Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Navdurga blooms- Kushmanda

Tagetes patula

The oldest daughter, the responsible one.

Her youth went in settling her brood.

There was nobody to see her bloom,

Hers was what is called an unfulfilled life.


When she should have been chasing her kids,

She was caring for her bedridden mum.

Orange petals caught the rays of the sun,

Teaching her class gave her so much joy.


Her petals shriveled. She retired.

On her 70th birthday, a zoom call-

Her students popped up one by one.

Doctor, architect, politician, mother, teacher.


Each one had done her proud.

Even after a marigold dies,

Each petal grows into a plant.


Kushmanda, the Creator of the Cosmic Egg

Marigold, the Universe is created from her smile

Monday, October 19, 2020

Navdurga Blooms- Chandraghanta


Lilium bulbiferum

“Let it not be a girl”, she prayed.
She had two daughters already,
The next four had been taken away.
“Let it not be a girl” she prayed.
She took a deep breath, and pushed.
One boy, and this torture will end.
It was a girl. Durga born on Navratri.
Something snapped inside her.
She would not give this one up.
“Don’t you dare touch my child”, she cried.
“She’s better than any son.
If you don’t want her, I’ll go away.”

A tiger lily remains a bud for long.
But when she finally unfurls,
You can’t ignore the bloom.
Chandraghanta, the Fearsome One~
Tiger Lily, she fights for her own

Navdurga blooms- Brahmacharini


Nyctanthes arbor-tristis

The night-flowering jasmine wakes up,

Stretches gently and unfurls her petals.

After washing the dishes, and cleaning up,

She pulls out her books and starts to starts to study;

There is an exam tomorrow. She must do well.


The night-flowering jasmine fills her senses,

As she goes through pages of equations.

Nothing matters, except an Education-

That will set her free.


By sunrise, the night-flowering jasmine is ready to let go.

She too puts aside her books, and grabs her pots.

She has a long walk to the village well.

Her feet crush the white and orange carpet.

Beautiful still.


Brahmacharini, the Night-flowering jasmine. She is the Seeker of Knowledge

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Navdurgas Blooms- Shailaputri

Crocus sativus

They call it Jannat. Paradise.

It is the saffron hidden

inside petals of crocus.

The knock on the door. Has the Army

come to take someone away?

The petals that open out one by one.

The wait when someone steps out.

Will they return, or not?

Acres of purple smudge.


At the heart of crocus is the saffron.

The pellet gun injuries.

The lack of connectivity.

The fear. The loss. The agony.

Never knowing what tomorrow will bring.

All real. Real petals.

Covering our resilience.

The precious saffron, our soul.


These Mountains you see.

This is Paradise. This is Home.


Shailaputri, the Daughter of the Mountain.

She resides in Kashmir.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Was this how it was meant to be?

[On the Day of the Girl Child, a few girls share moments from their life.] 

The cold steel blades advance towards her.

Merciless. “I don’t want to die”, she screams.

Her shrieks echo off the walls of the womb.


Firm hands grip her head, and ease her out.

Gently. The touch changes. “It’s a girl”,

A voice snarls, dropping her in disgust.


She wakes up from the dark. Something soft

Pressed against her. “I can’t breathe”,

She thinks before slipping back into the black.


Dizzy with hunger, her eyes are fixed on the bread.

One piece. She wants just one piece.

Her brother grabs it. She will sleep hungry again tonight.


Chocolate. She hats chocolate. Chocolates are secret.

‘Uncle shouldn’t tell mother what she did.’

She takes the chocolate. Good girls always smile.


She smiles. Her clothes are itchy. She smiles.

Yesterday, she was going to school. Today she is married.

“It is for your own good”, she’s been told.


She married him in a temple; one he can enter.

They ran away. Started life together.

Her brother found them. Raised his sword. She shut her eyes.


Pain. Excruciating pain. Flashes of faces.

Men entering. Leaving. Laughter. Kerosene. Pain.

Through the flames, her last thought-


“Was this how it was meant to be?”

Saturday, October 10, 2020

I Am Not Okay

[On #MentalHealthDay, let us acknowledge that it is okay to not be okay.]

The last few months have been difficult for most of us.

The stories of bodies piled up in hospitals waiting for mass disposal, of obituary pages thicker than Sunday supplements, of hospitals having one ventilator for five patients that needed it. A virus as deadly as Nipah, but as contagious as the flu, struck fear of a kind we had not dealt with before.

The suddenness and completeness of the lockdown made it worse. We were completely cut off from the routine of daily life. Many were cut off completely from human interaction. Others were stuck far from home. All worried about loved ones who were far away. We struggled to hold it together, physically and mentally.

There were job losses and salary cuts. People were learning to manage without household help. Balancing work and home was particularly difficult for women.

To add to all that were the images of migrants streaming homewards. For perhaps the first time, the middle class was exposed to the plight of migrants, who had, till then, been largely invisible. We felt anger and helplessness. We also felt guilty about thinking of ourselves when others were so much worse off than us.

All of this took a toll on our mental health, but most were not able or willing to acknowledge it. 

I still remember the silence that greeted me when I wrote in our office WhatsApp group that I was not in a good position mentally, and needed a couple of days off try and get myself sorted. I almost wondered if I should have made up some physical ailment instead of confessing that I was not able to function mentally. But in retrospect, I am glad I did not choose the easy way out. By acknowledging my weakness, I made it easier for others to accept that it is hard to not be affected by things going on around us.

The last few months also showed us how difficult it is to know when someone really needs our help. A few weeks into the Lockdown, a friend was devastated because a relative died by suicide. “But I never even knew”, she wailed. “I even spoke to her a few days back. She was perfectly fine.”

None of us is ‘perfectly fine’. We are all different degrees of broken. But regardless of whether we wear a surgical mask when we go out or not, we rarely forget to don the mask that hides our mental state.

A routine “how are you?” always gets a “I am fine”, or “couldn’t be better.” I have given that answer myself, before interjecting the subsequent conversation with a “no, who am I kidding. I am not fine. But I will get over it. Do I have a choice except to?”

We have no choice but to proactively reach out to people we care about. Merely asking how they are isn’t sufficient, we need to look out for signs they may need mental support. At the same time, we have to train ourselves to seek support if we need it ourselves. Neither is easy, but both are necessary.

Laying down the mask is hard, particularly if you fear you will be judged. In this, perhaps, women fared better than men.

Men are corralled in by far more expectations than women. They are taught that it is weak and unmanly to confess to an emotional void. They are expected to not display emotion, and they are required to act mentally strong. All of which makes it much harder for them to seek the help they need.

One positive fall-out of the last few months is that people are a little more amenable to speaking about their mental health. It is still considered taboo in most circles. It is still stigmatized in others. But things are changing, however slowly.

Till then, let’s watch out for each other. Let’s reach out when we need help, and let’s reach out when we suspect someone else needs help. And let us acknowledge that it is okay to not be okay, and to take time off to let ourselves heal.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Never give up on anyone

 Two years back, when I returned from a work trip, I found my mother had thrown out my plumeria.

“That plant is dead. You are just clinging onto it because you are too lazy to throw it out”, she chided when I asked her why she’d thrown out a perfectly good plant.

To be honest, she wasn’t entirely wrong. I am too lazy to weed or prune, and I almost never give a plant up for dead. The plants in my garden thrive on neglect and hope. And in this case, I had hope that, though it had shed all its leaves, the plumeria still had life left in it.

I sneaked the plant back in, and kept watering it. It appeared dead, but I insisted it was just dormant, and six months later, it proved me right by letting out two leaves.

A year back, we moved homes, and with much more direct sunlight, the plant thrived.

“You are lucky to have inherited your Patti’s green fingers”, my mother told me when she last visited us. I didn’t tell her the plant with the glossy leaves in front of her was the same one that she had given up on.


A couple of weeks back, the plant gave out buds. Plants often give buds but don’t bloom, so though I hoped for a couple of flowers, I didn’t get my hopes up. I knew I would continue to love the plant even if the buds dried up the way they often do.

But this plant is a survivor. It had to show me what it was capable of.


This may be the only time the plant flowers. Or this may be the first of many flowering seasons. But one thing I know.

Whether it is plants or people- never give up on them.


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