Travel to find yourself

Being socialized into a culture is in many ways a way to force your personality and innate nature to adjust to your surroundings. A lot of beauty and creativity can be lost in this process. Figuring out who you are as an adult is often about reclaiming that lost beauty and creativity. Maybe that is why so many of us travel to foreign cultures to find ourselves, for in the process of traveling we discover that the “system of thought” we have been socialized into as children is not the only way of life worthwhile.

Being unique is the new trend

Trends and Body ideal should be outdated by now. The trend should rather be for each and everyone of us to dress according to our natural body type, coloring and most importantly: our personal taste. Your clothes is the skin you choose to put on and why in the world would you want to wear someone else’s skin?

The Body ideal should be for each and everyone of us to be our best optimal self according to the body we were born with. Uniqueness and individuality are modern concepts that we should be celebrating not undermining. Why would you want to look, behave and dress like everyone else? This should be a backwards way of thinking belonging to a time we couldn’t afford to be individuals.

Freedom of expression is something most of us enjoy today. What about the freedom to be yourself? To be unique, to be an individual and to look and dress the way you want in order to best express who you are? Are we really enjoying these freedoms? Are we really putting the freedom of expression into action in our everyday lives?

Be bold, be brave, be you! Let that be the trend we all aspire to follow in this new decade. The world is ready for it, the cultural climate is ready for it, are you?

The Key to Happiness

A bit ambitious title, huh? Well, it was just meant to be a bit of fun. Obviously I am no expert or some guru who has all the answers. But whenever I learn something in life, I feel the need to share and perhaps even inspire others. So that is what I am doing here.

I will give you the answer I have obtained from my life experience right away. The key to happiness is flexibility. Let me explain. I sometimes get a bit frustrated with all the slogans and pep talks telling to you believe in your dreams and if you work hard enough they will come true. It sounds lovely. But we are not living in a perfect world and if we become too rigid in our dreaming we might end up feeling disappointment and let down. I think it is great to dream! I am a dreamer for sure. I think dreams are the way we envision our talents and gifts being fulfilled in the world, and that is what life is about. But we need to remember that the only thing that truly belongs to us is that which is without physical form. Even our bodies are not our own. They are borrowed and will at some point be given back to the earth. What we do take with us is our love, our lessons, our experiences…So let us focus on these instead of that which has only material value.

Say your dream is to live in a lighthouse. Most people might tell you that that is impossible. But is it really? Perhaps owning a lighthouse is impossible (do we really own anything at all?), but living in one certainly isn’t. There are many lighthouses around the world you can rent. Maybe you can only afford a couple of nights, but if you treat that time as the only thing real at the moment, if you truly live in the “now” and do not obsess over things like forever and ownership, then yes, you have fulfilled your dream.

Another example: say your dream is to travel around the world, but you are 80 years old and not physically fit enough to travel. You spent your life taking care of family and missed the opportunity. Well, it is still possible. You can go on a cruise! On a cruise ship you can sit on the little balcony attached to your room and watch the world go by without moving a muscle! A cruise ship has excellent medical care in case you should need it and bus tours at every port it docks in. Ta-da! Problem solved.

If you keep being flexible like this most dreams are possible to fulfill. You dream of being a grandparent but don’t have any grandkids, well there are a lot of kids without grandparents in the world. So join a volunteer “Grandparents wanted” program or start one yourself! If you dream of being a parent, but can’t have kids or don’t have a partner, adopt! There are so many children without parents. Or if you can’t commit to that, join a program that helps single parents, or assists parents with children in need of extra care, or help out in a children’s home or refugee center. If you want to publish a book, write it and publish it yourself! If you want to be a singer, record a song and upload it to a streaming service. If you want to start a vintage shop, but can’t afford to, source clothes from friends and family or your local thrift shop and set up a stall on the local Sunday Market! If you want to work somewhere, but don’t have the skill set, offer to work for free a couple of hours a week! If you want to live on a deserted island, buy a tent and get a local fisherman to take you out to one of the many uninhabited islands on our planet. If you want to have an art exhibition, start painting and find an abandoned boat house and make flyers to hang in the local supermarket announcing your exhibition, or if you are too shy, simply leave your paintings for Sunday walkers to stumble upon. If you dream of living in a castle, there are castles (for example in Ireland) you can rent, even for just a night. Throw a ball and be the belle you read about in story books when you were a kid!

You get the gist of this. If you learn to be flexible, to live for the moments, the experiences, instead of the illusion of ownership, fame, material gain etc, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from fulfilling every dream you have ever had. You just simply get creative and make it happen. All on your own.

The alienated soul

Today, the strong focus on wellness, physical beauty, health and fitness can be so overwhelming that it can turn into either an obsession or a source of anxiety, having us spending an exaggerated time and mind fuel on our bodies and appearance. It can sometimes even seem as though our worth, success and capability as human beings is measured in how physically fit we are. Secondary to this comes the wellness of the mind. Thankfully in the last twenty years, mental health has been more focused upon and given importance. Mental health has also somewhat been commercialized in the form self-help books, self-help podcasts, different types of therapies etc. These self-proclaimed gurus are often coming from a background of no specific education or training in the field and their success is dependent on advertisement and hashtags in the social media. We are seeing more and more young people looking for someone who can define their identity for them and point them in the direction of financial and emotional success. Image and self-branding has become crucial for this social media generation, and image is often “shopped” from different sources of media. Needing a diagnosis, and someone to provide that diagnosis seems to be important for generation next. So is this really so bad? We are taking better care of ourselves, mentally and physically, we are living longer and becoming more prosperous. The question is, who are we doing this for and why? Where are we letting ourselves be lead?

I had an interesting discussion with my cousin a while back. We talked about what happens after you die. I told her that what I believe is that the soul goes on. Then came the obvious question: but what is the soul? In my cousin’s mind the soul was a ghost-like second version of herself, the only difference being that it could fly and wasn’t solid. I told her that my idea of the soul is very different. To me, the soul is the eternal part of me, the life-giving part that has nothing to do with my body, appearance or my personality. My cousin then said that if that was true dying would be just that dying, because for her her body and personality was who she was and if she lost that she did not exist any longer. Her body, her mind, her thoughts, her face, her emotions, that was what she identified with in order to define herself. I think she speaks for many.

The soul has become a very washed out word without any definite definition. Many people, in fact most people I know, use the word soul the same way they talk about their heart and how we should always follow it. The soul becomes the sum of our emotions, thoughts, values, dreams etc. But is that really what the soul is? Of course there is no real answer to this. Spirituality is not science. Speaking of science. My brother is a theoretical physicist. He lives and breathes science. Religion, to him, is humbug.

In a discussion with him I defined the soul as the energy we are made up of, the atoms that cannot be broken down, the force that breathes without lungs and moves without solid form. Then I challenged him, telling him to imagine that these tiny particles had memory. Like cells carrying within them the recipe for a human being. It is not an impossibility, is it? Not entirely illogical? Well, that essence is what I define as the soul.

Imagine if you could tap into that essence, that bank of memories and pure life force, with your human senses, for in it lies also the memory of the creation of the universe, if something like that really exists. Imagine the richness of that knowledge! This is not a finished “product”, it is an ongoing process, a continuing deposit of experiences and new knowledge that you are now taking part in with your life, and whatever you add to it will be carried on after your body is gone.

This awareness is what spirituality is to me, knowing and understanding that everything in the universe is made up of this soul-essence, and that we, that you, can learn to become aware of your own soul and letting it guide you through your life, instead of a self-proclaimed social media guru, or a readymade “store bought” image, or a package deal given to you be an image consultant or a life coach.

When we learn to be aware of our souls we will also learn to identify with this ancient immortal force rather than our impermanent bodies and vulnerable minds. Not to say that our physical and mental health is not important, of course they are! It is through our bodies we experience the world and with our minds we learn to interpret and make sense of it, without these two components we can not add to the memory bank of the soul. But these are just tools, they are not who we truly are.

Imagine an entity of pure light floating through space, it is invisible to everyone but itself, so in order to confirm that it truly exists it changes form. This new form allows it to experience its own existence in symbiosis with other entities and so it learns new things about itself and about life every day that goes by. Then one day the solid form it has taken starts to wither, it learns that solid matter has an expiration date, but it is far from tired of this amazing learning process so when the solid form finally expires it takes on a new form and to its delight this form is different! It experiences itself and the life around it in a completely different way! And so the learning cycles continues. It keeps growing and expanding for each new form, for each new way of experiencing existence. And then it takes on the form of you…

Let us not invest too much in that which comes with and expiration date, let us rather pay a little more attention to that which is eternal, never ending, that which only becomes richer, more beautiful and wise with time. For that is, in truth, who we really are.

The meaning of life – Finding purpose

When I was little I had a feeling that unless I was there to perceive it, the world did not exist. It ended and was created anew every time I closed and opened my eyes. In other words, I thought myself to be the center of the universe, and not only that, but also its creator. Self-absorbed much? Of course, I knew intellectually, with my rational mind, that this was not the truth. But when you are a child, a feeling is so much more important than a rational thought.

I remember the first time I visited India. I was 17 and had never been outside Europe before. Landing in the multicultural and multicolored chaos that is India was a violent attack on my Norway-adjusted senses, to say it mildly. It felt as though I had landed on a different planet. This could not possibly be the same world I had grown up in. After returning to Norway I got that same feeling again that I had experienced as a small child. India must surely seize to exist when I am not there. It was impossible to believe that that exotic world was still going about its day on the other side of the globe.

What I later found so intriguing about this particular type of orientation was the consecutive conclusion that every single human being must, at least at some point of time, feel the same way. This was a fascinating thought! That each and every one of us is a universe all on our own, made up of silently verbalized thoughts, feelings, mental images, and subconscious impulses. Later, while diving into the wonderful authorship of Charles Dickens I learned that he truly was the master of tapping into all these different universes. In one of his books, I can’t remember exactly which one, he states that each human being that lives, has lived and will live, is a story, a uniquely fantastic story with a unique plot and characters. Isn’t that a magnificent thought? Imagine, none of us, not a single one of us who lives, has lived, or will live, is the same. Mind blowing, isn’t it?

And yet, we are all made up of the same stardust. Our minds, bodies and souls are constructed by the same building blocks. We are, in essence, one. This, to me, is the beautiful human paradox, we are both sameness, oneness, unity, and absolute and irrevocably unique. There is not a single person in the world who has the exact same thoughts-feelings-experiences, i.e. story, as you. None. This insight makes all of us relevant to the history of the life of human kind. If we are all unique, we are all interesting, we all have some unique and valuable contribution to make.

Now, here we reach the essence of this article’s over-ambitious title. When there is not two of the same in a circumstance, that makes each part important and unconditionally valuable. Speaking plainly, we all have unique creativity, thoughts, imagination, insights and talents, and that makes us important to human kind and its history. Exploring and developing this uniqueness, expanding and narrating our story, gives meaning, perhaps the only meaning we really need.

I often hear people stating that individualism is selfishness and self-centeredness, the opposite of cooperation, generosity and compassion. I beg to differ. Abraham Maslow was the psychologist who gave us the famous pyramid of human needs, at the bottom of the pyramid lies the solid foundation of life; what we cannot live without, which is food, water and shelter. At the top of the pyramid we find self-actualization. This is, to Maslow, the peak of human sophistication. When society has fulfilled all our other needs, this is what tops the cake. This pyramid has been criticized to be a very Western concept (Maslow was American). Perhaps it is, perhaps not.

When I was a pupil in primary school, self-development was a part of our curriculum, a small part (about an hour a week), but nevertheless a part. We learned to pin-point our strengths and weaknesses, explore our talents and analyze our personality traits. And more importantly, we learned to use this self-insight to expand our empathy. We learned that our mental health is determined by outer circumstances, to say it simply, if we had not been born in safe, peaceful and rich Norway, our heads and our hearts would, metaphorically speaking, look quite different, and our subconscious impulses would compel us to behave quite differently. And here, in my opinion, lies the key to why individualism is not just a big ego-trip.

To believe in oneself and the value of one’s life in the world, regardless of social status, regardless of our relationships, our physical attractiveness and our socio-economic background, we must first learn to trust that we have something valuable to bring to the table. That is self-actualization. Be it on an international scale rippling through an entire world, or on a smaller scale by contributing and making a difference in a friendship, in the family or in a local community. Self-actualization is a constant noun that cannot be affected by a wavering adjective.

To be human is to matter, and to me, the more I explore my own unique humanity, the more I can matter. In other words, the more uniqueness I bring to the table, the more difference I can make in the world. And if there is one fact that the history of all life screams loud and clear, it is that we are, as individuals and as a unity, on the move. Life wants to realize all its potential. And to me, that is the meaning of life.

A Spiritual take on Consumerism

Lately I have been reading a lot about minimalism. I am not a minimalist, I have very few belongings, that is true, but I love all of them, and wouldn’t want to part with any of them if I didn’t have to. But minimalism as an opposition to the extreme consumerism we have been living with the last decades is, in my opinion, a necessary and welcome trend. We have become too heavy for our planet to carry, we have weighed our home down with too many things, things that we don’t really need.

In the book “Goodbye, things” by Fumio Sasaki,the author explains how he went from being a maximalist and a hoarder to someone who hardly owns anything at all. In his experience, things have today become a status symbol. We want to adorn ourselves and/or our houses with the latest trends to gain approval and admiration from others, and it is first when we gain this longed for response that we truly feel happy. Fumio Sasaki says that we have moved our measure of happiness from inside ourselves to outside, we have handed that power over to “the others”. The author explains how the happiness we gain from owning a new trendy item is only fleeting, as we soon grow tired and bored of the item when it loses its newness, and then, in order to get the next happiness fix, we buy something new. In Fumio Sasaki’s opinion, in order to feel a true sense of happiness we have to stop partaking in this materialistic rat race to happiness, and rather feel content with less, with what we have, and feel grateful for that.

I do not disagree with this. Happiness can certainly not be found in things. Happiness is a state of mind that comes with a feeling of inner peace. And inner peace is something we can only achieve for ourselves. It cannot be found anywhere, but inside of ourselves, independent and regardless of what happens on the surface. The ocean’s depth remains calm.

A lot of spiritual people call this partaking in modern consumerism egotism at its worst. Consumerism is feeding our greed and giving into our ego’s desires. But what is the ego? Is it our lower nature, our animalistic side, that which an enlightened person has broken free from? I do not think so. I think that is simplifying matters. I think it is a spiritual understanding and interpretation from the past that is too banal to hold any truth anymore. For what if we dig a little deeper into what it is that is making us chase so desperately after all these things. We can take a psychological approach, like the author of “Goodbye, things”, and say that it is about finding meaning through social acceptance, or we can take a more biological approach saying that it all stems from instinct to find food and hoard food so that we don’t starve. But I have chosen to take a more spiritual approach.

We are all evolving beings. Whatever you believe the motivation for this evolution is, you cannot deny that we have, and continue to, evolve. It is not only an evolution of the body, but also of the mind, of the intellect, and of our psyche. Our emotions are evolving, our sensitives, our senses, our creativity, they are all evolving, towards what remains a mystery, but humanity is certainly moving somewhere. Now, what drives that evolution? Perhaps our thirst for knowledge, or our curiosity about the unknown, about that which we yet not understand, like space and the human brain, and the beginning of time, or perhaps it is creative intuition; our need to explore and express our artistry; perhaps through abstract art connection us to the subconscious, or our ability to inspire certain emotions in others; linking us to a mystic togetherness through music and poetry.

What if the instinct that tells us to move on, to go further, to leave behind and look for newness, is about moving us on as human beings? What if our greed is simply a misplaced instinct that tells us to know more, to be more, to search for more? What if our ambition is about not wanting to stagnate, what if it is about trying to use every ability we have and even develop new abilities?

I think most of us have sat in front of our screens watching YouTube and felt inspire by a video about the latest fashion trends, or mobile phones or cars, thinking that yes, it is about time I update my old wardrobe/mobile/car, and then felt excited, uplifted, happy to be going somewhere, to be moving towards something new and exciting. What if this is really not about that fashion trend/mobile/car at all, but rather about something much deeper, an innate instinct in us telling us that it is time to move on, to keep growing, to keep exploring and learning?

Newness is something good, movement is something good, necessary even, change is the inevitable movement that creates time, that takes away the bad, that dusts away the pain and replaces it with something better, something we couldn’t even have imagined ten years ago.

Sometimes the world goes through such an immense spurt of growth, that it hurts, it creates confusion and pain, but growing is necessary, it is one of those in-built traits that no life can escape. And why would we want to? Growth is what makes life possible, and not knowing what will come shooting out of the earth is part of the excitement, of the mystery that makes life so interesting.

Be inspired, but be inspired about your abilities, about your creativity, about the development of your mind. Gratitude is wonderful, and so is contentment, but do not let it lead to stagnation. In the search of inner peace, do not let go of your excitement, your curiosity and your wonder.

I believe all our instincts are good, even the ego; the poor beaten down ego serves a purpose, even that which a lot of people now call this generation’s narcissism serves a purpose, a beautiful purpose: the pure need to know ourselves, to explore our minds, our subconscious, our selves, and to use our abilities to contribute to the world. Perhaps it is only when we do not let ourselves evolve intellectually, emotionally, creatively, that these instincts get misplaced, for somewhere they have to burst forth, the energy has to be brought into something, it cannot be simply stopped. We all know that, energy needs to move, that is the nature of energy. And without energy there can be no life.

If we live our lives without mindfulness, without deep thinking, without self-awareness which will lead to empathy, it is easy to judge; to judge ourselves and others, to divide ourselves into good and bad parts, to lose faith in humanity and to fall into a pessimistic outlook on the world and the future of it.

The coin always has two sides, or rather, the ocean always has two surfaces; one which you see with the naked eye and perhaps choose to stay on top of; looking only at your own two-dimensional reflection, and one hidden beyond your vision; on the other side of the depth of the ocean. Both two sides of the same reality.

How you choose to navigate your life is up to you, you can stay safely on top of things, floating happily along with the current, or you can dare to dive into the mystery and learn to be mindful of both sides; that which is visible and obvious and that which is hidden and mysterious, either way, your instincts will keep leading you on, inspiration will keep pushing you forward, the pull of ambition will keep teasing you, and greed will tempt and entice you. Are these chattering companions only disturbing noise, something to unnecessarily stir us up and create dissatisfaction and stress, or are they something more, something which we might have judged a tad too quickly?

I will leave you to find out the answers for yourself…

The Moon-Faced Swami of Shakespeare Street

2016-09-11-17-05-57

This is a story in set in post-colonial Calcutta, India, about an Englishman who abandons his country to become a hermit in the Indian Himalayas, and then returns to the daughter, and lover he left in Calcutta 20 years before.

Even in the cluttered urbanity of a densely populated city you will still be run over by wild things if you sit still long enough. There are intruders, imposters carrying wilderness on their backs. Like big grey-whiskered monkeys they will make faces at you and pull at your coat, thinking you are harmless to them. In the evenings they will beg for your attention, they will stare at you with sorrowful eyes and croon and keen their misery, and in the morning they will stamp their feet, unspeakably wise in their persistent begging. But what will you do? Will you bow your head at them, and run alone into the night? Will you share in their fire, coming alive with curiosity, or will you swing off with rabbity ears, going with the shadows and low suspicious calls?

I lived under a white floor on Shakespeare Street, not far from the South Park Street Cemetery and St. Thomas Church. Mrs. Banerjee, the Landlady, was an old croon, but her daughter Rimpa and I had become good friends. Rimpa was fascinated by me, an English unmarried woman living alone in a foreign country! The idea held for her both fear and admiration. I travelled to India on a cargo ship two years before to join the Mother Theresa mission, but grew weary with the depressing work after falling ill with dysentery over and over again. I don’t know why I didn’t go home, perhaps because I had forgotten what home was or felt like. I loved walking around in the old city feeling its rich history and the many battles that had been fought here, I loved visiting the ghats to see the people gathering there to perform their sacred activities and conduct mundane business meetings after a cleanse in the muddy water. The ghats were also the mooring base for hundreds of fishing boats with colorful huts and dirty sails. I never bought any fish though; I never liked that salty taste of the sea.

I had never met Rimpa’s father, he was a business man who lived somewhere in Delhi. I had my suspicions that Rimpa had never met him herself despite her twenty something years. How the two of them managed, I could never tell, perhaps it was my insignificant rent that paid for their meals. I could have lived ten lifetimes in Calcutta on an English monthly salary. Shakespeare Street was a quiet street compared to the neighboring Park Street, it was a street dedicated to the English families who had stayed behind after India’s separation from the English crown, and to the rich Anglo-Indians who now ran their offices. Rimpa, with her fair complexion and European eyes could have been one of them, but Mrs. Banerjee insisted that Mr. Banerjee was a Rajasthani high-born Hindu. Rimpa had an apt for the English language and never tired of talking to me. Sometimes I suspected I was her only source of entertainment, all cooped up in her mother’s quiet house as she was. When Rimpa asked her mother where babies come from, the answer was that they sprung out of Lord Vishnu’s navel. Mrs. Banerjee knew all there was to know about the gods, but had received very little formal education. She cooked, cleaned and prayed, that was her life. Rimpa was different, she wanted to learn, and she had an open curiosity that she poured out on me. “Didi, where does the water come from?” she asked me one day we were sitting under a Banyan tree in the courtyard, watching muddy channels of rain pouring from the leaves of the enormous tree. Mrs. Banerjee had just lit the incense sticks for the evening puja and the soft sweet fragrance wafted down from an open window.
The rain lasted for a week, and then the sun came out and dried up the foul-smelling holes in the cracked asphalt filled with filth and brown water. “Ohm, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” crooned Mrs. Banerjee from the open window, “Peace be with my moon-faced lover.”

On the first day of Sharad, as the expanse of paddy stalks bent with rich harvest and blue peacock feathers fell from the rooftops, the bookbinder’s wife, Mirza, died. “It is a good time to die,” said Mrs. Banerjee and gathered her best fruits to join in the funeral rites. People hurried into the street to pay their respect to the late woman. “Leave none behind!” A voiced called out. And then the wailing started. Rimpa and I sat on the floor in the kitchen sipping cardamom tea and laughing. “Is there really such a thing as a good day to die?” chuckled Rimpa.
But Mirza’s death was just an event in a series of what Mrs. Banerjee called bad omens. There was a sigh in the air that autumn. The cows stopped lactating, the flower beds dried up too quickly, water, stored for drinking, was declared contaminated by the municipality, a band of street dogs attacked a little girl and left her lame. And the city dwellers, one by one, crept out of their houses to pray before the mighty Kali, which only resulted in an increase of taxes imposed by the chief minister. The city was in an uproar. The pandits said: “It is a punishment. You have all lost your piety and made money your new god!” People rushed to the temples declaring their devotion with gifts of flowers, sweetmeats and incense. “It is not enough,” declared the priests, “you need to appease the wrath of Kali by raising a new temple in her honor.” Before the month was ended a new temple was raised. Then an earth quake struck the city, a mighty shrug from the Himalayas sent shivers down the spine of the entire country. Little makeshift huts collapsed in submission to the mountain god’s decree of anger, even sturdier brick houses bent in silent obedience. Business meetings at the ghat stopped and were replaced by intricate cleansing rituals involving a thorough mouth-rinse in the holy water. Contaminated water was gargled and spat out into the overcrowded river, followed by an outbreak of sickness and more despair. But it was the arrival of Rimpa’s father that stirred up the mightiest quake.

I had my suspicions of course, but seeing the white sahib walking along the red loopholed railway-line that hot afternoon, clad in dazzling white rags, made the hairs stand in the back of my neck. A swarm of hungry mosquitoes clung to the top of his head and his gray-spangled hair was matted and damp with sweat. “I shall hate him,” said Rimpa, full of spite and shock, and locked the door to her sleeping quarters. Mr. H.M Ford had once been a respectable English gentleman, a trader and businessman with such a wealth that even the prime minister of India would have envied him. But that was until he left his home turf and fell into the arms of Bharat. He swooned with desire, not for a woman, oh no, that would have been the making of the young reckless Mr. Ford, but it was the temperamental Maa Ganges who had lured and teased him out of his English shell. Such things can happen to a young inexperienced youth, they all knew it, but to an Englishman! How could he have heard the lustrous call of their life-giving goddess? The hermit, Mr. H.M Ford, now to be referred to as Sri Gora Shankar looked over the face of his old lover and saw that it had changed. In place of a young maiden was an old sour-faced hag wrinkled and weary with life’s many disappointments. He shrugged and opened the door to his house.
“I’ve been thinking about you,” said Sri Gora Shankar with a smile. “You were a beauty in your youth.” Mrs. Banerjee turned her back on him and cursed him. “I think we’ll go to the temple together.” Sri Gora Shankar put his hand on her brown fleshy shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

Once the secret of Rimpa’s mysterious father was out, people stopped visiting the tall white house on Shakespeare Street. I hardly ever heard the stomping of heavy feet against my ceiling. It was always quiet. Too quiet. Rimpa became a teenager again, throwing tantrums and shouting at her mother. I tried many times to talk to her, but she had come to see me as a foreigner, as her father’s accomplice. She was at war with the white race, at war with herself, and was no longer proud of her delicate fair complexion. The heart-breaking delay in the revelation of her father’s identity brought on an angry reckless fever, and put the fear of god into the neighbors. Or perhaps it was the fear of the white god-like man they refused to prostrate in front of. Sri Gora Shankar watched over his daughter with sorrow-filled eyes. Days were long and hot and the violent and awful rage of Kalika seemed to have no end. “All is well,” he finally told me one day. The fever had broken; the goddess had finally shown some mercy.
“He is a very holy man,” said Sondeep Goswami to me one day. “She has had so little.” He tilted his head and looked up at the kitchen window. Incense wafted the air and a white clad man was blowing a conch. “There is always time, but he could have given her a half-day warning.” Sondeep Goswami was not the only one to give his approval of the fair-faced swami, but they all still refused to give him the same reverence as they gave their darker skinned countrymen who had been touched by the river goddess. The swami himself just shrugged and smiled.
The weather had started cooling down when she finally came to see me. Rimpa wanted me to tell her about England. “Is it as far away as Darjeeling?” she asked. “It is hundred times further,” I replied. “That is alright, I am still young,” she smiled and looked out towards the setting sun with dazed dreamy eyes. Rimpa came to me often that winter.

Stacks of sugarcane covered the fields and seem to sweeten even the moody goddess. Dew fell thick on grassy river banks, and blue lotuses opened their cold hearts wide in appreciation of the chill sobering winds. The midnight queen rode her white camel over the pale sky and snow was reported to fall in the colonial hill stations. People were shivering in their thin cotton garments designed to let the mild breezes of summer caress hot sweaty skin. Bare-chested swamis pilgrimed to Gamukh to pray at the icy roots of the holy Ganges. But our own white-faced swami stayed. He had reluctantly shaved his long unkempt beard at his daughter’s request, and now, bare-faced and clean, everyone could see the resemblance between the two. Even Rimpa’s mother had softened a bit towards her old lover.
“Mohan Ghosh has taken his nephews and gone to the coal mines to look for work,” said Mrs. Banerjee matter-of-factly one cold morning when we are all sitting on the balcony waiting for the sun to rise and bless us with his warmth. “Maybe you should go too. Rimpa needs new clothes, and she doesn’t even have gold bangles for her dowry. You want her to wed don’t you?” Sri Gora Shankar looked fondly at his daughter and shrugged. “She will do what she wants.” Mrs. Banerjee examined the soft-eyed man sternly and changed her tactics. “What will she do when we are no more? Who will take care of her? Do you really want her to be all alone in the world? This country is not safe for unmarried women.” She could see in his eyes that she had succeeded.

The next morning Sri Gora Shankar shed his pious colorless garments and stepped into a pair of loose, somewhat oversized, black pressed pants. But he did not board the train to join the exemplified initiator; he crossed the street and headed for Park Street and the English Overseas Bank. By the end of the month Sri Gora Shankar was gone. In his place stood a tall lean Englishman with a clean shaven face and trimmed greying hair. Mr. H.M Ford, employee of the E.O.B, brought his first salary to his daughter with a proud smile that did not quite reach his eyes. Rimpa hugged him tightly, forgetting the old custom that duty-bound her to prostrate in front of the holy man. He hugged her back and his shoulders relaxed under his daughter’s warm touch. Soon everyone talked of the Banerjees’ good fortune. Room after empty room was furnished, and Rimpa acquired a dowry that had the young, and the not so young, suitors lining up at her door. But Mrs. Banerjee thought none of them were good enough for her rich, fair daughter. Rimpa was just as glad. She had other plans.

She told me on a Sunday afternoon while her parents were busy with guests. “I am going to England, Didi!” I lifted my eyebrows in surprise, but smiled quickly to hide my astonishment. “When are you leaving?” I asked. “Well, I don’t know, but papa has told me he will take me.” “Do you not want to marry, then?” Rimpa looked obstinately towards the ceiling. She frowned her forehead and tightened her jaw, like a proper Englishwoman. “I am not going to marry any of these dark round-faced lackeys! I am going to marry an English gentleman!” I was somewhat taken aback by her outburst, she seemed so full of spite for these people who, up till now, had been her family and friends.
I overheard them one day in a middle of a heated discussion. Rimpa, with a voice heavy with frustration and bitterness, was imploring, then threatening her father to take her with him to England. “You will leave me here in this godforsaken city and look for a proper mem-sahib to give you a white English daughter!” Mr. Ford sighed in resignation. He had grown tired of his daughter’s bantering and her mother’s endless demands. Rimpa cried her father into submission, but weeks went by and there was still no specific plan to leave for the longed for land of proper English gentlemen. Mrs. Banerjee was weary of her daughter too, she had become disrespectful and too audacious after her father’s arrival, and Mrs. Banerjee feared that it was the English in her that had finally come out and made her undesirable as a proper Indian bride.

“I don’t pretend to understand, Banerjee Madam” I told her one day as she was lamenting her sorrows to me one late afternoon. She had never come to me before, so I thought she must be desperate. “That is why I come here,” she said and sighed, “because you will never understand.” “Well, perhaps everything will be okay in the end, “I said and put my hand on hers. She stiffened a little, but welcomed the gesture.
Close to the verandah stood an old rocking chair made of polished wood from an unfortunate mango tree, and it was in the smooth seat of this chair Mr. H.M Ford left his pale blue oversized shirt and black freshly pressed pant, neatly folded. His dark brown patent leather shoes stood ownerless on the ground under the chair. It was a windy morning in April and the chair rocked gently in the much welcomed draft. He had taken nothing with him, except for the white rags he came in; even his razor and soap were left behind next to the new marble basin. It was such a hot day most of the inhabitants of Shakespeare Street stayed inside under their dust-laden ceiling fans, only the cows, who could not access such luxuries, prevented the Street from looking like a ghost town, relieved to find some shade beneath the trees they chewed lazily at some invisible grain or strand of grass with half-closed brown eyes. A hot fragrant wind from the sea had caused a few trees to bloom in vivid pink and orange, but most of the vegetation was completely parched by the summer heat. When the troubled call of the white conch lamented its longing for the sea, the reluctant devotees of the goddess, who was the namesake of their beloved city, opened the door to their houses to welcome their homesick deity with withering summer flowers and white grains of uncooked rice. Long before the last wail of the primitive instrument ceased the whole neighborhood had heard the warning. There was already talk of a drought, and a newlywed girl had collapsed from heat stroke near the cemetery, and the city dwellers shook their heads in fearful anticipation as they all observed the pile of clean clothes left on the rocking chair outside the Banerjee home.

“I knew he would leave eventually,” said Mrs. Mitra, “I knew, but the goddess gives no warning. She takes back her own whenever she pleases.” “Well, at least the girl has a dowry now, and a name, Ford was it?” interjected Mrs. Bhaduri. From across the city came the whistling of a train, backed by the rumble of thunder. “God help us,” said Mrs. Mitra, “Our Kalika is awake.”
Before the thunder reached the city I left. I had booked the ticket months ago, the thought of another Bengali summer had finally made me give in. I was going back to good old England. Neither Rimpa nor her mother came to say goodbye. I left the last month’s rent on the table next to my bed; the bills were neatly folded in a brown paper envelope. Before I left, I caught myself whispering a prayer, there was nothing else to do, the goddess takes no account of time, only the river marks the passing of the seasons, and she takes what she pleases, and even though she sometimes returns what she takes, you will never know in which form it will be given back to you. You can either fight until you grow weary or give in to her, and let the wilderness take you.

Honoring our Sacred Places

I have always had my sacred places. Places I go to find refuge when the world is raging around me. When I was little I had 2-3 such places nearby. I came here to cry, to be alone, to be with nature, God and my soul. I wanted to do something to honor these places, so yesterday I went to my sacred place in the mountain, and I drew this heart.

I also wrote this 🙂

and I drew this angel 🙂

and wrote this 🙂