trials. Then there's the rampant rummaging for resolutions (I heart alliterations, by the way!). I, for the record, have never been faithful to one. If I was, by now I would have - completed a significant part of my research plans, lost oodles of weight, written something staggeringly brilliant, been in touch with my singing side, and even read the Bhagavad Gita! Instead I chose to remain mediocre and reign as the undisputed queen of procrastination forever. I am just not capable of something so spectacularly life-transforming and rule-governed, you see.

But come the new year and I do have plans to work on a list. And hopefully it won't be another of my usual Bridget Jones rigmarole. The mantras that I intend, and quite vehemently this time, to stand by are:

1. Must decide on a suitable author/area for my Ph.D by February

2. Give meaning and matter to a bunch of randomly scribbled pieces

3. Chalk out a proper timetable for the haphazard yoga mornings

4. Boost my fiber intake

5. Be less obsessive-compulsive

6. Curb the monstrous Virgo in me

7. Pick the roses and ignore the thorns

8. Read, read and read

9. Blog regularly

10. Stick to all of the above!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone
all things happy and bright
the dainty twinkle of bells
feisty poinsettia's delight
a lively, lovely day
laced with a starlit night
a heart full of love
an embrace warm and tight.

Merry Christmas dear friends.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fruitcake nostalgia

A little kick-start to the festive baking with these easy-peasy strawberry muffins aka 'the muffin with a heart' because of the slice of strawberry sitting prettily on the top.

The post-Kansas inertia still throbs inside me, beating together with a tired and insomniac heart. But tarry it must no more, for the time has arrived to give shape to things. Red and gold, green and bold. Golden bakes and boozy cakes. The day seems to have almost arrived.

But before I head to the kitchen and don my baker's hat, I must share a golden thread with you. One that keeps my childhood tied together in its gossamer embrace.
I still remember the X-mas holidays (that's what they were called back then in India) when we were in school. How we would hoard and treasure every single day of that! Unlike its superior cousin, the summer holidays that lasted for about two months, this counted down to just a fortnight. But like all grey clouds this too had a silver lining - no holiday homework! Hence to romp about was our singular motto, much to the parents' vexation. But the highlight of the holidays was Ma's fruitcake, the aroma of which would fill the home and spread warmth everywhere. Every now and then I would rush to the oven and try to see the puffing cake through the glass. I would even count how many cashews and raisins had plumped up to the surface of the cake. As I write this, it brings back a faint, fond smile on my face like all cherished memories do.

The time soon came when I would leave home and set out for an independent hostel life. I would be home for the winter holidays again and this time Ma would bake an extra cake. It would be packed neatly and wrapped in a special package for its journey on train to Hyderabad where my friends would be waiting to devour it. What gluttony that was! And one of the very rare times when my figure conscious girlfriends wouldn't mind the calories at all. Of course the guys cared little anyway.
Even when my parents came visiting, Ma would be there with her bag of goodies of which her fruitcake was the star. But more than that what actually shone was her smile, warm and so very child-like. I cannot wait for April to come when I would see that smile again and at last I wouldn't need Skype for that.

Such lovely and simpler days they were. Gone with the wind and lost in the years, leaving behind a trove of fragrant tales... And cakes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Back home

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."
~ Basho

We got back to a wet, fog masked Seattle this evening from the cold but sunny farmlands of Kansas. A dank, dense veil of mist hung with a long, drawn face and wrapped the naked, cold arms of the trees. What comfort its misty, chilly embrace offered the forlorn branches, I know not of. But they looked just fine. The festive spirit perhaps?!

Getting back home is always such a comfort. It is for me at least. The everyday ordinariness of the scenes that unfold in front of your eyes - the faint morning sun streaming through the windows, the casually flung book on the coffee table, the green from the bamboo plant decking up the kitchen window, the shy glitter of the sequins from a wall hanging by the warm lamplight, the worn pair of fuzzy slippers by the couch side... I could just go on and on! Such inconsequential, quotidian details yet when pieced together, they create the most perfect picture of belonging and warmth.

True, once the hounding beast of monotony creeps in, the walls begin to look a lot like those of the Lady of Shallot's. 'Half sick of the shadows', the heart longs for an escape. But such is the tug and pull of the word home that once away, the urge to get back becomes equally intense. After all, home is where the heart is, they say.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Absolute bliss

I have been in Kansas since the last weekend having a whale of time with my little nephew. A little more than six months, he is at his cutest best. Pudgy hands and feet, chubby cheeks, twinkling eyes and a smile that warms the very core of my heart. He is one happy, happy boy!

And when the little cherub rests his wee bit o' head on my shoulders... I smell a sunny, green meadow chockablock with flowers galore. It feels as if all is well with the world, just like it should be. Just like it is in his dreams.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Furry Friday

The robins have a competitor now and a very industrious one too. This furry little guy scampers up and down the autumnberry tree as if there's no tomorrow. He dances on the berry laden boughs, holding onto the flimsy twigs precariously and reaches out to the seducing dots of red. Plucking and relishing the berries, he curls his woolly tail in contentment for a flicker of a second. I bat my eyelids and there he is, scurrying down elsewhere for some more of the juicy manna.
How I envy his zeal and voracity. And his unwavering steadfastness.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas lights

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."
~ Norman Vincent Peale

Christmas lights round the corner
fluttering and flickering
old Redmond Town Square ablaze
the air swells with chill and joy
the old heart smells of love and longing
of long lost poems and drowsy doodles
to and fro, back and forth
it goes
stringing memory to memory
adding year after year
in a neat, nostalgic pattern
fluttering and flickering
just like these lights.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Drink up the sun

(Or just the carrot juice!)

In this black and white
sun-less land
I shall pretend I see it
through the veils of the mist
through the shards of the rain
it peeks and winks at me
a giant ball of citrine
flaming and fanning
sighing and seething
looming and languishing
but all mine.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Come December

"God gave us our memories, so that we might have roses in December."
~ J.M. Barrie

December at last. A faint yet heady fragrance of the anniversary roses fills the kitchen space while I go about my regular chores. Still wearing that fresh and dainty look, they sit perkily in a neat square vase. With a quick, pleading look shot at them, I say to myself, "please don't wither!"

With the autumn gone, a dear friend too has left for a long vacation home. Now Mona and I don't go back a long way, but in the unpredictable rule book of friendship that hardly matters. Within a span of mere six months we grew onto each other, moulding and shaping ourselves as per the other's needs and situations. And quite surprisingly, we've had a fair amount in such a short duration. Life!
Despite the rarity of likes and dislikes we share, she comprehends me like very few people have done. Even the ones who have known me for years. I read her like an open book and that is what she loves the most, the needlessness to spell every tidbit out. We would meet regularly over walks, lunch, shopping and sometimes in the weekends with the husbands. And if that couldn't satiate us then we would manage an hour long phone talk in between all the day's work.
Now that she will be away for a couple of months, I feel a little vulnerable and lost. Like a petulant child, I long for the potato and mint soup she brings over whenever I'm down with a migraine or a cold. But of course I cannot be selfish, or is that allowed in such friendships?

Then trudge on, I must. For it's starting to look a lot like Christmas. And I cannot wait to capture some of that sparkling red and green glory that has been decking up the nook and corners of the city.

So roses sprinkled with some toasty memories - J.M. Barrie couldn't be more happy!

P.S. The blog header has gone from blue skies to black and white, just as the landscape would in a few days. Those are the Olympic mountains captured from an evening ferry. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An autumn melange

The last of the leaves flutter whimsically from their branches to kiss the cold, wet ground for yet another life of nothingness. When in mid air they break into a dreamy dance wearing the most seductive of expressions, breaking many a heart in the go. Some dangle, hopeful and holding on to whatever minuscule remains of their life. The treetops have begun showing signs of baldness and bereavement. Naked and stripped of all joy, the colourless boughs will soon be left alone to battle yet another harsh winter.
Soon this mosaic canvas will give way to a desolate landscape of monotony and monochrome. Soon the familiar powdery white will embrace one and all in its cold, death-like grip. And soon the time for the big sleep will arrive, before longing and life sprout up their baby heads once again. To a new world, to a new beginning.

With my beloved season almost gone, in a fevered nostalgia of losing all the grandeur once again I tried stitching a mental patchwork of all the beautiful autumns we have lived here. How different and diverse the frames feel despite the similarity of the mood and the colours of autumn. Every picture has a little story to tell, of its place and the chunk of our life spent there. I must preserve it all, leaf by leaf. And so I have tried to recreate it here, as far and wide my kaleidoscopic memory could take me.

Our very first autumn. Maple leaves, fiery and feisty, framed right outside our bedroom window in Seattle. Blueberry picking in a nearby farm. The ripe vineyards of Napa Valley, wearing a golden glitter in the late afternoon sun. Amid fat, fleshy pumpkins in San Antonio, Texas. Perhaps the only patch of colour there in October. A twilight walk in the densely wooded metro-park in Cleveland, Ohio. Trees captured in their tallest possible glory, my most preferred angle of photographing them. A fascinated moment with the wee bit o' castle inside the park. Reaching out to the autumnberries before the birds take them all. A couple of idlers in the idyllic Vermont countryside, the dream destination for leaf-peepers. A carpet of maple leaves of every possible earthy hue. A day under the golden aspens and a clear blue sky in Colorado. Back to the ruts again after three long years of wandering, a foggy autumn morning in Seattle. Two happy feet set out on a drizzling autumn walk again. The completion of an autumn circle, and many more.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We've got everything...

... because we have each other."

So says the card. And our four years of togetherness.
Of sharing, carefree laughs, days bad and good
Weaving lost, cherished days of childhood.
For we go back a long way
And how, this little story will say...

From morning assemblies and sleepy Math lessons
To strange Latin names and ugly potions

They fought, they argued
Yet as the best of friends they stood

They signed vows to stick through thick and thin
Just as their teenage, highschool days had seen
He, to his engineering skills rushed
She got her Shakespeare and Byron rehearsed

And so friends they remained 
Till one fine day destiny intervened
Could there be more than just friendship
He mulled over it, thoughtful and neck-deep
Flabbergasted, she thought it was weird
The minds raced and hearts feared
But it was meant to be
That, they too, could well see
And so it has been ever since
A world painted with rosy and golden tints.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Swirls and more

A lazy, overcast day. Rain falls now and then, stubborn and whimsical. A few more deadlines make a beeline into my ever piling 'to do' list. Of course the procrastinator in me idles. A Thanksgiving dinner menu does its usual rounds inside my head. Scouring the internet for something new, unusual. Distraction knocks. This time it is a lone lavender sprouting up from the pot, framed against a backdrop of resplendent orangish leaves. Despite the frost it still flowers in tiny, fragile bits. And it is almost December doing its annual dance upon our heads. 

Pleased and brightened, I think about something warm and quick for tea. That would keep me glued to John McGahern's Amongst Women. The life of a domineering, embittered Irish Civil War veteran amid his ever fretting daughters and wife. Absent sons, scarred relationships, confused priorities. Absolutely engrossing and dramatic. Suddenly my mind rings like the oven timer - puff pastry! Impatiently thawed, smeared with ground cinnamon and sugar. Rolled and cut up into cutesy swirls. Fifteen minutes in the oven and out they come all cinnamon-y and crunchy. 

As I hunch back to my sluggish self with the book and a hot cuppa, I see the rain climb down the window panes. I know it will be back. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Of birds and berries

As I try to compose a post, something lighthearted and weekend-y, it snows in little white drops. Like a bunch of mint candies hurled from a confused, careworn sky. Out of habit I gaze dreamily outside my favourite space - a glowing canvas of tall evergreens, ruddy autumnberries and golden big leaf maples framed by the window. I wonder how empty and forlorn a look the place has suddenly worn. One that was bursting with the cackle of thrilled, berry-struck robins just an hour ago. How madly elated they looked, equally rampant and restless in their perch and take off as well. Sitting, picking, nibbling, fluttering, all at the same time. 
I could not understand what was their hurry though. For, if I were one of the fortunate them with a pair of wings and a whole tree laden with the juiciest of treasures, I would have lazed there for days. Drawing manna sip by sip from the plump berries, dancing in between shades of the leaves and boughs, what a life it would be. 

But the mere mortal that I am, I had to resolve to the next and the only best thing - run for the camera. I could only catch hold of these two saintly souls, one contemplating and the other with a clear look of disapproval of the peeking patio-paparazzi. 

Happy weekend, y'all! 

"What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."

~ William Henry Davies, Leisure

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fog again

"Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn..."

~ T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Strange are the ways of life. With the rain and the unusually winter-like chill, yesterday brought two news. As different as black and white, as contradictory as love and hate. While one friend is all thrilled to fly home for a brother's wedding, another must make the same journey but with a shattered heart from a brother's loss.

There are times when I feel a blank, a strange hollow. And this is one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rumi and the rock star

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing, there is a field.
I will meet you there."

~ Rumi

Last night a bunch of us friends had been to watch the just released Hindi musical drama RockstarI had been looking forward to this since months because of the soul-stirring music of the legendary A.R. Rahman which is accompanied by the sonorous vocals by Mohit Chauhan and the poignant poetry of Irshad Kamil. One absolutely intoxicating trio that is! Now with all the Academy adulation and international accolades post Slumdog Millionaire, the home country had been missing the quintessential Rahman for some time (strange, that I should be talking from that perspective sitting here). His sheer brilliance lies in creating tunes where rhythm after rhythm the music just grows on you and crawls into your soul till you are left with nothing but raw, scathing emotions.

That said, I'm currently mulling over something rather perplexing. The Sufi ideology that pain and heartbreak are the utmost important ingredients for creativity is where the major plot of the movie whirls around. An artist, of whatever form his/her art is, must undergo a powerful emotional catastrophe in order to get truly inspired. That is where I got stuck, and still am. What if there is no internal conflict? How much pain is enough pain? Till what extent does one push oneself and the boundaries? Or should one just wait for the elusive muse of creativity?
In the movie, as an aspiring rock star, Jordan must let his heart ravaged and torn by the ruthless claws of love and rebellion. An Indian, albeit a bit patchy take on Jim Morrison, Rockstar portrays Jordan's tumultuous journey as he lives through it all - love and loss, fame and fortune, destruction and disillusionment. By the end of the movie, when the closing credits were rolling and Jordan was reciting  the above quoted Rumi lines with a gnawing intensity, I could no more feel the world around me. Nor could I see it well with a pair of blurry eyes and a tight face. Yes, I do cry at movies but this one just went a tad further and woke up a sea of dormant emotions in me. Some other day I'll sing their moods here, but not now.

Here is one of the jewels from Rahman's eternal collection. Jordan, with his newfound success and staggering popularity, is unable to understand the ways of the world. He laments his inability to articulate the beauty of emotions surrounding him - "Jo bhi main kehna chahoon, barbaad kare alfaaz mere..." (Even though I try to say something beautiful, my words make it mundane and trivial...)

And yes, from now on I am a Ranbir Kapoor fan, stamped and certified. The boy sure has blossomed and how. He has so eloquently eternalised Jordan that it is difficult to get the character out of my head. He just sits there in his military jacket and Afghan pants airing his angst while I croon the songs again and again. And again.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A French affair

It has been somewhat unruly since my last post - a writing assignment, the transition from a prophetic Yeats to an enigmatic Joyce in class, the depressingly gloomy Seattle weather and the usually moody me. It was also migraine fest since the past couple of days, adding to all the above mentioned drama. So out of impulse and habit, I inched towards what I do best in such confusing times. Baking.

Thus began my pondering in and out of the kitchen, trotting in and out of food websites. Remember my time and again allusions to France and my obsessive love for anything remotely French? Well, today I thought I should celebrate that and hence settled with the classic French dessert, clafoutis. Luckily, there were some handful of cherries lying abandoned in a corner of the freezer. And with their season gone, I did not have the heart to throw the pretty little things away.
So there I was, the temperamental baker, amid my favourite things - eggs and flour. And when it is French food, I better not look any farther than Julia Child. Having baked it once before, I find her cherry clafoutis to be non-fussy and quite honest as well. Just what I needed today. Other than its comforting warmth, my most favourite part is to watch all that beautiful puffing and preening magic that goes on inside the oven. There, I already was half-purged!
But before digging your spoon into this half-cake, half-custard awesomeness, one must dish out a perfect, cackly 'Bon Appétit' like Madame Child.

After being transported to the beautiful French countryside with my soul's fill of clafoutis, I wondered what else could be done to give this French love affair a classic end. It didn't take me long to figure it out - Amélie! I have lost count of how many times I have watched this endearing movie, yet every time it ends I know I'll come back to it again. I'm hooked, head over heels, to its quirky and quotidian soul, to its charming, vintage pockets of Montmartre and most of all to its dewy-eyed, wonderfully weird heroine.

And just like Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, mine too perked up! It had to, with this clafoutis-like heart-melting smile.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I heart carnations

Dainty whorls of lace
Charm borrowed from a fairy face
Petals of pearly delight
A poet's giddy flight
A lover's teasing weapon
An unfurling of wild imagination
A close-knit ethereal dream
Colours trailing from a prismatic stream

All these and much more...
But not 'paper flowers' as some like to call it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Colorado Gold II

"...where the sky is the size of forever and the flowers the size of a millisecond."
~ Ann H. Zwinger & Beatrice E. Willard on alpine tundra, Land Above the Trees

With the above line from the park brochure buzzing in my head, our day starts in the Rocky Mountain National Park... friendly aspens greet us one more time... the left out conifers with forlorn faces... nature's melange of gold and green... a lonely elk wanders in search of a mate... the tourists gather over its delightful bugling... the climb up begins... we leave the lush autumn foliage behind... suddenly trees are no more a part of our world... a reddish baldness paves the snaking roads... and once again the tundra appears... strange, how rugged barrenness can blow away your senses too... a chipmunk enjoys its solitary lunch... on the most scenic and popular byway of the park, the Trail Ridge Road... a drive into the arches and domes of the gigantic clouds... the world below us fades into a crisscross of trees and trails... it feels a lot smaller, at times a little futile too... patches of old snow cling on to the desolate mountains... at last the towering Rockies emerge... more than 12,000 feet above the world, an unusual calm settles on me... I feel free, free as a bird... the roaring silence, the maddening solitude, the overwhelming wilderness... I bring them back all, in pieces and bits... and some physical tokens too, like this Navajo made sand painting and pair of earrings... 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Colorado Gold I

Because I frequently rant (and how unceremoniously!) about change and our continuous nomadic life, this wonderful opportunity fell on my lap. A sign perhaps? That every cloud has a silver lining. That being a trailing spouse has its own perks and it ain't that bad after all. Especially when you are an avid mountain worshiper. Especially when it's the Colorado Rockies. And especially when it's autumn. It doesn't get better than that, does it now?

The picturesque drive on our way to Aspen... the hovering presence of the Rocky mountains throughout... the surreal spread of the golden aspen foliage on the foothills... painted hills, they sure were... the mountains again, proud and resplendent in their reflection on the gorgeous Twin Lakes... the autumn foliage gets denser and grander as we gain altitude... the blazing aspen trees framed against a calm blue sky... the famous 'quaking' aspen leaves... a tiny breather at the breathtaking Independence Pass... the vast stretch of treeless tundra... unusually striking and dramatic... the legendary Maroon Bells at Aspen... the snow-streaked mountains swing on the lap of the golden aspens... one look back and a clump of actually maroon mountains... a patch of mellow sun dancing on them... an unforgettable moment, a joyful giddiness... aspen groves, young and old... the soothing white of their feeble trunks... graffiti carved on one... all loveliness!

There's more to this dream-scape, coming up...

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