The two days in a calendar that I dread like the plague are her birthday and our anniversary. Not because I forget them. The school of hard knocks – also called Life – long back has taught me that the easiest way to forget your spouse’s birthday or anniversary is to … simply forget it once!!
The problem is that I am not the one who believes in grand celebrations and gifts and parties and special dinners and all that to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. A quiet drink together? Yes. But nothing more. I have always marveled at all those Facebook posts I get from my friends with sparkling photos of them surrounded by innumerable friends in dazzling dresses with a cake thrown in here and a candle over there on such special days.
And I have wondered – with no less measure than my marvel – what made them wait for a day decreed by some random Gregorian way of counting an integral number of times of the sun going up and going down repeatedly to show such love. Why not pick a completely random day? Or two days? Heck, how about every day?
If a silver jubilee of a marriage has taught me anything it is that such clinical assessment of sanctity of revolutions of the sun is not going to get me anywhere.
Fearfully, I admit her birthday is around the corner.
I can almost sense the tension growing from the pervious night.
“Will he get me something this year, at last?”, she will wonder, more hopefully than realistically.
“How weird is it that our mind believes that one thing one day somehow outweighs the value everything else done all the other 364 days? Have we all reduced our feelings to Hallmark card templates?”, I will philosophically wonder.
Both waiting for the storm that is welling up not too far.
I will spare you all the details but the conclusion will not surprise anyone. Somehow I will be at fault. Somewhere, I will get a lecture that I do not care about her.
“But, I was the one who suggested that you go back to India
to be with your mom a month after you came back. It was I who told you that I will take care of the daughter in spite of having a job in a different city. How come that does not count?”
“I did not ask you for that”, she will righteously declare.
“And I was the one who searched online for two days and got you tickets. And arranged for all our travel in India. I even called up the driver to be at the airport to pick you up when you arrive at the dead of the night. How about that?”
“I did not ask you for that”.
“I even went to the extent of arranging you to be at the 24-hour restaurant in a five star hotel so that you can relax, eat and refresh while waiting for daylight so that the driver can take you for the ride home. How about that, huh?”
“I did not ask you for any of that”.
Normally, I would walk away trying to compute how is our brain wired that unasked for events carry less value than the expected-but-not-gotten ones.
Normally, like I said.
Not this time!!!
You see, her Highness after relaxing and refreshing in the aforementioned hotel, messaged me – a full half world and ten and a half hours away to call the driver – who was merely hundred yards away downstairs in the garage to come and pick her up from the lobby.
Might I mention, like always, I did what she asked me to?
I can’t wait to pick her up from the airport on her birthday when she comes back.
With a broad, all-knowing grin and folded arms. (Even I know it would be rude to tap my shoes and go Tut Tut along with that).
But no gifts.
“Did the driver show up when I called him?”, I will ask innocuously.
Ha! Ha! No more of those “I did not ask you to”, this year. Game, set and match.
I have to think about something else for next year now!!
If I am still married.
To the same woman, of course!!!
Instead got sucked into one more of those fascinating books recommended by my scholarly friend – Somshekhar. He has now led me down the road to learn how our human memory works and how very ordinary people can learn how to commit to memory incredible amount of things.
Nippy weather in Atlanta… sitting out with my Dog Friday – Jay Jay… and reading this well written book is almost taking away the errrr… memory of four much-delayed flights of this week 😉
Admittedly, Jay Jay has that slightly impatient look of “I don’t need no stinkin’ book to remember that tonight is Pringles night and you have not taken me to the music room yet!!
And it is true that I – probably like many of us – are doing less and less worth remembering… it is still even more true that being on the other side of 50, remembering itself can be a chore.
Medical science seems to point to how memory deteriorates after an age (unfortunately much before 50). However, science also is suggesting how we can exercise our memory cells and prolong their life.
Personally, it started with learning all the African countries since Natasha decided to spend half a year in Ghana. Then, it was about learning all the African capitals. Then it expanded to all the 195 countries of the UN. Then it was their capitals.
Now I have created a Frankenstein. I want to “remember” more things. Can you help me suggest some interesting things that would be worth (re)learning and remembering? I was thinking of the Periodic Table as an example. What other things are out there that might be interesting to “memorize”?
Kal raat tanhaa chaand ko
Dekhaa tha maine khwaab mein
“Mohsin” mujhe raas aayegi
Shayad sadaa aawaargi”
The name Mohsin here refers to the poet who wrote this – Mohsin Naqvi. It was common practice to embed the poet’s name somewhere (usually towards the end) in the poem. Not terribly sure but perhaps it was a way of “stamping” or “copyrighting” the poet’s name.
Last night, I saw the moon
All alone, in my dreams
Mohsin, I think my happiness
Will always be in my vagrant ways.
(referring to the lonely but unchained life of a vagabond)
“Deep chhilo, shikha chhilo
Shudhu tumi chhiley na boley alo jollona
Bhasha chhilo katha chhilo
Kachhe daakley na boley mon katha bollo na”
The lamp was there, as was the wick
But without you, there was no spark of fire
Words were there, as was my voice
But without your beckoning my heart remained mute.
It used to be – when I was half my age, I could not stand Rabindrasangeet (Tagore’s songs). I found them to be slow and too easy to sing or play with. To be sure, I am one of the rare Indians who went thru a full engineering and MBA course without ever getting into or listening to Western music. I was more about the sophistication of the songs that originated from the Sufi movement and that included Nazrulgeeti.
As I age, I find myself inexplicably attracted to Rabindrasangeet. They are still slow and easy to play with. And that is exactly what I like. The one difference is that as I am forced to slow down, I find meaning in the songs that completely escaped me.
Just like a singer friend of mine two decades ago had predicted will happen to me!!
Be it songs, motorbiking or life, I am finding that momentary speeding up is easy. Slowing down and staying steady is so much more difficult. And yet that is mysteriously attractive.
“Tomar khola haowa
Laagiye paaley, tomar khola haowa
Tukro korey kaachhi
Aami doobtey raaji aachhi
Sokal amaar gelo michhey
Bikel je jay taari pichhey
Rekho na aar bedho na aar
Aami doobtey raaji aachhi
Tomar khola haowa”
“Your gush of fresh wind
Has touched my sails
And tore away my anchor
Now, I am even willing to drown
My morning has gone in vain
And my evening will follow soon
No! No! Do not tie me down
To anywhere near the shore
(For I want to be blown away by)
Your gush of fresh wind… “
The year is coming to an end!!
It was almost a year back that on Oct 1, I commenced my year off from work to explore life. For the fourth time. Every time has been better than the previous time. The structure is always the same – do a few new things for myself, do a few things with the family and do a few things for the community.
The report card for the whole year, looking back, has a few hits and a few misses.
The following are of the category “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
🙂 Learnt how to motorbike!! At the age of 52!! Have already posted nearly 4,500 miles (7,200km) under my belt. A long ways to go to be super confident (those dratted right turns around mountain corners 🙂 ) but I will get there some day, I hope!
🙂 That amazing Mongolia trip with Roger. It is a hard life they live but what a once-in-a-lifetime experience!! Those blank boarding passes, the sleeping in a new “ger” (nomad’s tent) every night, the alcohol made from mare’s milk, the sanddune-as-your-bathroom routine, the eagle on your hand, the experience of vast nothingness…. I do not think too many things can top that for me.
🙂 Some of the best family times – those international trips to countries we visited for the first time – Indonesia, Thailand, Aruba, Cancun (Mexico). Those 10 days of completely destination-less road trip with Sharmila. That Hilton Head beach vacation for just the two of us! Those trips to see Natasha in New York!
🙂 That character-building experience of spending a year in hospice units. Especially the memory care unit. Watching palliative care unit patients come in and then go away. Setting a perspective in life. And making every moment with them so momentous
🙂 Tried to push the minimalism curve. The closet now has literally one third of the clothes I used to have. The shoe closet? Reduced 90%!! (Have to admit – I am one step away from my dry cleaner missing their promised date from having a wardrobe disaster!)
The following belong to “It is all about human relationships” category
🙂 Continued with that old habit of running from my second time of year off. Ran in over half a dozen countries. Ran into a hostel mate in Cancun. But the best part? Running with Nikita – the latest runner in our family. She is faster than me. My slow speed never bothered her as much as my insistence on taking a picture together did!
🙂 Speaking of proud moments with daughter, watching Natasha grow up. Just in the last six months, she went to Germany and then Czech Republic by herself. And then went to Ghana. She is there now even as we speak for the next six months. To put this in perspective, first time I got a passport was when I was 10 years older than she is. And nobody in our entire family has ever set their foot on to that dark continent called Africa. Now she has!
🙂 Met so many unique people – remember finding that domestic help from the seventies in that remote village? or finding that farmer – who came in a ragged jacket – no less – who would put me up on his shoulder so that I could pick a tamarind or a mango from the trees in our village when I was not even five years old? finding Steve Martin’s birth place and sending a picture of that house to his mom? so many parents of my friends that I grew up with… that young entrepreneur from Colombia, those security guards and Uber drivers from Ghana and Burkina Faso… what a tapestry of people weaved my life!
And then there was the category of “Keep up with the habits”
🙂 Kept up with the learning cycles – new puzzles, new words, new word origins and lately everything about Africa!
🙂 Finished writing about 42 different gins from 1 different countries. Way too many cocktails. And now on to learning everything about mezcals. Read 6 different books on these subjects.
🙂 Almost completed finding all my elementary, middle school and high school teachers and visiting them. The last one was during Sharmila and my aimless road drive.
🙂 Got lot more disciplined on food and sleep habits.
🙂 Called 3000 people to wish them happy birthday!
🙂 Called my mom and brother daily!
🙂 Played tabla – mostly to our dog Jay Jay, who is not exactly known for his high standards in music!!
🙂 Now, have readers from 132 countries reading my blog!
But there were things I wish I had done better
(o) I ran a lot but not how much I used to run before. Frankly, for the third time in my running career, I find I need some inspiration or goal to push myself.
(o) I never could get myself into mediation. I wanted to. I gave the time. But I have not yet learnt the trick how to control my mind.
(o) I helped a few Year Up students and mentored them. I wish I could spend more time with them. I know they wanted to. And that is a regret I will have.
(o) Similarly, five budding entrepreneurs let me advise them as they built their companies. But I could not spend as much time as I wanted to. Or, as I understand, they wanted me to either. That is another regret I will have.
Nothing was more frustrating than the ones that I missed miserably
🙁 I always wanted to take Sharmila and Nikita for a couple of boat rides in local lakes this summer. Never got even one of them done.
🙁 I tried my best to see how to be a teacher in a high school or an university. I was even willing to do it for free. In spite of my best intentions and a lot of effort, I came to the conclusion that the bureaucracy of the process to do so was so high that I will never be able to get myself there.
🙁 And then there were the life changing events of my dad having a brain stroke and losing his right side of the body and then fighting back to get most of it back. Only to see my very healthy father in law who I was close to move on from this world.
Something good from my failures did come at the end though…
I was very frustrated that I could not get myself in a position to teach high school kids. I wanted to teach Math and Physics.
But I have been able to take that failure and pivot it to the next best thing. I will now be able to combine my wanting to help K-12 kids in school and a little professional ability to run businesses as I move to my next career move. I will join my new set of team mates who are focused not only helping the common student but also in identifying the specially talented ones as well as the ones who have special needs so that every one can have the best education and life for themselves.
Further, my new team mates are focusing on helping detect early signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other mental degeneration … you know like the ones I was spending my hospice hours with.
The year off could not have gotten any better!
The year off could not have ended any better either!!
Please accept my sincere gratitude to all of you who have spent time with me in the last year or encouraged me in my journey in large and small ways (you will be surprised how small things like encouraging comments in Facebook or my blog mean a big thing to me when I read them later).
And wish me luck as I start another new chapter in life with another incredible team.
“Jo bhi dukh yaad na tha, yaad aaya
Aaj kya jaane, kya yaad aaya
Yaad aaya tha bichhadna tera
Phir nahin yaad ke kya yaad aaya.”
Roughly translated…(Avinash, care to take an alternate crack?)…
“All the forgotten sorrows, came back to me today
Who knows what all I remembered today
Memories flooded of your separation from me
I can’t remember what all I remembered after that”