Friday, July 23, 2021

Bin Sataguru aapno nahi koi

This Guru Poornima, sharing this exquisitely imagined and executed song video from Sounds of Isha.

Kabir, singing again in the female voice of the seeker, says the comforts of the maternal home will no longer do. The maternal home, traditionally considered to be among the most secure and comfortable places to be... where you are well looked after, where you are pampered, allowed the freedom to simply be. But even this haven will not do.

There is a 'nagari'...  Saeein ki nagari, the Master's Realm, where none of these physical symbols apply - no sun, no moon, no elements that make up our physical world... she seeks that place.


Who would tell the beloved of my longing? Who would show my the way? Who would take me there? 

Presenting Naiharwa...


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Touch and Go

Balancing out the pleasure you get from online games is the hoops the makers put you through in order to get you to buy from them – coins, energy, gemstones… all the in-game currencies that apply in that universe. Understandable, I suppose. But I’m miserly and would much prefer to watch their advertisements to support them than fork out cash just because I’m impatient.

Most games would like you playing them – a lot. Anything to keep you hooked and coming back for more. Running out of currency? A sudden gift or windfall will keep you in the game for while longer.

Then I came across Murder in the Alps. It’s a hidden objects game with a lovely 1930s theme. Anna, our protagonist, is the journalist-detective and you must help her find the clues to piece together this very intriguing locked room mystery in which corpses keep turning up with delicious regularity. The set of suspects includes a cuckoo Indophile professor who is chasing after the elusive Vedic recipe for the elixir Soma. The artwork is spectacular, the voice acting is fantastic, the interface smooth and exciting – the atmosphere of the game is top-notch.


Except, they don’t want you to play.

You get 200 energy to start off with. And as Anna examines a scene looking for these hidden objects that will help her understand what the hell is going on in this forsaken, snow-boarded inn in the Swiss mountains, every item you touch on her behalf will drain you of 5 to 30 units. Depending on how frenzied you are, you could play for 10 or 20 minutes at the most.

And then, unless you are willing to pay quite handsomely for more energy, you wait. The energy replenishes itself at the rate of one unit in eight minutes. Which means a wait of upwards of 26 hours to max your quota – which, I repeat, lasts you gameplay of 20 minutes. If you are desperate, there are ads to watch that’ll give you 10 energy at a time.

It's perfect sadhana actually. You touch the screen with the utmost awareness and only when you must. And you learn to wait. This view is solipsistic and you must grant me the indulgence: considering I have a tendency to be addicted to games, that’s the sound of my Guru having the last laugh.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

A pickle-ish quandary

We’re seeing perilous depletion levels in our chundo stock. In the past couple of years, I have so grown to appreciate this sweet mango pickle from Gujarat that I’ve managed to always have a jar of it in the shelf. It is supposed to go with theplas and khakras but I love it with my mosranna… to my palate the tart-sweetness of the preserve pairs perfectly with curd rice, rounding off the meal with not an obligatory cool-down but on a triumph. 

There is one neighbourhood store that keeps a sort I like and with lockdown hours, I haven’t gone out to pick up some more. But no matter, there are other relishes that honour curd rice very well. A smidge of lime pickle elevates it, for instance.

This consolation brought me to a pleasing exercise. What is my favourite pickle? So difficult to decide. To make matters more complicated, there are rice mix pastes and even rice powders that by dint of their sheer brilliance expand the category.

Being Hyderabad-bred, I have an obligation to reserve my top slot for the Queen of all Pickles – avakaaya. Sour raw mangoes cut into largeish chunks, treated with chilli powder, mustard, salt and sesame oil… a divine concoction that drives thought from your mind. Some argue for mudda pappu with avakaaya, some go straight for avakaaya annam. I say do both!! First pappannam to appease my delicate stomach and then a small portion of fiery pickle rice to slake my soul-thirst. 

For second slot, various pickles jostle at the door, trying to make their way in. I apply an extra criteria: what would I like to eat with rice? Gongura wins this round – hot rice, a dash of sesame oil, a dollop of ghee and gongura pachadi… its glorious sourness deepened by that punch of red chilli. Hmm! This is chased closely by karuveplai (curry leaf) rice mix, and this has to be from Grand Sweets. Honourable mention also for Harika’s Drumstick Leaf powder. It needs a generous addition of sesame oil over hot rice… ah, *chef’s kiss* 

My sister eats all pickles with everything from dosas, adais and pesarattus to upma and khichdi. I’m pickier with my combinations. Kerala parotta and lukhmi are magnificent with tomato pickle, pesarattu rocks with a slightly sweetened ginger relish, adai is rather good with tomato and lime. I prefer avalakki and upma with the spicier preserves – green chillies with lime and pandu mirpakaya pacchadi – another Andhra concoction involving Guntur red chillies and tamarind. And of course, thayir sadam with nartharangai (citron) is a classic combination for a very good, time-tested reason.

For a change of palate, I also like the northern pickles featuring various vegetables and heavy-handed sprinkles of saunf – milder, of course, and not quite so imposing as southern fare but very acceptable.

What’s your favourite pickle? 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Nan anju maram valarthen…

It was borne on me a couple of days ago that I’d been living under a rock. Completely unaware of a viral song, Enjoy Enjaami, a production from AR Rahman’s initiative Maajja – a tech platform for independent musicians. (And what a start!)

My friend Sriram introduced the song to us with a bit of a backgrounder. The poet-singer Arivu draws from his own life and the accounts told to him by his grandmother – tales of humble farm workers employed on lands that they did not themselves own. Lives sweetened with the joy that being close to the land brings, but also insecurity and a looming fear and dread of being dispossessed. 

The song has caught me by the gut. It is so many things at once – on the surface a catchy, well-made music video that ticks all the ‘good entertainment’ boxes. But also a powerful song celebrating the earth, a lament for old griefs, a tribute to ancestors who bequeathed their precious seed and land to us.

Like all hugely successful things, many aspects come together to make this work. Santosh Narayan composes it in intricate layers, weaving in parai drums, reggae, rap and a Tamil art form called oppari. Singer Dhee is a revelation with her raspy airs and Arivu clutches your heart with the keening lament of the oppari. The video by Amit Krishnan accentuates the beat, the lilt and places the song in its natural surroundings – the land. The effect is simply stunning.

This is a quintessentially Tamil song, about the Tamil people’s deep and profound connection to the soil, water and all creatures. It reminds me of what Sadhguru says about ‘looking up’ and ‘looking down’ cultures. The Tamil people exemplify the second sort – those who look down at the Earth as mother, as the source of their sustenance and all divinity. 



Nan anju maram valarthen is from this song, translating 'I planted five trees...'

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Home Patch - 2

The fresh haiku on the header reminds me that I have been meaning forever to write another post on the exciting events in the neighbourhood.


I may have mentioned, once or twice, the street dogs that have established base around my home. A few years ago, the garage opposite was rented by a lady who ran a smallish boutique with dresses, bags, tailoring and the like. Now, she was fond of their company and took to feeding the dogs – a full family of two adults and a litter of four puppies. She let them run tame in her shop, and they indeed felt and behaved like pets. Until she shifted her shop and, in a spot of callous irresponsibility, simply abandoned the lot to their devices. The family disbanded over weeks but two of the siblings hung around here, latching on to Ramulu, the istri man who took over the shop. They continued to make themselves more familiar than anyone else was happy with. Now, we’ve conceded our terraces and our yards, and the dogs have signed the pact to not enter our houses.

These siblings – Kim and Mowgli, as the neighbourhood’s children have christened them – are interesting characters. Kim, the male is a thin, lithe fellow with a somewhat sly nature. Having received one or two thwacks many months ago for nosing into the house and ensconcing himself on the settee, he tends to side-eye me, giving me a wide-ish berth. That is not to say, however, that he’s afraid, and he certainly is not shy. Mowgli, on the other hand, is far more confiding and relies a lot on charm. She’s stouter than Kim, and not a good enough jumper of walls as her brother. Many times, if she’s unable or, I suspect, unwilling to clamber up to get across, she will just lie near the gate, whining till we come out and open it for her. 

To this mix was added a new puppy – who, thanks to her agile defence of the territory from other canine intruders, was named Sheeghrati Sheegram. Their interactions were most interesting. The siblings, being older and first on the territory outrank Sheegrati. And although they tolerate her and include her in pack activities, she is somewhat outside of their inner circle. The littermates lie close together almost always, their body language similar, while Sheegrati will take the opposite side of the road, or a different level. 

Sheegrati - the gentle, good girl  


Winter mornings are made of these: Mowgli (top) and Kim (bottom) on the terrace.
Mowgli and Kim bask in the sun

Last fortnight, Sheegrati stunned us all by suddenly producing a litter of ten puppies. Most of us hadn’t even realised she was pregnant. The puppies have not yet been introduced to the public, but Ramulu, who has been keeping a close eye, reports that the siblings have been assiduous in protecting mother and pups from outside dogs. 

Sheegrati with her puppies. She's carved out a nice little hole for herself and the litter.


The dogs had made matters a bit difficult for our colony cats, who were not to be seen as frequently as before. I rued this – I liked the cats around, lying on the walls, spooking the babblers and of course, keeping the rodent population under check.

But without meaning to, I did something that altered the status quo. We have a nice lemon tree to one side of the house – and it is a wonderful variety that yields large green lemons. The lemonade takes on an interesting pink hue and is fragrant and refreshing. Alas, the tree suffers from too much shade from a couple of mango trees (bullies!). For a couple of seasons, I noticed flowers that would not convert into fruit, falling off at the slightest breeze. I learnt that the plant probably needed some nutrition, and since then, the spare milk, cream and curd goes there to increase bio activity.

It was borne on me too late that a stray cat was taking these compliments personally. I caught her lapping the cream and she sat on the wall outside the kitchen window one afternoon, making eye contact and telling me volubly that she was hungry. 


My friend, the Brown Cat

The following week, something curious happened. I stepped out of the back door and found a dead rodent on the stoop. I was shaken, till I realised that the stray had left me a gift. And it happened again a week later – the gory offering unmistakably splayed out. I was grossed out, amused and flattered.

Jill Lange’s haiku captures the mood.

in our trust...
feral cat and I

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Home Patch - 1

I had a tree cut down today.

Years in the making, an hour to take down. It was saddening but it had to be done. It was stealing sunlight, apart from being a highly aggressive being, sold into self propagation. It had previously strangled a pomegranate tree out of existence. While I was remorseful, at least I did not hesitate in ordering its removal. 


The Tickell's Blue Flycatcher came by this morning and investigated the bird bath. It was almost dry. I had been remiss about adding water and it went away disappointed. 

In recent weeks, I have fallen out of the habit of doing this myself. My maid Lakshmamma sweeps out the yard every day. She is an erratic personality, this one. She has trouble understanding or sticking to the simplest protocols (such as putting away the detergent dabba after use) but will voluntarily take on a few things just for the love of it. She is something of an animal lover - one of the manifestations of this love being letting in the dogs on the street. She loves them, they adore her and wait for her in the mornings with eager faces and wagging tails. Yes, very sweet, but I do object to her opening the gates wide for them and saying 'da!' and watching indulgently as they race to the terrace for a morning siesta. In any case they jump over the wall, poop here and there, bring in salvaged food packets and make a horrid mess - I can turn a blind eye to what I cannot help but I draw the line at encouragement, see?

But tempting though the prospect is, this must not turn into a diatribe about Lakshmamma. The bird bath, yes! She had first assumed the shallow pot of water was for her beloved mongrels, but I told her it was in fact meant as an invitation to our local birds. Since she apparently finds room in her heart for other wildlife as well, she was very approving of this arrangement. So she has been assiduous in refilling the shallow earthen pot every day. But I discovered that the bath was not as popular as it should be, because Lakshmamma not only fills it to the brim (which the smaller birds find a bit scary) but also cleans it out of all leafy and wormy debris (which my visitors love). So I told the lady I'd fill the bath myself, hoping to lure the wintering warblers to this spot.

I added half a mug after the Tickell's had zoomed off this morning. Happily, he came back soon after, and cautiously waded in for a rapturous bath.

This is a picture from another time.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Namesakes

 I have come to realise:

a) That mine is by no means a very unusual name. There are very many women cavorting on this planet with this same moniker.

b) That a fair number of them are ditzy airheads who don't know how to supply their own email addresses when asked for it, and instead supply mine.

c) That these Sheetal Vyases are inveterate shoppers. Apart from important communications such as PAN Card communications and income tax messages, I receive a large number of invoices and delivery notifications to areas ranging from Los Angeles to Jodhpur, Florida to Thane.

At first, I felt honor bound to inform them of these blunders but am helpless against the deluge. It is fun, however to snoop on them a bit - their private information has plonked into my inbox quite unsolicited, after all. One namesake has been fool enough to splurge on an expensive Apple gadget with the help of a loan - lenders have written to her a cheery sort of message assuring her of their support through thick and thin. This sort of unwise financial behaviour has me judging her with disdain that is tinged with a spot of concern. We all know how quickly they will show their teeth when indeed the thick becomes thin. The Jodhpur lady is more modest in her purchases: a Japan crepe sari in Baby Pink. I hope it becomes her.  I am not so sure about the jeans purchased by Ms Jaipur - she could've done better. 

We are not the only ones, of course. The brightest of us all, the one who has made our 'naam-roshan', the one google throws up first when you type the magic words, is a Hollywood producer, if you please. She counts a movie named When Harry tries to Marry in her filmography. But she has not bothered us, and we, in our turn, will not bother about her.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Rising through the Ranks

I was reading a few decades-old journal entries this morning. Writing as a twenty-something, these are notes about what I did, some work, some thoughts, some ideology, some record of events or movies I’d seen. I seem happy, hopeful, occasionally anxious… it brings back sharply how I used to be. There is a sense of… how shall I put it… smallness? It’s all very small. Puny. And pathetic.

Now, if you asked me how I feel about myself, I’d say Regal. Yes, I feel Lordly. Less work than before, certainly less income, fewer activities to do, a shrunk social circle, a diminished presence in the world, and I feel more potent.

Kabir says:
हाथ में खूंडी, बगल में सोटा,
चारो दिशा जागीरी में ॥

A begging bowl in my hand, a staff by my side,
And all the world at my feet

If you had told me when I was in my twenties that the spiritual process was about being less of yourself, I’d have told you that someone out there was trying to con you. When intellectual people hear that the spiritual process is about dismissing the mind, they become very threatened and extremely suspicious. Why do they want me to put my mind aside? What am I without my mind, my biggest treasure? If I did silence it, then wouldn’t that leave me vulnerable to whatever insidious plan you have?

Having been there, I sympathise. But it isn't like that. You are not required to become an idiot or lose your faculties. It just needs you to look beyond what you have labelled as yourself. And it needs you to accept help from those who have already done it. It requires trust, I understand that. Indeed, you must only trust someone who has earned your trust. Someone you have judged to have the highest integrity. Someone with very clean hands.

But the quest IS to find out who or what you are. The gnanis tell us repeatedly: “You are NOT the Body, You are NOT the Mind”. Then, the question occurs, “Who am I?” First indignantly, and then with greater and greater depth and genuine seeking. Yes, if you accept those two exclusions, then Who ARE You? It is a question worth pondering. The ONLY question worth asking.

Which is why, I suppose, the basic requisite for the process is a certain thirst. You must arrive at the question. Repeatedly.

Looking back, this has been a fairly ordinary life for me. Enjoyable but moderate in all ways – middle class, middle of the road. And then, I stumble upon my Guru, who tilts my head to the stars.
Shankara says of the Satguru’s padukas: “Nripatvadabhyam nata loka pankteh…” Surrendering to these padukas raises those who prostrate to the rank of sovereigns.

I’m rising through the nobility ranks and will settle at nothing less than Sovereignty.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sound Levels

There’s a special animosity in my heart for sound mixers who don’t understand the concept of background music. People so carried away by this music they’ve picked out that they must inflict it onto the situation. They couple up, in my mind, with attention seekers, who simply must have part of the conversation, preferably about themselves. Chaps who don’t get what a mosaic is, even if their work stands out like a badly placed chip.
I remember disagreeing with a video editor I was working with. ‘You can barely hear it!’ he said, of the B/g music track. What you cannot hear are the dialogues, dude. As for the background score, you don’t need to hear it, it just needs to be there!
And then I knew a band once where the leader happened to be the percussionist. You know what happened next. You could barely hear the vocalist, who was way down in the pecking order superseded by the drums, the strings and even the shruti box. And there was no arguing about it. ‘Brightness’, that’s what they said, ‘we need brightness’.
Rubbish fellows.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Jaan phoolan tan laal ni

There, in the rubble, and among the drying, yellowing leaves,
a clearing of a rough sort.
A grey-white shroud lies there,
a tell-tale trickle of smoke winding upwards.
What lies beneath? Is the fire alive? Asphyxiated perhaps by a blanket of its own burning?
The evidence of the slow burn mounts on me. Till I no longer know if I’m the heart of the burning coal or just the ash.
Layers of ash.
Many layers of ash.
One breath-fan from you and the construct falls apart. Blown in the wind, strewn around like wisp, inconsequential, a pack of lies.
One life-breath and I burn red-hot again. A ruby-red chunk of live coal coming up for Grace.




Title translates "Burns red-hot wherever He blows"
A line from Shah Hussain's kalaam Maaye ni main kinnu aakhan

Thursday, September 17, 2020

For those who came before us

It is amazing how something can stay hidden in plain sight. How nothing exists perhaps till you turn towards it and shine the light of your attention on it. I have said before that I only first paid any heed to death rituals when my mother passed away. Since then, there has been a further deepening of awareness how meticulous this land, this Bharat has been in dealing with its dead.

The dead are dead, you may say; better to turn our energies towards the living, you may insist. You’re right, but there is no dichotomy. Catering to the dead also takes care of the living. You are both assisting the disembodied as well as giving your own life ample room to maneuver and express itself.

Yesterday was Mahalaya Amavasya – a phrase I have been hearing for most of my life without knowing the significance of. We have so many festivals and special days in our culture, it seemed just one of those things elders made a grand fuss about. Plus, a somewhat morbid concept – a fortnight to address the needs of pitrus… generations of dead ancestors who lived centuries ago. We don’t even remember their names – what then is the need to make such a shoo-sha about offering them balls of rice and sesame? Wasteful symbolisms! Doubtless this must’ve been the frame of mind that prevented me from even observing this rite with the consideration it deserved.

Sadhguru says, “Your body carries trillion times more memory than your conscious mind. Will you remember your great-great-great-grandfather? You don't, but his nose is sitting on your face because your body remembers. Your body remembers how your forefathers were a million years ago.” I now dimly understand that we are a continuum. The latest but not the last in a series of pop-up lives on this planet. Pitru Paksha is a way of paying homage to those who came before us, and it is also a way of distancing the influence of these pitrus over our lives – loosening, in a way, their genetic hold over ourselves, so that we may live free-er and fuller lives.

In recent years, Sadhguru has been paying inordinate attention to this aspect. His book on Death is an explosive one, a revealing treatise on a range of aspects that were hitherto veiled. Also, I have been thinking a lot about Kashi, the maha smashana, where death rituals are a way of life. [Of course, any excuse to remember Kashi will do. When can I go back there, I wonder?]

Yesterday, around midnight at the Isha Yoga Center, there was a rather magnificent ceremony – they’ve done it for years but the scale this year was a bit grander. This was in preparation perhaps for the Kala Bhairava deity that my Guru is in the process of consecrating.

Some pictures: