Who are you? Who am I? I am no one. I am everyone.

Arjun and RC in the sun

A close friend recently asked me, “Who are you?” My first impulse was to say, “What?? What do you mean by who am I?” I am Rutvika, a mother, a businesswoman, a Chartered Accountant blah blah blah. But my friend kept looking into my eyes, searching for something, and I mentally took a step back. I couldn’t answer her then, but this question crops up in my head often now. While doing the most complicated things at work to the most mundane things at home, the question comes and stands before me.

I am a soul. Living this life, enjoying its ups and downs, taking risks, falling committedly in love with people, with things, with ideas; nourishing itself to keep faith in the way things are so as to come back again once this body gives up. These 70-80 years of my life are just a tiny blip in the journey of the soul. 

By now, half of you must have stopped reading, this topic is voodoo. But those of you who are still reading, hear me out.

As a little girl, when the concept of universe was first introduced in school, I was taken aback. All these planets, the sun, the moon, the billion other stars are so huge and have been existing for so long, that a rational non-spiritual mind cannot fathom it. It felt beyond the grasp of reality. The earth is spinning and I can’t feel it? These rocks , rivers, mountains have been here since centuries, our entire existence is merely a moment in their life. We are so inconsequential that we are nothing. And still see how much we take our life seriously. As if it matters.

It doesn’t. Not to the universe.

Everything will go on, whether you are there or you are not there. Whether I exist or I don’t, life will go on. 

But this soul here, he is been living forever. Residing in my body, before that someone else’s and after me in someone else. It feels, it knows. It guides. 

People say babies often remember things which happened in past lives. Arjun used to and still says stuff which couldn’t have possibly happened in this life. Sure, it can be his imagination, but he knows something which is bigger than his 3 year existence on this planet. When we were in Rishikesh on a holiday, he told me that he was bitten by a snake many years back. Or when he was 2, he would go to a corner of the house and say Rukmini-devi is standing here. He wouldn’t let us go near that spot. 

My grandmother, like most Hindus, believes in this stuff of rebirth and souls transcending lives. But most of these people are aiming for “moksha” or avoidance of rebirth. I don’t feel that though. I feel I want to learn as much in this life as much is possible to lead a gracious next life. We live in a world of extremities. On one hand we don’t mind spending several thousand rupees on a two-day holiday, but on the other hand there are people we know who live on a meagre 50 rupees a day. All these kinds of things exist. All the wars, the betrayals, the blood shed, the famines, the joyous moments, births, marriages, victories big and small, all of these are etched into our souls. The black and white, all the grey between, the rainbows and the green of the trees, its been here and you have witnessed it before, in another body, by the same soul.

So who am I ?

I am no one. And I am everyone who has been. I am everyone who will be.

Your father may be reborn as your great-granddaughter. And she will know you. You will know her. We all know each other, and so this question is rhetoric. You and me are same. We are the universe, we are nothing and everything at the same time. 

So now get back to your day, your life, your journey and do good. Be gracious, our soul is going to live on for centuries. 

Cheers,

Rutvika

A renewed fresh perspective

A fresh perspective

A wonderful thing happened to me last week. Two things actually. I got to meet / talk to some of my closest friends and it led to conversations which I was in dire need of. Secondly, I started reading a book that I had read as a teenager. And I see the world and myself in a new light, which used to shine within me when I was a young girl.

Since some time now I have felt like getting in touch with the people who knew me while I was growing up, in my teens and early 20s. And asking them one question. “Was I always such a worrier?”

I am much more confident now, I can be assertive on issues that matter to me, but I am so worried all the time. Worried about the company, the employee who has resigned, worried about the child, about someone dying, about hairloss, Modi-ji’s policies and everything under the sun. I want to know if this was how I used to be or is this something I have picked up along the way? Because as far as I remember, I used to be a fun person. Easy to break into spontaneous laughter and always ready to smile. Now I feel as if I am a tightly strung ball of wool with frayed edges and threads coming out which I am constantly trying to tuck in. The softness, the laughter is hard to come by now.

But not in this week that went by. Two of my best friends from school made me laugh so much that my sides hurt. The restaurant was almost about to throw us out because of the ruckus we were creating. We remembered how we would crackle on silly jokes in school and leap across the room to give a high-five and laugh uncontrollably. Both of them confided that they are as much worried now about everything as I am and perhaps its just this growing up business that sucks. One of them, the chirpiest girl I’ve known said that she hates talking now. Everything feels fake. But that night we talked. We convinced each other that this is a phase and it shall pass. We must keep reminding each other of who we were and of who we are deep within.

Another friend assured me on WhatsApp that I was always “optimistic and looked at the world amidst chaos like you always found the needle in the proverbial haystack”. These words were a balm to me. Chaos is everywhere, why had I forgotten to find my needle of peace?

A little bit of peace was found in Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I was 18 years old when the book came out and it stunned me. I had a purchased a pirated copy somewhere on the street shops of Mumbai, it was missing a few pages, but the message was alive. The words were magical. I dreamt of going to a dessert after reading it. I am reading that one again, from a fresh perspective. It’s a simple book which tells you to believe in chances, in the soul of the world. Of having faith in Maktub, ‘that what is written’. People believe in God, some believe in science, some others in holy men and women. I started believing in destiny. It’s all already written. So many things could have happened if something else had worked out or if something hadn’t worked out. We would be entirely different people if just one thing in life had changed tracks. But this is where we are, for better or worse, this is what is written for us. Now this doesn’t mean we stop working hard towards what we believe in, but its always “Karma kar, phal ki chinta na kar”. Dont worry about something that didn’t happen exactly as you thought it would, but what happened is the best for you. I also know it can get difficult to believe this in times of despair, but I assure you that once you are out of the tunnel, you will see the magic that went through you.

In this glitzy age, more things come to you than you can digest. Fancy places, ground breaking concepts and songs that you can’t make a word of.  It’s like spinning all the time and you can only see everything in a blur.

But I am slowly bringing back things which I cherished and savoured 10 years back. Arjun and I dance to the tune of ‘Chhaiyya chhaiyya’ and those wonderful 90s songs. I have made vow to meet and talk to my old friends more often now. To read my journals from that time and start believing again that “everything happens for the good”.

May you too hear the language of your soul.

Love,

Rutvika

This baby girl, my sous-chef!

Baking with Sara

When my four year old niece Sara came to Mumbai to spend her vacation with us for a month, I was unprepared for the way she would make me fall in love with her. My three year old boy already takes up all of my free time and I was sure that I don’t have room in my mind and my heart for another child, even as an aunt. Work is hectic, we had foreign visitors to entertain, but every evening for the last one week I felt like I should leave work and go back to the kids. Take Arjun and Sara for a ride and get lost in their little world.

For the first day or two after they came, I actively resisted getting drawn in to her magical little being. I felt that I anyway won’t understand her US accent, she doesn’t really know me and would prefer being with her parents and grandparents since she is attached to them much more than me. She speaks only in English and Arjun understands mostly Marathi, I won’t even be able to do anything with them together.

But I was so wrong.

Ever since I remember, I have always wanted two kids, and at-least one daughter. But in a marriage there are two people and eventually the husband and I decided that one child was enough. We should concentrate on Arjun so that we can also focus on the increasing demands of our expanding business. So you see I have a daughter shaped void in my life. I did not know the extent of it till Sara came and snugly fit into it. With her little skirts, and her hair which I love to braid, the quiet understanding way in which she holds my hand when we are in the market, the way in which she sits on my lap and twirls my curls and asks me to paint her toenails and becomes my sous-chef when we are baking cookies, all these little things make up for the lack of a daughter who I always wanted. I love my sonny boy, you know how much I do, but its just different with girls and boys. Your nieces and nephews will always make a special place for themselves in you life.

I have countless memories of me and my younger cousin sitting with my mami, my maternal aunt, while she taught us craftwork, origami, let us play in the mud in the garden for hours and read to us from the Big book of Fairytales every single night before going to bed. She would come home every evening, tired from work, do the house chores and sit with us to satisfy our never ending demands and resolve our squabbles. Last whole week when I sat down with Arjun and Sara sticking pictures in a scrap book or taking them to a restaurant to eat ice-cream, I imagined that I had turned into her. She is miles away, but I felt as if she was standing besides me in the same room and feeling proud of how I had turned out to be. My cousin remembers a different version of our time spent together, a version where the adults in the room were fighting with each other, but my brain has skilfully learnt to mask that story.

When Arjun and Sara grow up, I want them to remember these good times. Remember that they are so loved and that we are always available for them with a hug and unconditional love, no matter where they are. The world is changing like it always does, times are getting stressful, but these kids prevent me from getting drowned in a sea of my cynical worries. And these two little people should also develop a strong connection with each other, to support one another even long after we are gone. Living in two different continents, their backgrounds, cultures will be different. But what hopefully ties them to each other will be the memories. Of the family gathered together, laughing and joking over tea, while they are busy making towers of colourful Lego and learning from each other.

As for Sara and me, we will be best buddies, baking up a storm. Wanna come have a cookie?

A very smitten Aunt,

Rutvika

Finding my own meditation space.

 

A space where I can meditate.

There is a rain-tree in front of me outside the window where I sit and write in my mom’s house. It must be atleast 50 years old, towering six floors. It is my metaphor for life. Sometimes in full bloom, sometimes shedding leaves, the ups and downs resonate with my life too.

I have spent all my childhood study time here at this table, often daydreaming the hours away while looking at that tree, that mamma squirrel scurrying through its branches in search of food, the flaming yellow golden oriole perching itself close to some yellow leaves, the constant hoom-hoom of a Bharadwaj and the crimson forehead of the coppersmith barbet peeping through the green foliage of the leaves. There is so much activity going on there, but its still very peaceful. Very calm. When a sparrow comes and lands on the branch, the leaves dance, the branch sways a little and in just few seconds it regains its composure and stands very still, ready for the next bird to land on it. The squirrel sometimes tiptoes to the end of the branch and I worry that it will slip and fall down, but in the last 15 years, I have never seen that happen. I am sure it never happens, even when I am not looking, not worrying and waiting for her to go back to the stronger branches close to the main trunk.

My friend used to live in that building opposite ours, just behind the tree. Sometimes she would come to the balcony and we would wave at each other. It is quite far away, you can barely communicate with hand gestures, but I could see her smile. I would smile back, suddenly conscious now that she is looking at me. But that feeling of someone out there is looking out for you used to perk up my mood. She is married now and stays somewhere else, but I can still see her mom, doing her own things, oblivious to me watching her in a trance.

The home that I went to after I got married was on the second floor of an old building. Shaded by the branches of tall trees, it used to be very quiet. Then we shifted to another apartment, on the seventh floor. Now we are above all these trees and how we crave for their company!

Sometimes I still come here to my mom’s house just to sit in front of the window. In front of my tree. When work, the child, different opinions in my head make to much noise, I come here and sit. Meditate. Not that type of meditation where you have to forcefully focus on the inhale-exhale, but a more subtle one where you just have to sit and let each thought come, process it and file it away. Eventually the thoughts cease, there is nothing more that can be processed and then you become one. With the silhouette of the pigeon cleaning its feathers, with those powderpuff pink flowers you hadn’t seen earlier, the gracefully arching branches and those tender new leaves, their colour so different from the other leaves.

Every year around December- January, the tree sheds all its leaves. With every breeze, there is a rainfall of leaves. The bare tree makes my soul feel naked. As if a blanket was removed. The sun shines too brightly, the birds fly away, the sticks of the branches feel poky. But then tender new leaves sprout and within a week the tree is loaded. There is slight nip in the otherwise hot Mumbai air, the leaves are fresh, birds start to chirp and life feels full circle.

At times, I worry about the death of that tree. Someday someone will decide to reconstruct the building and chop down trees in the compound for more FSI, or my parents will shift to some other place and I will feel rootless. That space, my zen, my piece of mind are in some way all interconnected. One gets chopped down and I will come crashing down. I was telling this to my business mentor the other day, and he nudged me to work towards creating that space in my head. Imagining things so that my roots are firmly planted in my head. So that the comings and goings of the world wont affect me beyond a certain extent. I find it hard to do. It is easier to worship and have faith in a clay statue of a God rather than worshipping an abstract concept.

But for now I am surrounded by trees and plants and the people I love and need. We are branching out, nesting and growing. Spring cleaning, shedding off unwanted leaves and giving scope for new ideas to take root. And this is all that matters.

Cheers!

Rutvika

When we all turn into clouds.

Arjun contemplating

Every time when someone old is sick, I feel this is the final time I am seeing them. Every time my grandmother calls me I hold on to her words, I feel this is the last time I am talking to her. She is healthy as a horse, takes good care of herself, gives unwanted advice to everyone she meets, insists on them following her advice and in general keeps getting in trouble because of all the questions she asks people which she is not supposed to.

But still, every time I see a call from her number, my heart beat quickens till I hear her voice.

It is strange to have this feeling in your head at all times. It is a cycle of life and death. What is born must die, and yet, it feels as if we are all fighting it every minute. For ourselves and for our loved ones.

When Arjun, my 2.5 year old boy asked me where 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are, I pointed at the sky and told him that they have become clouds now. We can’t see them, but they can see us. Now in this monsoon season, when he sees a dark cloud or a soft white cloud against a grey blue sky, he points at it and asks me who that specific cloud is. I make up some stories and he entertains them. One day last weekend he came to me, held my face in both his hands and then very sincerely told me ‘Momma, please don’t become a cloud when you get old”. I squeezed him and said okay, but actually what I wanted to tell him is that ‘Becoming a cloud after you become old is the best thing to happen, honey.’ But may be he is too little to understand that thing happening to his mom.

And kids can be strange. This idea is stuck in his head and when he sees any really old person, he asks them, ‘When do you think you will become a cloud?’ I quickly change the topic before any more questions are asked, but you can imagine me getting a small panic attack when he starts questioning in that direction.

Last month, I asked my 80 year old grandmother who had gone to meet her dying 83 old brother, “What did you say to him?”. “Nothing”, she told me. “I just stroked his hand and his forehead”. “Thats it? No last words of wisdom from you or from him?” “No. We have just been there forever, what else to say?”

Getting old and then leaving this world is perhaps the best form of dying. Of having lived a life, of knowing that your children, their children are all grown up, that they can take care of themselves without you – that is solace. And I believe in re-birth. In same soul, many lives. So all those who have left us will come back in some other form, in some other person. It helps me navigate the everyday. My husband believes that we are all carbon atoms, there is no soul and there is no re-birth. And this belief makes him stay sane. Well, different things work for different people, but I refuse to believe that my grandmother’s unrelenting, unsolicited advice will leave me and not come back. I am sure she will pass on that baton to someone else, for her sake and for mine.

This week, we will celebrate her 80th birthday. All her sisters will be there too, in the old-age home where she now stays. Me and mom were trying to convince her that we should all go on a holiday to celebrate her 8oth. But she wants to stay put and wants us all to come there. So thats where we all will be, amongst 30 other grannies and grandpas, some of whom we know and some only she knows. Arjun loves it there, so much open space and trees and flowers, he runs around the whole time.

On the other side of the family, Akshay’s grandma also lives very close to us. Arjun is very attached to her. She is 81. In good health, but ageing. Arjun sees all of this. How fortunate he is to love and be loved by three generations, but he will also miss them the most when they are all no more.

But there is no better thing than to grow old and die. May we all have the same fate.

Cheers,

RC