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Friday, November 17, 2017

On Mummy - A month later

With Mummy and Pop- Nov 2014

Its the 17th of November and a month since Mummy left us.

A month in which I've tried everything possible to deal with the grief that has followed- succeeding sometimes but failing more often. The tears can and will come anytime -It could be while having a cup of 'elaichi' tea, looking at my phone at 730 pm,desperately  hoping that it will ring and the phone screen will show 'Mummy' (for thats the time she would call me) or while looking out at the flowers that are now blooming in the garden, or the chair that she would sit in whenever she came over to our place, or putting her shawl over my knees while watching TV-touching and feeling it over and over again to get a sense and feel, possibly a whiff of her...

The mind wanders and constantly asks questions



Sometimes that grief turns to anger as I question medical science, sometimes myself for not spending as much time with her as I should have in her last days - but my mind responds with-"How could you have known that she would go?"

So thats when I realise that this is going to be a long , possibly very long cycle and I must do something about it- then manage to locate  this quotation that seems to be the answer to my immediate problem.

"Grief starts to become indulgent, it doesn't serve anyone and its painful.But if you transform it into remembrance then you're magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to others so that they can experience something of that person." ( Patti Smith)

Theres no doubt that dealing with the passing  of a loved one is probably the hardest thing that a person faces in life. And the most important step to be taken to complete that journey is that of closure. The word ‘closure’ itself comes from the Latin word 'clausura' meaning a finish or conclusion and that’s where the key lies.

Of course, some of us would like to be able to camp out in shock and denial forever, but in time, the shock wears off and reality sets in. We need to figure out a way to restore meaning and purpose to our lives and to re-engage with the process of living as well as try and to open our shattered hearts.

Well reputed grief counsellors have another constructive suggestion. They suggest that a good way to deal with it might be to write down what one remembers about the person.  Noting  one’s thoughts about that person will help.

This may prove to be difficult for some people, but this will also help to let one’s feelings and thoughts out. In today’s world there are so many options available, try writing a journal, blog or if one doesn’t want to share it with anyone, nothing works better than a good old fashioned diary.

I'm certainly going to try that - add to which I have possibly the most extensive photograph collection amongst most people I know- who knows what may come out of all this- a book on Mummy perhaps? 

 Neha with Mummy on her last birthday- 11th May 2017

With Mummy Nov 2016

And for all those who are going through the same pain as we are, they should  try to begin a new chapter in life, which is probably the most difficult step. One may never be able to erase one’s memories of the departed, but that is not the intention.
However, at some stage, the people left behind need to begin to move on. Remembering the happy moments is probably one of the best ways to do that and here's one such happy pic from our life in Meerut decades ago.

Memories of another day At our home in Meerut

To close, here's a lovely quote by Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love - ‘The day is ending, it's time for something that was beautiful to turn into something else that is beautiful. Now let go.’

I hope I get there someday......

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mummy -Our very own Guardian Angel

Mummy and me- March 2015

Mummy left us two weeks ago and with that life changed forever.

Grief lies coiled like a snake at the pit of my stomach and rears its head at any point of the day or night.

I try to control it momentarily, and succeed at times. But mostly fail as it works it's way up into my head and then spills out of my eyes.

I cry until it has passed, then steel myself.
Until it begins again, then I allow myself the luxury of the hot tears 

as Mummy would have wanted me to.

My grandmother, Mataji, Mrs Rajinder Kaur Sodhi,   passed away in 1991 and  Mummy who had a very special bond with her had to deal with the same loss and battle the same grief that we are grappling with right now. And in her own inimitable way, she handled it as magnificently as she handled so many other issues in her life, most of them being health related.
Mataji, Mummy and me

Born with a golden spoon in her mouth, Mummy, fondly called Biba, was the eldest child of Sodhi Mahinder Singh and  Mrs Rajinder Kaur. Landed gentry, based in Ferozepur, Punjab, and direct descendants of Guru Gobind Singh Ji from my grandfather's side, they were an extremely progressive couple who firmly believed that education was the best gift they could give their children. Accordingly, my mother was sent to Tara Hall, 
( Loreto) Shimla, while her two brothers, Manjit and Baljit went to Col Browns and Doon School in Dehradoon.

Excelling in academics as well as games, my mother enjoyed the unique distinction of being appointed Head Girl as well  as Sports Captain of the school in her final year. Many years later, my brother Navtej and myself were thrilled to see her name on the Honour Roll of the school and had the opportunity to meet and interact with a couple of Irish nuns who had taught Mummy and regaled us with some delightful snippets about her school days.

With a deeply religious bent of mind, Mummy believed strongly in all religions but her personal favourites were Christianity  as well as Sikhism, the religion that she was born into.Queen Elizabeth and Elizabeth Taylor were as much her favourite celebrities as were Suraiya and Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. As for the actors, Dharmendra won hands down followed closely by Dev Anand. 

With a delightfully husky voice, Mummy learnt the basics of Shastriya Sangeet and some Kathak as well. Years later and much to our amazement, remnants of her Kathak training remained well instilled, she could still lift her eyebrows one by one and and enjoyed sharing little snippets of her life with all of us.

College was at Lady Irwin, New Delhi where she studied Home Science with a precision that only she was capable of. However, a meeting with my father, Harnam Singh Serna, a handsome and dashing Probationary Officer in the Income Tax was to have far reaching consequences and having got married in Feb 1959, resulted in a magnificent partnership of 58 years. In fact, my mother's fervent desire particularly in her last year was to die a 'Suhagan' ( still married) and as  it happened, that was exactly God's plan too.   

My parents- July 2016

Mummy- Early 2013, shortly before her surgery

I couldn't  help but marvel at her positive outlook and zest for life. Despite the fact that she had severe arthritis, spondylitis and numerous other health related concerns for the last many years, she was always smiling, positive and interested in what other people were involved with - their dreams, their aspirations and forever ready to share her immense knowledge if the other person was positively inclined.
Another very significant aspect of my mother's life was her extremely well developed intuitive abilities as well as her remarkable sixth sense. While there are many amazing stories of her insights into things that were about to ( and eventually did happen) her relationship with her mother, Mataji, (particularly after her passing) remained as strong as ever. Over the years, Mummy told us about  are numerous instances when Mataji came to her and helped her and in this piece I am sharing an article I wrote in Nov 2013.

"Mummy came back home yesterday after a 15 day stay at Medanta the Medicity, in Gurgaon.

It was a moment to cherish forever and as the ambulance brought her back home, she smiled, looked up at her home, said 'Satnam Shri Waheguru" and then just as she came in, "Home is where the heart is." We couldn't agree more!

Thankfully, the surgery went off well but it was the post op complications that kept her in the hospital a week longer than all of us had planned.But that extra week is what has taught all of us the power of patience and belief in what a combination of a good hospital, good after care, a great team of doctors and nursing staff and so much more. It has also taught us that there is a certain pace to everything and that try and wish as we might, people will heal only at the pace that they can.

It has  also convinced me more than ever before that our guardian angels are always there for us and they are also the ones that keep our mind, body and spirits strong as well give us hope for the future. And this little story will tell you exactly what I mean.

As Mummy tells me, after the five and a half hour surgery, she was moved from the OT to the Post Op room till she regained consciousness. (It is only after this that the patient is moved to the ICU)

It was then that she had this sleeping- waking dream which was  so real that she actually felt warm, safe and comfortable. It was a crowded place with many people milling around. Mummy says it was as though she was looking down at the scene and felt as if she was searching for something, or was it someone?

Some time later, she saw exactly who it was. Mataji, her mum, was sitting in the middle of the crowd and dealing firmly with hordes of people who seemed to be running towards  the opposite direction. In fact, a few of them even told her to leave that place as soon as possible for there was something not quite right there. It was then that Mummy saw Mataji stand up and deal with that situation as firmly as she dealt with many  things in her life. Telling all of them to carry on in the direction that they were heading towards and firmly standing her ground against a few who seemed as if they would sweep her off with them, she said in a loud voice.

"Cant you see, there's no way that I can leave this spot? My daughter is lying ill in bed there and I will wait until she has recovered."

At that, the crowd moved on and she sat alone, waiting.

And some time later, Mummy recovered full consciousness, knowing that her guardian angel had been there for her.

Yet again.... 

It all felt so real.'" she said and I believed her.



My parents with my husband Avi and daughter Neha

Mummy with my brother Navtej- Nov 2015

Cut to a few days back- the 20th of Sep to be precise- Mummy was in a hospital room at Fortis Escorts and having been in and out of ICU's four times already this year, was hoping to be discharged in the next couple of days. She had been very quiet for a while so I decided to start  a conversation.

"We haven't talked about Mataji for a while, Mummy. Do you still see her now and then?"

Her response- "She's with me all the time. In fact, right now, she's sleeping next to me." Then patting the left side of her bed, she smiled gently.

I sat there silent, wondering what that meant.

Three weeks later, I knew- Mataji had been with her daughter through her last weeks and had then taken her back to be with her forever and ever.

I'm equally certain that just like her own mother, Mummy is now our guardian angel. Last evening something that we had all been dealing with for over a year finally came to a close. Even though Mummy isn't physically there with us to share it, she is smiling down at all of us from up above and with that thought, I know that we will be able to deal with the aching void that she has left behind.

Then I realise that she is now a part of every breath I take and of every thought I think.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sheer Coincidence or divine intervention?

Say you decide to take the Shatabdi Express from New Delhi station to Chandigarh, something that you've done at least a hundred times earlier.But this time, there's a real difference. For just after you've boarded the train and reach out for your wallet to pay the Coolie, you realise that you've been pick pocketed.

Far more important than the money you've lost are your ID cards, particularly those related to Health and Insurance, which might take upto six months be re-made.

But then you console yourself.and finally shrugging your shoulders, you tell yourself that it could have been far worse.And then you carry on with your way of life and living.Exactly two days later, your front door bell rings and standing there, are three young schoolboys. After having introduced themselves, they hand over your wallet...which is now much lighter, but still has ALL YOUR 6 ID cards.

Looking at your open mouthed surprise, they decide to enlighten you. They were on a school trip to Delhi Zoo and saw this wallet thrown in a bin just ahead of the monkey's cages.

So they did simply what they thought they must..And brought it back to you.

Image courtesy- Flipkart

Now this would be a story that I would find hard to believe, but i did. For it was told to us by my own father in law, some time back, who is delighted with this sheer coincidence.

Or I'm left wondering...Should I re-phrase it as 'Divine intervention'?

PS- I'm repeating this Blog post, but thought it needed to be done...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Air Marshal Arjan Singh and memories of how my father inspired my love of storytelling, reading and writing

 Arjan Singh, Marshal of the Indian Air Force

( IAF) and India's oldest, five-star ranked air force officer, died at 7.47pm on Saturday after suffering a heart attack. He was 98.

After hearing this news, a flood of memories welled up and this is a particularly relevant piece that  I would like to share with all of you again.

Ever since people began to communicate with each other, "Tell me a story" has been a request of both children and adults. For there is something absolutely fascinating about sitting around and listening to words which come out of someone else’s mouth and trying to put picture associations to those same words. Then finding oneself transported into a the fantasy land which might comprise anything as far removed as fairies, trolls and goblins to the more real adventures of Arabia, World War Two exploits or then the cold war and the numerous real and imaginary spy stories that it generated over the years. 

Miles and miles of flowers and memories

While listening to stories from almost anyone is good enough for a child whose mind is probably the most curious and absorbent thing in the whole wide world, there is a special charm in asking one’s own parents to tell a story. Like I always did, with my father and do so, right till today, when the two of us get a chance to spend some quality time together.

As children, almost every night for many, many years, whenever we could manage, my brother and myself would wait for him to tell us one of his enthralling tales. I don't know how he did it, but all his stories, whether based on real life incidents or a creation of his imagination, were very exciting, taking us into a whole new world, where we could actually almost see and experience all that he used to talk about. Which is exactly where I started from, that very great pleasure that a child gets when ‘visualising’ what is being told. It is also a matter of great credit to the storyteller for being able to generate such a response in a young and impressionable mind and this is something for which I’m able to give credit to my father only in retrospect.

Particularly memorable were his stories about Air Marshal Arjan Singh (who was obviously one of my dad's heroes)and some of his daredevil missions in the skies, Naval stories, particularly those set in the INS Vikrant and all the exciting and adventurous things that things people did on board. Then there were the stories which taught us all about our history, culture, tradition, valour along with great things that people had done and achieved in this world. These were the stories about people like Guru Gobind Singh, Shivaji Maratha, Rani Laxmibai and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Helen Keller.

Then of course, there were the funny stories, which consisted of make believe characters and an extended storyline where the four of us as a family would get involved in their lives and adventures. The real beauty of these tales were that these were a never ending saga and could go on and on endlessly, taking right up from where it had been left off the last time around as there was no defined beginning or an end to these.

Keeping both of us enthralled for hours and hours on end, then after one got over, repeatedly begging him, "Pop, one more, just one more" which he would always, always, always oblige.

Time passed and I became a mother. Of a very bright child with an equally hungry mind. One who demanded “Tell me a story” whenever she wanted to hear one. So that I learnt to delve into the inner recesses of my mind and pull out some of those I remembered my father telling me and when I ran out of those I learnt to improvise, just as I remembered him doing. Creating some characters with whom the family travelled together, went on adventurous trips with and did a whole lot of fun stuff. One of the characters who became an all time favourite with my daughter was a little monkey who I called ‘Pikoo’ and one who went wherever my mind decided to take him. Alternately, wherever my daughter wanted him to go and so began the next generation saga along with a new series of never ending tales.

Today, as I'm reminded of those days, I'd like to take this opportunity to say “Thank You Pop, for that's where I really learnt my love of storytelling and now that of writing stories. I loved your stories then and love them even more now.”

I close with a beautiful line by Melody Beattie, “Live from your heart, and share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal"

Note-This is a piece originally written for my column 'My Take' in the Muscat Daily two years ago.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Passion for Photography

   The Indian Blogger Awards 2017

Someone once famously said, ”A picture speaks more than a thousand words and I couldn’t agree more! In the last couple of years I find that photography has grown from a mere hobby to an all consuming passion and I clearly realize that some of my happiest moments are those when I am looking through the lens of my camera. And if I was to stretch that logic just a little bit further, then I would also have to include the moments when I get to download all the photographs taken, followed by the next hour or sometimes even two, that it takes me to satisfy myself that every picture taken is ‘just so’!

Misfat- heaven on earth

Some of my photography expeditions are solitary ones when I click pretty much whatever catches my fancy. It might be something as simple as the seagulls at the Corniche or the varying colours of the sea from one day to the next. Then of course, we have the more structured group expeditions when a few like minded people belonging to one of the photography groups in the city set out for the day. These trips could entail a substantial amount of driving time and take us to places as far as Jabal Akhdar, or then again, to one of the many forts or ‘wadis’ which could be located much closer. While on the subject, I’d like to add that a lot of the fun on these trips comes from the shared bond, which in this case, simply boils down to a genuine love of photography. The other great aspect is that we are very fortunate to be living in Oman, a country which provides people the best possible locations and terrain for all kinds of photography and then some!

One learns very quickly how to behave and act in unfamiliar surroundings. And coming on top of the list is good ‘old fashioned courtesy’, something which can really get a person miles ahead. So what I’ve learnt to do in the course of my wanderings across the hamlets and villages here in Oman is to politely check with the person concerned every time I wish to click a photograph. More so if it involves an older person or a lady as that’s the only way one can possibly do it. There's a particularly interesting phrase that really does the trick, "Mumkin Sura?" (i.e ‘May I click your photograph)? And as I’ve learnt through experience, if you ask, the most likely answer will be a firm “Yes.”

Of some shoots that readily come to mind, one happened to be on the day that I spotted a young man on a lovely morning at the beach. Experience tells us that one of the easiest ways to understand the true meaning of real happiness” is to watch a person's body language. And it gets even better if one is able to capture that moment forever. That day I was lucky for I managed to do just that. He was so happy and I was so happy just watching him.

Then I clicked and hey presto! There it was, an almost perfect shot with the man’s arms upraised and his face looking up a the sky. And there it still remains, frozen till eternity.

The Matrah Souq in Muscat is one of the most delightfully quaint places that one could possibly find. A true amalgamation of the best of sights, sounds and smells, this is one of my favorite places to head to. Reminiscent in many ways of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, the walk leads one through twisting and turning lanes, by-lanes and alleys, each one revealing more and more interesting sights. Silver, coffee, spices, cloth, household goods, all of these and more are available here, and can really make some great gifts. Topping it all, it is clearly a photographer’s delight. Try it once if you haven’t done so already, I guarantee that you will come back for more.

Looking across- Riyam Hill

 What is the real reward of climbing a right to the top of a hill or a mountain top? A view to die for perhaps? Then going across to the other side of the hill, forgetting one’s your aching bones, which have been steadily at it for the last one hour? All of which has been uphill. Then getting to see the beautiful harbour at twilight.

I did this trek up the Riyam hill last year and would do it, again and again! For the best was yet to come. The day as it turned to night, unforgettable moments when all I could see was the vast expanse all around me, the sea and the twinkling lights. Or was it quite simply, a slice of heaven?

And to close, here’s a line that really sums it all. “You don't take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it.” (Anon.)

NB- This piece was originally written for 'My Take' in Muscat Daily

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Turning Point- A short story

Nitin and Varsha were invited to Sulekha's birthday party.
Sulekha was Varsha's 'forever' best friend and the party was something that was bound to be a fun affair. Starting off as a leisurely lunch on a Sunday, it was meant to progress on  to tea and who knew, the possibility of the cocktail hour loomed large as an exciting prospect as well.

But things don't really change very much and  as it happened, today was no different. Nitin was ready, dressed in his 'Sunday best' while Varsha was still in her nightgown.True, she had already bathed and her clothes lay neatly on the bed. Nails varnished and make up applied, all she had to do was change, run a brush through her hair and she would be ready to leave.But what about all the household chores?  There was a mountain of laundry to be tackled, she had to sort out all their clothes for next week's ironing and the groceries had yet to be ordered.

Suddenly it was all too much for her and Varsha felt overwhelmed. The last week at work had been really tough, she had completed a very tough assignment and handed it over to her boss who had taken a cursory look at it and in a few words, told her it wasn't upto scratch. Net result- she would have to go in tomorrow and start it all she had all over again. To top that, she had the beginnings of a splitting headache and despite the painkiller she had just taken it seemed to be building up.

And how!

"I really must lie down for 15 minutes", she thought. It was just past 10 and they had to leave by 1230 in order to get to Sulekha's place in Andheri East.

The thought had barely crossed her mind when she did exactly that. Five  minutes later, or was it just two, she was lying in her soft, and comfortable bed. 

Fast asleep...


"Hey Varsha, we will be late", called out Nitin from where he was busy watching the IPL unfold on television. 

"Come on, lets leave soon Varsha"

"Or at least as soon as you get ready."

 No response...

Another beer and 15 minutes later there was still no response and that was when Nitin decided it was high time to look into the matter. Driving to Andheri wasn't going to b e easy, even on a Sunday and he wanted to be sure they made a whole day of it.After all, it was the weekend, wasn't it?

Grumbling under his breath, he went towards the bedroom, everything was silent.

"What the"? he muttered and opened the door.

Looked in and saw Varsha stretched out on the bed.

Fast asleep.

Looking around, he could clearly see the signs of all her work in progress. The laundry basket with the dirty clothes, neatly separated into whites and coloureds lay on one side while another basket held the clothes that clearly needed to be ironed.

And Varsha looked so small..and very tired.

He felt his heart melting and in that split second, he realised what a male chauvinist pig he was! In the two years that they had been married, she had borne the brunt of running the household, He was ashamed to recall, the many, many times 
( just like today) when he had treated his "weekend" as sacrosanct and made the most of his time off.

" Chilling out" he called it- a couple of beers, good sex with Varsha followed by the evening out. And to him, it was all perfect- Time out for both of them. 

But something had to must change now,he told himself sternly. 

He wasn't going to be his father all over again.

Sitting with his feet up and relaxing while his mother, also a Professor at a leading women's college, worked hard through the week and then worked hard during her weekend as well. Cooking, cleaning and getting the house organised for all of them.




"Oh God, have I been sleeping"? Varsha woke up with a start.

She felt rested but she also felt worried. She still had to tackle the laundry, the ironing... 


Looking around, she could see that something was different. The room was neat and there was no sign of the piles she had made some time ago.

And what was that sound? 

Could it possibly be...?

the washing machine?

That was when she saw Nitin come into the room. Very quietly so that he wouldn't disturb her.

"Oh you're awake? I hope I didn't...?"

And in a flash, Varsha understood.

Understood why everything looked so neat and clean.And why she could hear the sound of the washing machine in the background.

It was all because of Nitin.


Coming up to her, Nitin stretched out his arms and drew her in gently.

"I'm sorry," he said.

She could see the glint of tears in his eyes and knew that it was a turning point.

Life had changed for them today.

And she was convinced, life was going to stay that way.