A little prayer , a little faith

One good thing that has happened in the lockdown is that every evening, at dusk, tinhi-saanj, all of us in the house assemble near the little mandir in our house, light a ghee lamp and say the evening prayers. Invariably, without fail since the last 5 months, and we hope to continue even as we resume offices and our exterior lives. It has helped us stay together, and have belief in something which is unseen but still there, steady as a rock since last many centuries. Human faith.

In the end it all comes down to belief. Long time back I had seen a film based on the story by O. Henry , The last leaf. Back then I had not known about this original story, just the Doordarshan adaptation of it called Kathasagar. The young woman who is suffering from depression feels her life is getting wilted away day by day just like the leaves of a plant in her window falling off. Her neighbour, a drunk painter realises it and then just as the last leaf is about to fall off on a stormy night, he goes there and paints a realistic looking leaf. The next morning when the girl sees it she is filled with a spring of hope and comes out of the misery. I must have been 7-8 when I saw this short film and it stayed with me for years to come. This was a placebo effect, a figment of imagination which is possible only if you have faith. The woman, who presumes she will die as the last leaf falls off, wakes up to see the leaf still hanging on to the climber and her life force renews itself and she eventually snaps out of the depression.

I have always believed that the mind is the most powerful machine , most tenacious but wild organ in our body. It can be tamed into whatever we want but it is easily convinced by negative thoughts and sways over to a rogue side throwing caution to the wind. But it can be nurtured into believing what we want it to believe.

As kids, my brother and I used to have periodic attacks of bronchitis. After a few months of allopathy, we moved on to a homeopathic doctor who lived 3 hours away, in the city where my mama-mami, maternal side of my mom’s family lives. After examining us a few times, he later started prescribing little balls of sugar medicine to us on the phone and my dad would buy it at the local pharmacist and we would feel better in 2-3 doses. Now, modern medicine looks down on homeopathic medicine, but something in the whole process definitely worked for us. Talking to doctor kaka on the phone, being reassured by him in his gentle yet firm voice, ‘take two doses, you will be fit and fine’, switched on the self healing mechanism in our brain. Now does that mean I will still go to him for getting surgery if required? Of course not, that will have to be done by a surgeon, but I will still talk to him to get some sugar coated pills to heal faster. And I will, because my brain, my mind believes in it.

The family I am married into is mostly atheist. We have a small mandir with about 4/5 little murtis collected over the years. The regular ones which you find in any Maharashtrian household, Ganpati Bappa , Shankarachi Pind, Bal Krishna, Annapurna Devi, and a shankha on a silver stand and betel nut. When my son was younger, he would often take all the little idols and make a lego mandir for them. Decorate it with flowers. So we are not really big on rituals and prayers, but culturally the act of folding our hands and saying a prayer in from of an oil lamp is ingrained in our being.

Growing up, my father used to make me and my brother come home before 7.30 each evening, wash up, change into home clothes and then sit down to pray. We would say the shubaham karoti , ramraksha and maruti stotra every evening. I was a devout little follower of my dad and since early on I used to take great effort in pleasing everyone around. My brother used to hate it and sitting there for 10 minutes till we finished saying all of this used to be pure torture to him. He would sigh and huff and puff but did not have enough courage to openly rebel against my dad. And I had wicked pleasure in making him do something he did not want to do.
Looking back, those were some of the best moments in life. The fragrance of the incense stick still soothes me, the reverberations of the ramraksha still calm my frayed nerves and give me an intangible but a very strong rope to hold on to when I am at the end of my tether.

When my son grows up and has his own challenges, I want him to remember how to self soothe, calm down by himself and see a way forward. There are many ways to do this: philosophy, conversations with loved ones, deep seated belief in hard work etc. One of the key things I want to give him as a parent is the practice to quieten, to be still , to focus on a prayer or a chant or something of meaning that helps the wavering mind to relax. And if he doesn’t find the words or the vibrations of the prayer of any help, I hope he atleast remembers his family and how much the family loves him, and I hope that gives him mental clarity to see through the problems.



Mad-O-Wat? Not really.

Last week a little dream of mine, that I had harboured since I was 15, shattered. Atleast for a while.

According to news article , Sapna Bhavnani has closed her salon Mad-o-wat. The covid19 shutdown, loss of income and the high rent in Bandra forced her to shut her shop for now. It came as a shock to me, because for the last 20 years I have nurtured a dream to go there and get a haircut from her.

My hair has always been so curly and so unruly. Before I found the Curly Girl (CG) Method, and stopped using harsh chemical based shampoos, my hair used to be one tangled mass of hair, chidiya ka ghosla. In school if I had left my hair down in a ponytail instead of the two tight plaits, someone would throw little paper balls in my hair and it would stay there till I combed it the next day. I was subject to being called “Maggi” “Sathya saibaba” etc etc. And so I have always dreamed of finding the one hairstylist who would cure my hair into something more sexy, more charming. But that was not to be. Any hair stylist I went to would suggest to straighten my hair, till then they would disdainfully pick up a lock of hair and pronounce it “dead”, this hair cant be turned into anything pretty. Dreams crushed and heart broken.

But I felt Sapna Bhavnani would be able to work her magic on my hair. The tattooed bold stylist full of oomph was the cure to my malady. I was also majorly in love with her writing. She used to write in Sunday Mid-day about her life, being a woman, dating, her bikes and tattoos and S-E-X and I had read nothing like that as a 19 year old. I wanted to be her, I would look forward to her article every Sunday. 2006/2007 was a time of paper newspapers and I had to wait for my father to come home from his night-shift as a police officer, and hope that he would buy the very sensationalist tabloid Mid-day, a paper published only in Mumbai. Remember Mid-day? It also used to have Mid-day mate, the only place to see a woman in a bikini so casually in those times. I would wolf it down and day-dream the rest of the day. Not the mid-day mate but the article and Sapna Bhavnani’a words. Later when I started travelling out of Mumbai for work, and this paper won’t be available in any other city, my then (boy)friend would buy the paper and keep it for me. It was more precious to me than roses or chocolates or whatever.

But I never went to the salon. It was not affordable to go to Bandra from Mulund all the way to get an expensive haircut, and anyway no-one realises that I have had a haircut, my hair always looks the same. So I didn’t go. Later on, I straightened my hair, then turned to the CG method and wear my curls proudly since last 4 years, but Mad-O-Wat is now closed.

It’s so strange how we keep postponing something for later and then the thing never happens. I was always fond of quotes since childhood and one of my favourite ones was inscribed on a bookmark that came with Lonely Planet magazine. “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” I used this adage to do a lot of other things unbeknownst to my parents, but I still regret the ones I didn’t do.

My grandma wanted to go and have a meal at The Taj in Nariman Point. Again, earlier it was not affordable, then we got so busy building our career to earn the money to be able to afford such things, that we got real busy and never got time to do these things. Grandmum got bedridden for a year and then passed away in 2011. Since then I have had countless meals at The Taj, mostly with foreign business visitors, but every time I go there, I feel a pang of guilt for not having brought her here.

May be that’s why people make bucket lists. But what about silly little things that you want to do like a haircut or meal in a fancy restaurant, will these also go in the bucket list? Or are these just wishful thinking thoughts? If we write down every little thing that we want to do at least once in a lifetime, the bucket list will run into eighteen pages, front and back.

But better to have a long list and work on ticking it off than be filled with disappointment for the things we didn’t do or didn’t remember to do at the right time.

What say?


P.s : I later met Sapna Bhavnani at a Feminist Rani conference and had stardust sprinkled on me.

The resilience of everyday things

When I sit in the balcony of our house, I see one older woman in the building diagonally opposite to us. She is going on about her daily work , her details visible only when she comes near the window. Folding plastic bags neatly into a small rectangle and keeping it under the bed so it flattens out, watering the single but splendidly fresh plant in the window, sorting through sprouted pulses looking for a stone or an un-sprouted grain, folding and storing newspapers in the corner of the window, storing some more documents in plastic bags , neatly compressed to save space in a Mumbai apartment. Her rhythmic movements and her quiet, self assured way is a great accompaniment to my morning cup of chai. And the pair of sparrows who seem to have adopted me as their guardian. They are okay with me sitting in the balcony while they go on picking seeds from the bird feeder, removing the outer cover and chewing on the seed. My two companions before the world around me gets active and starts buzzing around.

Since the coronavirus threat started in our country, we asked Akshay’s 84 year old grandmother Tara ajji, to come and live with us till this all clears away. She wakes up much before anyone else does and sleeps much later. As you grow older, you tend to need very little sleep she tells us when we are amazed at finding her awake all the time. She is always busy around the house. Making tea, making chapatis, cleaning and sorting the vegetables, cleaning bottles and jars with such intense care , they must be feeling rather loved. In our super fast life of consumption, we don’t care about these things that much anymore. We are a use and throw culture, lack of time, easy availability of fancier items. Use cups till the bottom corners get so stained that we replace them. Use hand towels for a while and once they get worn out , throw them away or convert them to rags. But not for the women of Tara ajji’s generation. She spends several minutes per cup ensuring each and every inaccessible ring is cleaned till it is spotless.

I remember my paternal grandmother go through similar activities when I used to go stay at her house. She would put on the radio _vividbharati_ at 6 am and start her chores. Boiling the milk, making tea, making breakfast, rolling the chapatis, combing her long hair and tightly fixing it into a bun.

These daily rituals, routine mundane activities which need to be done every single day are the real crux of life. They lend a certainty and order inside the home, inside our head so that the big wide world broadcasted into our homes via news channels and social media can stay out and not disturb our peace.

I also remember my uncle, my mama, getting the bags of milk every morning and washing them with a spray of detergent water and then washing it again under running water before it went into the fridge. We also do it now in the covid19 times, but we used to be more careless earlier under the guise of building immunity.

What would we do without these rituals that separate the day into morning noon and night?

When my son was a baby, we used to have an elaborate night time schedule of winding down. Taking a shower, drinking a cup of milk, reading a quiet story, asking each other questions about the day and then he would finally snuggle into me and go to sleep.

We still do more or less the same things at night, but I have to reluctantly pull him from the world of fantasies in his head and then he sleeps in his own bed while continuing to ask questions about Star Wars or Jurassic Park, which I know nothing about. He seems to be closer to his dad than me now, because dad is the cooler one, a Jedi with a lightsaber.

I am thankful for these little things I get to witness especially when the pace of life has slowed down and we are all looking inwards.

Is it too mundane? Too ordinary?

It’s essential. No matter what, the sun also rises and sets everyday, the plants continue to grow and birds continue to forage for food.

And human? We continue to do all these things and more. Day in and day out.

What would be life without it?



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. 



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.