Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I'm not 'Lucky'.......

"Happiness is dependent on success and success depends on luck," said a friend. I didn't agree. Soon the conversation veered to 'what is luck?'

The question was thrown at me and since I had not thought about it I had no answer. I'm no believer in luck. So I sat down and thought it over. The word I would at times use instead of 'lucky' or 'unlucky' was fortunate or unfortunately. A dictionary would tell you 'fortunate' means (n.) Coming by good luck or favorable chance; bringing some good thing not foreseen as certain; presaging happiness; auspicious; as, a fortunate event; a fortunate concurrence of circumstances; a fortunate investment.
(n.) Receiving some unforeseen or unexpected good, or some good which was not dependent on one's own skill or efforts; favored with good fortune; lucky. Look up synonyms and you would have these:Favoured, hopeful, golden, rosy among some others. So where was I not in sync with the word 'Lucky? I don't seriously refer to any good fortune, or unexpected favourable outcome as our being lucky just as I don't tag an unfortunate or disppointing result as unlucky.

I personally believe, what is generally referred to as "luck" is actually 'blessing' from above. I approached the point from my own perspective...luck is nothing because we don't pursue it, we don't work for it, it has no source and it isn't the outcome of anything. It didn't seem to answer the question. I was certainly getting tickled by this one. What I'm saying is, being happy and staying happy is no mean task. And since happiness is in 'being' it cannot be set as a SMART goal to be achieved. Similarly luck is not something that can be acquired. While happiness is in 'being' one cannot in any conceivable way 'be' or 'become' lucky.

I texted a friend: "What is luck? Is it pivotal to success and happiness?"

He replied he would rather go with luck. His rationale was that if he were lucky, success and happiness would follow.

But wasn't that true in the inverse, too. If you were happy, wouldn't you feel better equipped to reach your goals and be successful? Where did luck fit in? It's almost like the question...What would you prefer, an egg today or a hen tomorrow, with arguments that an egg would hatch into a fowl anyways. Well the pros and cons can be thrashed out till kingdom come. This swing makes us try to reach out for both all our lives, like a pendulum in an eternal to and fro motion, sometimes in your grasp, sometimes slipping through your fingers. To misquote a quote....'Blessing (Luck) is the pseudonym God uses when he doesn't want to sign his name.'

Whenever people tell me I am 'lucky' I correct them with , "I'm blessed." Being lucky to me indicates that I have got something which I didn't deserve. Like being born into wealth or royalty. Even these people can not rely on that stroke of luck to sustain them. When one puts in one's best in every way, one leaves the rest to God; on His will. If it has to be, it will be. When one achieves beyond expectations, then to call the person 'lucky' is in some way demeaning. All the person's hard work is trashed and luck is given the credit. On the flip side to tag a hard-working person 'unlucky' would only shrivel the soul and demotivate. William Gaines says it well in these words: "Most of my major disappointments have turned out to be blessings in disguise. So whenever anything bad does happen to me, I kind of sit back and feel, well, if I give this enough time, it’ll turn out that this was good, so I shan’t worry about it too much."

I use the word 'lucky' for those who get what they don't really deserve. When a person gets away with some wrong-doing, then I suppose, to say he is lucky is fitting. (We don't say the person is blessed!!)The person doesn't deserve to get away, but nevertheless has. However, at some point luck runs out. As opposed to this there is no end to blessings.

Often not achieving what we have worked for is a blessing in disguise. Many of us on hindsight, can recall instances where a failure turned into an advantage.One has to look into what one is working towards; whether it is the right direction, and the right time. Making wrong choices, moving in the wrong direction, faulty perceptions will end in nothing. People either approach things the wrong way, or have bad attitudes and blame luck for the bad results. 'Unlucky' is what they say it is. So which ever way one views it luck has to do with unworthiness. Luck is a convenient scapegoat for losers.

It makes it simpler to decide between the two if one would renounce luck and seek blessings. Blessings don't appear as elusive and ephemeral as luck does. I mean one can actually count one's blessings! Blessings can be asked for and received (* conditions apply)The fact that there are rules and conditions signify an entity who has blessings to shower! One doesn't seem to know what to do to get Lady Luck to come a calling. Waiting for luck doesn't even kindle a spark of hope. After all who do you ask for luck and whose is this largesse to distribute? It does nothing to strengthen the spirit, and causes more hopelessness and resignation in those who are not favoured. Whereas, blessings have a giver who we can address. It kindles hope and keeps the spark going. A believer in blessings may be down at times but never beaten. The believer grows stronger with every challenge, and patient in hope and trust. How fulfilling it would be, if we worked towards blessings......give me my blessings any day, it's a package deal........buy one get one free.....happiness with every blessing.

To sum it up in John O'Donohue's words: "If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessings in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love; rather, we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature."

Simple, but sensible. Forget about luck, give your best shot in all endeavours. Even if you fail, you'll be a happy person knowing that you gave it your best and more! Perhaps you're on a divergent course, pursuing the wrong goals. So go get your blessings there's always one at the end of the day for everyone.

Stay Blessed!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hundred Percent Country; Hundred Percent Real

When my father put in his papers for a pre-mature retirement, I was only ten and didn’t understand the implications of moving from a city life and up-bringing, to a small town in Punjab. I was excited because we were going to a new place and for a girl who was a tomboy, well that spelt adventure with a capital ‘A.’

I wasn’t disappointed, three months into our stay in my father’s hometown, the Indo-Pak war rattled my world, my bones and my teeth. I witnessed a dog-fight over our house and the Pak plane go down in flames not too far from our house. Bombings became more real than the II world War stories my father told us. Paratroopers were no figures in the war comics I loved to read. I discovered how real when gunshots went back and forth between them and us. I learned what collaborator meant when a neighbour was under suspicion. I learned what courage was when I saw my grandmother walk through the night with my father as they kept vigil around our boundary walls, while my uncle had his post on the roof with sand bags and his rifle. She would not get into the trench as all of us did, including Grandpa.

Grandma is the one I want to talk about. Her courage and fearlessness was unbelievable. Nothing fazed her. To look at her one wouldn’t believe it. She was five feet, not an ounce of fat, small frame and a shock of snow-white hair. She smoked a hookah openly, and besides all the other activity that kept her busy the whole day, she loved to walk in the garden and talk to the fruit trees.

It was a big garden with many fruit trees. Mango, jamun, sweet lime, mulberry, big green ber, peach, lime, tangerine,Papaya, goonda (we called it “snotty fruit”), kachnar, drumstick, sapodilla...Gulmohar and her favourite flowers May Blossom. I would walk with her from tree to tree, bush to bush and wonder at the way she’d communicate and take care of the plants and trees. She would water the garden all by herself pumping water out of a hand-pump.

She had two favourites among the mangoes. She called one Krishanji Maharaj and the other Jungli. The former was her most favourite. She told me how she christened it. The trunk was very oddly shaped. From the base it branched out in two trunks with one crossed over the other like one would cross ones legs at the ankles. Above two branches grew out and turned slightly in, like two arms and they. It really looked like a person playing a flute. This is why she called it Krishna after the Hindu god. It was quite a leafy tree, and bore the most delicious mangoes in such abundance that it took care of pickles, jams, and chutneys as well.

Jungli got its name from its ‘desi’ species. She explained that it was unkempt, the mangoes had hairy seeds, and weren’t very big in size but they were sweet, very sweet...like most unsophisticated kids. I didn’t understand her of course but I was intrigued that she could talk to plants. She was like someone out of a book. She told me the history of three of the guava trees as she lovingly touched the leaves and patted the trunk. And that’s how I developed a friendship with an amazing guava tree. It bore guavas with red centres on its left branches and white centre ones on the branches on the right! It wasn’t very tall and had strong branches that spread out in all directions. In this tree I would spend many afternoons with a book, a pillow and something to munch if guavas were not in season. Ensconced comfortably between two branches that made a great lounger for me, I’d try to communicate with it like Grandma did.

With fields all around us needless to say we had reptilian visitors like vipers and others. We also had a cobra couple living on the premises. But none of us was ever bitten. Grandma explained that her presence “blinded” the snakes as she was the first-born child. So strong was her belief that indeed I saw snakes just waiting still, while she got up, brought a stick and smashed it. This was magic and Grandma was a magician!

Then the inevitable happened. Grandma died. The garden looked morose. Krishanji Maharaj and Jungli didn’t bear fruit for the first time. The first season most of the trees didn’t bear fruit and those that did bore poor quality fruit. Soon the fruit trees stopped bearing fruit. The tangerine, peaches, guavas, lemon, sweet lime dried up.

That’s when I realised that this was not fiction. It was not something I read in books, this was real. She was real, her beliefs were real, her courage was real, her insouciance in smoking a hookah openly; her sitting down with Grandpa’s friends to a challenge of Pacheesee, her poultry, her dog, and her interest in me, was real. No longer would the garden and her precious trees hear her sing her favourite hymns. No longer would snakes go “blind” for the first-born had gone. It was all so real...


Monday, February 13, 2012

You Sang To Me (Re-posted)

I am going to celebrate Valentine's Day with golden memories, like these!

It all started when I was eighteen, at a dinner hosted by my parents. Mrs Joel had called up to ask if she could bring her brother David along. He had arrived that afternoon to join a new job in our city. My parents said he was welcome.

As the party progressed, the youngsters present began to sing and dance. David joined in. He asked if he could do a solo number and we cheered him on. Soon we were rolling with laughter as he sang the most hilarious parody I had ever heard. That was definitely the first time I 'noticed' him. I never met him again for months, till the big Convention. Mr Joel, who was incharge of the choir was conducting auditions. I didn't think I'd make it but I did get into the sopranos. David was singing bass. Singing practice had never been so enjoyable before.

Then the week-long Convention was over. I got busy with college and David with his job and teaching guitar at weekends. It was some time before I ran into him again.

The Youth Fellowship had to conduct the Sunday service and desperately needed someone to sing bass in the choir. One day to go, no luck. We resigned ourselves to what we had.

Each one of us was assigned some work in preparation for the Sunday Youth Service. I had to see to the flower arrangements on the Altar. The fresh blooms arrived in the evening and by the time I carried the big bunches of flowers into the church, it was already getting dark outside. I'd never been in the church at this hour and looking down at the rows of empty pews, from where I stood on the altar steps, gave me an eerie feeling which I should not have felt considering I was in a church! So I gave myself a mental kick and set to work.

Did I imagine it or was that a guitar I heard ? I turned around slowly. The pews were unoccupied. I looked further, at the Choir Stand - no one. Ghosts ! I thought and then shook myself. Can't be. This was a new building. That was a reassuring argument!! It took all the courage I could muster up, to walk down the aisle and cautiously peer into the Choir Stand. There on a bench, doubled over his guitar was David.

" It's you," I exclaimed more with relief than surprise. " What are you doing here?" I continued. He stopped strumming and raised his head and looked straight at me, he was so handsome and the way he looked at me just took my breath away.

" Playing for you," was the simple reply which got me flustered and at a loss for words.

" Oh," I blurted and turned and walked away, so that he couldn't see the puce colour that was spreading all over my face. What's he doing here was all I could think. He doesn't ever come to church. I walked back and continued with the flowers. He continued to play, and the melody seemed to seek me out as it reverberated off the walls and filled the void. So I was startled when I heard him speak just behind me.

"I see you've almost finished. Can I help you with the bucket?" he said and without waiting for a reply picked up the bucket with the left-over flowers, and walked out. I walked behind in a trance.

That Sunday the Youth Fellowship choir outdid itself with the new bass singer.

It was back to study and exams. I didn't see David for three months. With the exams finished, the Summer holidays loomed over my head in a rather dreary way.

" Would you like to play the guitar ?" asked Daddy.

" Of course, if I could that is," I laughed.

The next day my mother announced that my guitar lessons would be starting on Saturday. I gaped at her.

" Well isn't that what you wanted ? You better be punctual for practice. Mr Joel is very particular," she said.

On Saturday, as I was getting ready to leave for guitar classes, the doorbell rang. David stood there with a guitar case.

" My brother-in-law will not be able to conduct classes for a while, so he has sent me to teach you at home. And here is your new guitar. Can I come in ?"

I realised that we were still at the door. I mumbled an apology and told him to come in.

My heart was beating like a bongo. This Adonis was going to teach me how to play the guitar! It seemed like the entire universe was indeed conspiring to create some magic here.

At some point the guitar lessons took a backseat as our conversations took over. Then it was cycling, walks, movies, sitting in the coffee-shop nursing our coffees that had long turned cold.

A year later David sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song to me on our wedding night.

The years that followed were full of fun, laughter, song and romance that made the ups and downs that much lighter. At every get-together with friends and even at parties David was always asked to sing. He'd pick up the guitar and while he checked the notes and took a while to decide the song he should sing, his eyes would surreptitiously seek me out. This was our little secret and our very special moment. Because wherever David sang, whenever he sang there was always a special song for me. He would catch my eye across a crowded room and silently dedicate his song to me.

And then one day, the angels came.

David joined the heavenly choir above, leaving behind a neverending interlude. How was I to survive in this vacuum, I thought to myself. I needed strength and right then I didn't feel very strong. Neither in mind nor in body. For years he had told me over and over again that I was his strength......now I looked to him to make me strong.

I dredged the past and picked each special moment. Like pearls, one by one I strung them on the thread of melody that had bound us for fifteen years. And as I battled with denial and then depression, I managed to hang on to a sliver of sanity that kept me and my two little boys afloat.

My beautiful string of pearls will always see me through. When despair threatens to drown me, I shall finger each pearl like a rosary.

PS: I still love that old melody he was playing in the church....

Ek ajnabi hasina se, yun mulakaat ho gayi.

Phir kya hua yeh na poochcho, kuch aisi baat ho gayi....

(I happened to meet a beautiful stranger. Don't ask me what happened next, it's hard to explain, it was something like that...)