The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: gratitude (page 1 of 2)

Today

I turn 37.

We have a snow day in Atlanta, and that is as good a reason as any to celebrate. So long as you are comfortably ensconced indoors, warm and toasty, tea and biscuits and toast handy, socks and blanket on the ready, books to read, movies to watch, that is… Yes, I realize that that does make me a very privileged person.

Birthdays come, birthdays go. This one is no exception.

Any day is a good one to feel grateful. Not that one can really “feel” grateful, because that would amount to mood making. However, simply becoming aware of everything one has been given in this lifetime would suffice. If gratitude wells up, so be it. If not, that is okay too.

If I have learned anything in this last one year, it is the importance of being authentic. Being truthful to oneself is the starting point of leading an authentic life. I am also beginning to see that it takes a certain degree of courage to lead this kind of a life. Now, I don’t regard myself as a courageous person at all (but maybe I am one?) but I have taken some decisions (or waltzed blissfully unaware into situations?) that some would regard as requiring courage. I have quit decently well-paying jobs, joined school part-time, changed careers, walked away from projects and activities typically deemed “good” for you… all with scant regard to long-term plans or profit or happiness. I went along with what I knew, what felt right, and the rest is history.

Today, I am happy and at peace. And it may be my naivete, but I wonder: How difficult is it to experience such contentment? I have done nothing particularly notable or spectacular in this lifetime thus far. I don’t have a glamorous job or title. I have no accolades or achievements to my credit. In fact, at the age of 37, I feel like a semi-retiree. I have found bliss in a cup of tea, a good book, a quiet walk, birdsong. I have found utter joy in solitude and emptiness.

Questions, questions… There is an eager child within who used to question endlessly. Now she lives in a state of perennially wide-eyed curiosity. The answers keep coming. Some days, I can hardly believe my luck. It feels like a treasure chest has opened within me, and I am lifting out one jewel after another. Such is my wonder and amazement at all these riches I find… I am too joyful to grab anything more than I can hold. Yet I have the confidence that the stream of riches is endless. It will never run dry.

If all that sounded like some kind of psychobabble, I apologize. I couldn’t help rhapsodizing about the many gifts I have received, as I walk along the path of introspection and self-enquiry.

Ahh, gratitude. I meant to talk about Mummy and Daddy.

Mummy

Amma

In a recent Facebook post, I remarked that Mummy’s love is like Space. You cannot grasp at it. It is impossible to get a hold of it. But it envelops you whole without touching you anywhere. As a child, I tried in vain to grab it — touch it, feel it, hug it. But I couldn’t. As an adult, I understand the sheer expansiveness of a love like that that only gives and asks nothing in return. Freedom… Mummy’s love was/is freedom and space, and I marvel at her spirit. She walks lightly on this planet.

Daddy

Achchan

In contrast, Daddy’s love is Earth. It is tangible and real. It expresses itself so clearly. If I were to describe Daddy’s love as a taste sensation, it would be like eating a date. So sweet, rich and unmistakably satisfying. It grabs you in all the right places, at the right times. It fills you up entirely.

There you have it… I grew up between Earth and Space. Held by one, freed by the other. Grounded by love, space and freedom.

Didn’t I say I was privileged?

So, on this lovely snow day, as I look out the window at our winter garden (still green), I see snow lightly splattered across the greenhouse roof and the bushes. I see bare trees, shiny sunlight, rays glinting through the spiny branches, and endless space.

Life is beautiful. It is Guru.

It’s all about your Teacher

Yes, the one who patiently held your little fingers and taught you to write the alphabet. Who shaped your 'A' and 'P,' showed you how 'p' and 'q' were distinct from each other. The one who taught you to read time by waving her arm in the air, clockwise. The one who introduced you to the joy of Algebra. Then the one who taught you Sanskrit. The one who showed you the beginning steps in Kathakali, taking you through hours of sweaty practice sessions, leaving you exhausted and exhilarated. The one who sat through the boring music lessons, hearing you hit the same notes again and again, then again.

Teachers are gifts. I couldn't even begin to express my thankfulness to the ones who stepped into my life and stepped out quietly, having done their job, completely unaware of how they shaped my psyche, my intellect and my life in the most spectacular way possible.

Performance Jitters and Complete Joy

I wonder if any of my friends would believe me if I told them that I was Shatrughna one time. And Dusshaasana too. Both male roles, all bravado and swagger, no feminine graces or smiles. As Shatrughna, I was destined to be defeated at the hands of my young nephews. But I gave that fight my all, ultimately getting routed by the two youngsters who chased me away. As Dusshaasana, I was the bigmouth, shouting insults at decent folks, strutting around the stage, intimidating people with my sheer size and big walk. Of course, at the end of the show, I was downed by Bhima (played by Chitra, a fellow dancer), mad with rage. I put up a tough fight. We went on for a long time, circling each other, mocking each other… taking out our clubs, finally using our bare knuckles and going all out. But I was killed, nay slaughtered. Had my guts ripped out, blood and gore pouring forth… Bhima was happy.

The magic of Kathakali is irresistible. A classical dance form of such finesse and refinement… to the uninitiated, it appears like an incomprehensible mix of intricate hand gestures, deft eye/hand movements, strong footwork, massively resounding drums, cymbals and conches, huge performers wearing elaborate costumes and makeup and more. However, to the crazy and devout few, Kathakali is absolute beauty, unfolding on stage with grace, power, strength and style! It is only love for this classical art that makes fans sit through nights and nights of performances, braving the heat and humidity, battling the relentless mosquitoes, fighting sleep. Only to rise in the morning, go home, catch a few hours of sleep, and then head back the following evening for the next performance.

Kathakali performers (male characters) are larger than life, literally. As Dusshaasana, I was a virtual giant on stage. My crown was a majestic white-red affair, towering over my head in sheer splendor. Every other character cowered before my bravado. Who'd think that underneath the starched cloths, velvet shirt, fearsome red face paint and long silver nails was a meek college-going girl?

I have had such a good time learning and performing Kathakali…. I could never express completely how much I love this dance form. After learning for a few years, I thought that I must learn a more feminine style of dance, so I began to learn Mohiniattam. Now this is an utterly feminine dance, almost the polar opposite of the masculine strength that Kathakali embodies. I realized soon after, that I liked the masculine grace of Kathakali a whole lot more than the feminine sweetness of Mohiniattam!

Fun times, such fun times. Getting to the venue early in the day, lying supine on the floor getting my face painted and make up done, having countless starched cotton cloth bits tied to my waist (praying all the time that I wouldn't need to pee… for the next 5-6 hours!), donning the velvet shirt, burnished gold ornaments, long silver nails… and then finally wearing the giant crown, the one that established my character… A nice guy on the side of justice, a villain disrobing women or anyone else. Then walking to the stage, touching the musical instruments in obeisance, praying for stamina, courage and grace so I could pay my respects to the stage and my art in the best way possible.

Oh such fun I have had… Wonder if I will have the fortune of inhabiting those characters ever again.

Krishna, Purappadu
Kathakali