An unusual friendship with a zinda-dil lady

bhartiThere is a lady in Udupi who happened to be my maid there. We also happened to become friends. We used to go around together – she, her daughter and son (if he was in town) and I, sometimes to the beach, or Venugopal temple, or Manipal Lake, or Domino’s Pizza. Piggybacking on my friendship with her I got to eat sumptuous meals in temples at a lady’s god bharaai (baby shower), or when a respected man of the locality passed away – events that otherwise I would have had no inkling of.

When I was packing up from Udupi-Manipal, Bharti (my friend) asked for my fridge, so I gave it to her. We are still in touch over phone, for which the credit goes largely to Bharti. We were talking on New Year’s eve and she related – her son had been saying, ‘If Vani Aunty was here we could have gone out somewhere.’ (my car being the advantage) and her daughter pitched in, ‘We wouldn’t have the fridge then!’

I burst out in laughter when I heard this. Bharti’s daughter is such a straight-speaking darling and Bharti is a lady of such gumption! Her husband committed suicide so now she is a single mother, who lives by working as a maid in several homes and by cooking the mid-day meal at a school.

“I cannot bear physical pain”, she says “but finances don’t trouble me. I know I will manage somehow.” This I have seen first-hand – her fantastic ability to manage her finances. She was building a pakka bricks and cement home for herself to replace her mud house and for this she took sundry loans from the various households she works for, in addition to some loan from the bank. As construction progressed, she had complete clarity of things without the aid of any pen or paper – expenses incurred, expenses to be incurred, loan amounts repaid, still to be repaid – everything – with no mistakes, no confusions at all! As I used to watch her loud think her calculations I used to marvel, ‘wow! Pa would love to see this’. “You should always have a decent ballpark idea about your finances without having to look at records”, my Dad says. Dad asks only for a ballpark idea, Bharti had it down to the rupee, all in her head.

“I need to build my house, I need some money please” (or its my daughter’s wedding, or someone needs medical treatment, or whatever) – when domestic help asks for financial support there is invariably a beseeching in their voice and expression, a deen bhaav. Not so with Bharti. She just stated to me, “You give me three thousand rupees.”

To save on transportation costs she asked me for help to get cement and floor tiles in my car. Some cement powder fell and soiled the back seat. Had it been someone else, with remorse painted on the person’s face the person would have ardently apologized, “Oh! I am so sorry!” Friends had helped me with their car when I was in US and I would have had that same remorseful pitiful demeanor and self-consciousness if I had spilt something in their car. Not so with Bharti. What a wonderful literal demonstration of ‘don’t cry over spilt milk’ – she laughed out and said, “aap bhee kyaa yaad rakheinge – Bharti kaa cement meree gaadee mein giraa thaa” (One more sweet quirky memory for you to have – Bharti’s spilt cement in my car). That was so refreshing! The very natural self-worth and total absence of being pitiful.

When her husband passed away her in-laws made every effort to push her out of the house (that is her side of the story) but she stuck her ground and even got the police to intervene for her rights. Now she lives independently in a small house adjacent to her in-laws’ house and continues to maintain complete relationship with her in-laws and their extended family – be it daily interactions or festive occasions. All this when she does not even belong to that region natively. She is a Maharashtrian whom her Kannadiga Tulu speaking husband had wooed to come to Udupi. She taught herself Kannada and Tulu from scratch and made herself blend seamlessly in the local culture and customs. The pleasure of having someone to converse with in Hindi is one of the basis of our friendship.

She talks wistfully of her childhood in her village near Bombay and speaks of visiting Bombay and her village someday. Ever since her marriage, she has not gone back even once and it seems to me that maybe she never will.

This Expansive Silence

What do I have in me that is of value, that I feel is worthy of being shared with the world?

All that I feel is of value in me, a bouquet of thoughts and experiences, ever taking shape, ever fading away, some staying longer than others, they all distillate into a single feeling – a feeling of expansive silence.

This silence is not the oppressive suffocating kind which occurs out of deadlock and frozen communication. This silence is deeply nourishing and loving. It permeates the being and expands into a gentle sense of awe and gratitude. A sense of wholesomeness, of being connected to the universe itself.

It is this expansive silence that accords value to every thought, every experience that I find worthy of being cherished. It is the essence of every speck of beauty that I encounter.

How do I make an offering of expansive silence to the world?

Will you sit quietly with me at the edge of a lake?

To sit quietly with someone is an intimate sharing.

experiencing my self

There is a me who lives with me
A very loyal companion
Very kind and often quiet
This me I can depend on

to always be with me however
I may feel, I may behave
It will quietly sit with me
No matter what is going on

It will never separate from me
This is totally for sure
The very nature of this me
is such – this I can bet on

It was with me in Mumma’s womb
It saw me come into this world
It sat beside as I was locked
In infant coma that had come on

As I grew up and spent those hours
Drinking the joy of sunset skies
Along with me atop the roof
This me too daily marveled on

Teenage years and growing fears
This path or that, the choices made
This me it walked with me whichever
path I chose to walk on

Illness and the angst of love
Bitter feelings in the heart
Through it all I did not know
This me was my companion

No I have not split in two
To talk of a me inside of me
I have become aware of this
kind presence I can rely on

~ vani murarka

Can A Poem Be Lonely?

A poem can be about loneliness but can a poem be lonely?

Yes. A poem is lonely if it is not read. A poem is lonely if it is not acknowledged. A poem is lonely if it wants to be read but does not give of itself to be read.

Poems are often introverts. To ask, ‘did you like my poem?’ is to do disservice to the introvert poem.
For a poem to hold itself back, to not give itself to the world, to its intended reader is to do disservice to the world, to its reader.

But poems born of vulnerability tend to be scared. Poems are often born from a center of vulnerability.

Poems are concentrated emotion, raw yet refined. For an emotion to not be received, having given itself, is an emotion’s biggest dread.

But the emotion needs to acquire wisdom too. The recipient may not have the bandwidth and tuning to receive. At such times, the emotion must patiently wait without letting it’s tenderness shrivel up.

Whatever the emotion, when held with tender love, is a poem. Anger, when held in the palms of tender love, is also anger but also becomes a poem.

For love is beauty. And whatever the ras, a poem has to be beautiful. A poem of vibhats ras must also be beautiful, while remaining vibhats. Without intrinsic beauty, a poem is a malformed poem. A poem expressing bitterness, to be a poem, must be beautiful, refined in its expression of bitterness.

This does not mean that to be refined a poem should be oblique and aristocratic in form and language. No. But a poem needs to carry self respect without indignation. A poem can be direct, simple, matter of fact, in the true language of the poet (not a pretentious acquired language) – but standing with self-respect the poem will be refined.

And that is how it should be presented to the world. Not in a snobbish manner. Not in a grovelling manner beseeching acknowledgement. Just matter of fact self-respect. This is me. Then if the poem is acknowledged or not, does not matter, for the poem would have acknowledged itself.

Calling The Dark Night, on the City Diwali

Oh! Dear Night Sky
Moonless Black
Come back, come into my life
Hold me in your dense dark womb
Nourish me with your naked wisdom
My heart cries out for you today

My eyes are chained
to frenzied light
Ears drum with screams
of celebration
Oh! Night Sky embrace me now
in your Silence
that I may sink into you

I shall bring but just one lamp
of my heart
As my offering to you
May it join your many stars
Friends I have not seen for long
Friends who showed me
the vastness to which I belong

Now I’m cut away from land
And I’m cut away from you o Sky
In a “Flat” all dimensions
Have been squashed out
Dried powder of rituals remain
Yet your memory too remains

Kali come to me today
I no longer gasp with fear
At the thought of seeing your face
I have met you inside me
I have seen you inside out
I’ve partaken from your bowl
I seek your power once again
In the midst of frenzied lights,
blaring sounds,
that today, more so resound
Show your beauty that’s been forgotten
been forsaken

You shall prevail, that I know
More that we shall fail to see
the gift of the dark
it will not go
Now in you I rest this call
Come take me, once for all
The one you love, you know I do too.

~ vani murarka

Born for One Reason

Often when I encounter you
It seems to me that I was born
For one reason – to love you …

Often when I encounter you
It seems to me that I was born
For one reason – to love you

So many twists and turns
Have occurred between us two
Even then love continues

You talk to me, for this reason.
This is why I talk to you.
Withdrawn though as we are
Into shells of hurt, we two.

I was born,
for one reason –
To love you

As I detect the universe
in my heart, in its dust
I find you

I was born,
for one reason –
To love you

I speak my mind and my heart
In a poem I don’t send to you
So you’re not inconvenienced
By a tug that pulls at you

I was born,
for one reason –
To love you.

Experiencing Durga in Others

It is easy to be judgmental of the world and people around us. Often we have strong opinions – this is what he/she should do/think. Well then, so here we are. another very fertile opportunity.

reachingforthesky[1]

In the last post, I talked of an opportunity to experience the force and movement of Durga within ourselves. Here is a wonderful opportunity to experience Durga in others.

There is a line in the “yaa devee sarvabhooteshu …” Devee Stotra

या देवी सर्वभूतेषु भ्रान्तिरूपेण संस्थिता।
नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः ॥
(yaa devee sarva bhooteshu bhraanti roopeNa sansthitaa
namastasyai namastasyai namastasyai namo nama(h))

To that devi who is present in all beings in the form of ‘bhraanti’
salutations again and again.

भ्रान्ति (bhraanti) means misguidedness, misunderstanding, delusion.

This mental state exists, at some time or the other, in all of us. However, by the very definition of it, we are unable to see it in ourself. At least until we come out of the delusion, and even then we may not realize and accept that earlier we were deluded.

However, it is easy to be judgmental of the world and people around us. Often we have strong opinions – this is what he/she should do/think. At times, it is to the extent of feeling exasperated – “This guy has lost it!”. We experience it in personal relationships, professional interactions, national policies, religious behaviors, social mindsets …

Well then, so here we are. another very fertile opportunity.

Whenever we perceive delusion, misunderstanding, misguidedness, in our fellow being or society at large, it is an opportunity to know that we are perceiving Durga and experience it in its fullness. The dance of Durga. The play of Durga. The power of Durga. Anytime you see delusion, it is just Durga in one of Her myriad hues.

That same Durga who is the embodiment of power and energry of all of the Universe, who is all that is beautiful, divine, comforting – nurturing love, compassion, prosperity, fulfillment. That supreme feminine force is present in all beings in the form of delusion too.

Seeing delusion in someone as the force of Durga at play, enables us to pause a moment and perhaps reconsider the person. We may still not agree with his/her mindset, but we can consider the person at least with a tad bit of softness, a hint of compassion, knowing that it is a force that is at play within us too. At the very least our mind can acquire a tinge of curiosity towards all that is going inside that person.

We, and the people around us, we all have the nurturing motherly instinct, compassion, awareness (all things nice, positive, desirable too) but we tend to focus on the negative more. The negative too is a form of the divine and we can turn our tendency to focus on the negative into an asset.

Any emotion, any feeling, it is She. Positive or negative is irrelevant. All change, it is She.


Image credit: Reaching for the Sky by Carol Herzer

Experiencing Durga Within

So here is an opportunity. Here is a way to actually experience Durga within. It is an opportunity specially because this feeling is so intensely personal and because when it occurs we experience it as a distinct sharp tinge. …

There is a line in the “yaa devee sarvabhooteshu …” Devee Stotra

या देवी सर्वभूतेषु लज्जारूपेण संस्थिता|
(yaa devee sarva bhooteshu lajjaa roopena sansthitaa)
That devi who is present in all beings in the form of ‘lajjaa’.

Lajjaa? Now that is interesting!

So what is Lajjaa?

Lajjaa seems to get associated with “लाज”, “नारी की लाज” (naaree kee laaj) – a woman’s honor that supposedly gets taken away say when she is raped, or feminine modesty, mostly associated just with her physical parts and her social reputation. Or it may be conventionally viewed as sweet bashfulness, shyness, blushing of a woman, often in a romantic sense. However, that is just a tiny tiny part of lajjaa.

Lajjaa essentially conveys a sense of shame, disrepute, disgrace – in any context. Bashfulness, reserve, modesty, these are also words used to translate the sense of lajjaa, because they are attempts to avoid shame, disrepute, disgrace. So when something undesirable occurs, people exclaim, “tumne aisaa kiyaa? kitnee lajjaa kee baat hai!”.

To me, the best explanation of the word lajjaa is – feeling embarrassed.

That feeling of embarrassment can be anywhere in a whole range of intensities. The mild: feeling somewhat silly. The stronger: feeling stupid. The very intense: feeling shame.

And it is in sarv bhooteshu (all beings) – i.e. all of us, all humans – man, woman and all other gender variations possible. In fact all beings, not just humans. So it has nothing to do specifically with women. Embarrassment is a feeling that we have all experienced and would prefer to avoid. It is because we want to avoid this feeling that we are hesitant to ask questions for example.

At times it is mild, and depending on our level of awareness, we do not explicitly recognize it as such but just feel a sense of discomfort. There is a slight internal squirming. At times it is so strong, it feels like a stab in the chest. We are unable to ignore it and are distressed.

That feeling, that stab of embarrassment, mild or forceful, is She. The supreme feminine force. And She exists in everyone. Sarv bhooteshu.

So here is an opportunity. Here is a way to actually experience Durga within. It is an opportunity specially because this feeling is so intensely personal and because when it occurs we experience it as a distinct sharp tinge. Also, we tend to be better at focusing on the negative within us than positive, so might as well use that tendency.

The next time you experience any tinge of embarrassment, experience it fully. Feel it completely, in all its textures. How it invades and gradually unwillingly departs. You will be directly experiencing Durga inside you!

Durga, that is, Shakti – power, energy, force. Emotional energy is the core driving force of our actions and there is energy, power, force in our so-called negative emotions too, if we connect to it. It can be a powerful exhilarating experience.


Image credit: Inner Eye Moon by Carol Herzer.

But The Colors Could Not See The Grand Picture

It is out of its inherent throbbing joy that white burst into a myriad colors. It is out of its inherent throbbing joy that the land danced and there were highs and lows. As the land was high and low, the colors flowed. And so a grand picture was formed.

And the colors loved themselves. The green was proud of itself, and rightly so, for it was beautiful. The blue was proud of itself, and rightly so, for it was beautiful. And the colors flowed. Little particles of joy were embedded into the colors which made them move ahead.

But the colors could not see the grand picture. As one color flowed into the other, the other felt threatened. Its identity was threatened. Its territory was threatened. The deep flaming red would turn into a milder orange if the yellow flowed into it. That was not acceptable. And the yellow did not like it at all either, that its natural flow was being inhibited. The whole land was his to explore after all. Its inner joy particles were asking it to move forward.

So some colors flowed, some did not. And there was a muddy pool. For the colors could not see the grand picture. They could not see the big orchestrated dance and be in awe at what they were creating together.

But the force that was there in the colors, was there in the colors, whether they liked it or not. So they continued to dance and flow, albeit reluctantly. Their reluctance made them heavy. And as as they danced and flowed, they mixed together and turned into black. A deep velvety never-ending black.

And white was filled with amazement. This is also a form of me? A reverse side of me? For white had seen the whole dance, the beauty and the resistance. It knew the black emerged from its own self. There was a deep wisdom that seemed to emanate from the quiet all-absorbing black, that white found so beautiful.

And it felt a kind-of peace, resting in its own black reverse self. And it rested there for long. It felt good. The black held the same power that white had. As white rested, black kept nourishing it, black kept nourishing its own reverse self. That felt good. A smile spread on the lips of the sleeping white. As it was nourished more, it was energized. The smile converted into a fountain of joy. Then out of its inherent throbbing joy white burst into a myriad colors.