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It’s spring!!!

With it dawns, a sense of reawakening and a time for growth and expansion of new ideas….Vasant (or Basant) a period between mid-February to mid-April…a time for rekindling excitement…a time to bask in the sun and brighten our days. A time to watch yellow sunny Calendulas, delicate California Poppies and the versatile Nasturtiums sway in the gentle breeze. When the trees prepare to bud and the days start getting longer and warmer – point to only one thing…the Spring season is knocking at the door; giving us a lesson from nature’s wisdom of healing and growing. A perfect time to start afresh and enjoy the rare glories of colour crept in slowly after the snows of winter.

Quoting from my earlier blogs, “ nature has endless opportunities for rejuvenation, serenity and wonder…it’s upon us how we profit from them. Every day is a gift and what we encounter is unique and precious.”

It’s finally spring!!!

The repeating annual cycle of nature, every time brings with it a new experience to enjoy the natural bounties specific to that period. It also conjures up some of the most pleasant memories of youth. Along with it comes variety and new insights…which stimulates our mind, body and soul. Every season is special and unique, summer’s bright sun for life, drops of rain to quench the parched land, the transition during the fall preparing us for the chill followed by the quietness of winters and then springing back to life, all holding its significance similar to the various seasons of our life. Each season provides an interesting metaphorical twist to our thinking by linking it to whatever we are going through in life. However, overall result is the underlying opportunity which we need to understand and spring back.

Bright sweaters, steaming tea/coffee, sweets made with dry fruits & jaggery to overcome dreariness of winters become less important as I see my garden slowly bloom with vibrant colours, gradually overshadowing the greens and browns of the earth, a sense of freshness and optimism fills my heart. Pretty and tender Petunias, large blooms of bright Verbenas, the naughty kitty faced Pansies mocking at the garden’s snouty favourite, Antirrhinums, add colourful splash of vivid colours to my garden and soul.

The floating cauliflower shaped cotton puffs(Cumulus clouds) in the stark blue sky above, the cheery and sassy Cineraria, bold Gazanias and fringe petalled Sweet Williams, help to shoo away the winter blues. Sensual pleasure rendered by seductively fragrant Sweet Pea twinning around the rustic trellis and white honey scented Alyssum, has a calming effect uplifting the mood and relieving us of stress.

The swelling buds on the perennials of Gulmohar, Silk Cotton, Plum and Peach begin to flourish again…promising and giving hope. The thriving verdure of the fertile soil attract the new visitors to my garden- bees and butterflies, gravitating towards nectar rich flowers, the sight of beautiful birds and parakeets perching on the bare tree branches flaunting the brilliance of their plumage and their incessant happy chirrups signalling and reassuring that all is well.

It is a perfect time to bring out the inner gardener to the fore and nurture new plants and raise veggies good enough for the whole neighbourhood. I suspect it is a best form of relaxation, maybe meditation, filling in quiet moments in an otherwise hectic life. The hard work of yesterday…raking, pruning, cultivating and mowing start to finally give dividends. The home grown lettuce, beetroot, broccoli contribute to the nutrients in the salad bowl while the thriving kohlrabi, cauliflower and radish find their way into the pickle pots- something which I have inherited from my mother.

As the seasons unfold outside your window, like life’s inevitable ups and down, don’t put away your plans, you need to change and move with time. Change is what we look forward to and it is the law of nature…I feel, sometimes we are prepared for a change and sometimes we are taken by surprise. Considering seasons as a metaphor for the different phases of life, toiling during summer of your life, when all is going well through fall, winter…let not your feelings fade away, spring back to a new summer…enjoy the various shades and phases of life making it more colourful and beautiful.

No matter how long be the winter, spring is sure to follow

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Closet of an Army Wife…

A glance at her cache is enough to reveal, her passion and panache in each and every piece she has collected over the years.

Sarees and invaluable ensembles…most essential though occasionally worn.

Crockery & tableware…the best ranging from international Noritake (taken out only for special guests) to desi Khurja pottery.

Carpets and rugs…from east, west, north and south….for their distinctive weaves.

Fancy souvenirs and handicrafts…reflecting the far and wide travels.

And the list is endless but priceless!

An army wife known for her style and eclectic taste…always has her closet overflowing with the innumerable memories(most important) of the places she’s been with her husband on various postings and courses. If you walk into an army home and if you find artistic Buddha or Tara idol statues reposing on the mantelpiece or some blue pottery arranged aesthetically in one corner, you can promptly infer the nature of their postings and travels. Not only her home, even her dressing sense and wardrobe are the telltale signs of places she’s been to. Draping a Kantha saree ( Kolkata posting) walking in her high stilettos, with a pashmina shawl (posting of up North) flowing down her left shoulder, a string of white pearls( for sure Hyderabad ) around her neck and her well manicured hands adorning colourful diamond cut glass bangles of Rajasthan…is sure to indicate that she is an Army Wife who has traveled far and wide. Fortunate as it may seem, she is that woman who stands beside her man with pride; for she married a true soldier for whom duty comes first and love for his country relentless. She dons the hat of being both the father and mother to her children when he is away on field posting, single-handedly managing both outdoor’s and indoor tasks herself…and through it all she loves to charge up her closet with keepsakes from various parts of the countryside. When you marry into this tribe you discover yourself taking on new roles, adapting to changing environments, learning different ways of doing things and developing creative ways to compromise and adjust. This is how you evolve as a strong, confident and an independent personality.

A long time ago when I married my man in olive green, I was enlightened about how lucky I was…Military spouses make real good husbands, is what I was told. Totally from a “civilian background “ (this is how people with no defence connect are referred to) my heart was brimming with nervous anticipation about the life I was to lead, the glimpse of which I had seen in movies or heard from people. With the image of an army wife being perfect in everything…impeccable home maker, a style diva and blessed with the flair to make her home paradisiacal, was making me anxious…real big shoes to fit in. Within a short span, I too got acquainted with the art of beautifying the little space we were offered after every 2years…exploring those hidden talents and passions I didn’t know I even possessed. As a result of leading a nomadic life with my husband and having traveled lengths and breadths of our diverse subcontinent, numerous opportunities came my way wherein I evolved into an avatar which was an arduous dream once upon a time.

I too have a closet…full of sundry memories of those quaint small hamlets and towns where we once lived. Every little thing about that place remains ingrained in our minds forever. The low sitting couch( settee) in my bedroom reminds me of Nasirabad (a small Cantonment near Ajmer, Rajasthan), my maiden station as army wife. In the excitement and enthusiasm of setting up my new home and being tight on budget( as the salary in those days was meagre) )we had to choose very judiciously as to what we required for our abode. I had seen the design of this couch in ‘Femina’( India’s, among the first most favoured periodical loved by women) which had caught my attention and so I thought of getting it made by a local carpenter as the workmanship in this small town was quite reasonable. Much satisfied with the outcome, we placed it in our sitting room then. Instantly it became an object of my pride and joy when visitors asked us about its dawning. Since then, it has continued to be my sentimental connection with the past. It has travelled from our sitting room to balcony to study to wherever it fits in our house now, but still forms an important part of my collection. Whenever I see it, beautiful memories of that place come tumbling down…our first home, our neighbours, our bike rides, our endless hours sitting on this sharing our talks.

Happy in our own ways…not having too much, yet enough to enjoy life in limited means is what we believe in. The memorable postings of Mhow( a small township in Madhya Pradesh Central India) and Wellington(a charming little town snugged in Nilgiris, South India), both quite popular destinations for the Armed Forces, where young officers at least once in a lifetime, undergo training. It gives an opportunity to their better halves to explore such lesser known places and leave no stone unturned. Mhow harbours the best painters and leather craftsman…the oil paintings from this place adds to the beauty of every home. The big Buddha painting from this place still captures the most prominent place in our house. Wellington with its salubrious climate and mouth-watering chocolates and wines also has the best wrought iron articles which find their way in every household as they can be bought for a song…the book shelves , iron lamps, garden chairs or swing chairs suiting to our requirements can be crafted at a very pleasing cost. The sheer bliss of delving into the marvels of these small places along with new found friends is incomprehensible.

The bamboo hanging planters(from Tenga) and the cane furniture (from Tezpur) of the North-East have endured our travels across the mainland for over 20 years now. Recounting our days there, nothing was more adventurous than shopping at 7000ft in a beautiful place like Bomdila and picking up things from the colourful stalls and shops which were flooded with Tibetan handicrafts, artefacts and Thangkas. I remember as a newly wed , someone had once mentioned about the beauty of North East and I had so much wished my husband to get posted there atleast once( finally blessed with four postings in that region)

The beautifully embroidered sarees, shawls, wall carpets, intricately crafted walnut furniture, Copper articles like Samovar(Kashmiri kettle)and the paper Mache colourful items is a must have for those who have been in the valley (J&K). Such rare assortment of exquisite possessions catch everyone’s eye …especially the ‘civilians’(now I’m counted in the army tribe), as they find such things quite unique, but, are a common sight in a Fauji house.

Occasionally in the overflowing closet, some things get tucked in for years and one day when they suddenly pop up…an overwhelming feeling takes over, bringing forth numerous anecdotes related to it. The stories are ceaseless and remembrances innumerable which make life delectable and the friends who played an inevitable role in this journey helped us to grow and change( for the better) with time. Still enamoured by these prized possessions and the eternal memories surrounding these inanimate things; which have been hand picked from various corners, make a link between the present and the good old former times…worth cherishing.

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The Monsoon Mania…

This is an account of the day in the month of June this year when I was driving back home after a tiring day, the thundering black clouds began to overcast the sky and within a few minutes I could see heavy droplets of water on the wind screen, which quickly picked up pace and a heavy downpour brought in a strong pleasant aroma which permeated rapidly in the car, surrounding me in a sense of euphoria. With the rain lashing severely and the wipers dancing frantically causing obscured visibility I decided to park my car on one side of the road and enjoy the moment. As soon as the droplets of rain hit my face, the entire day’s exhaustion just vaporised and in no time I felt alive again. The sight of rushing vehicles splashing water and people running to find shelter, at a distance a group of children dancing and rejoicing by soaking in the relentless rainfall, left me wondering that how in the process of growing up, we get so busy that we forget to enjoy these little pleasures of life?

Who hasn’t inhaled and felt invigorated by the emanating petrichor of the first rain of the monsoon…the Pitter-patter sound and the most fragrant earthy smell enticing us to run outside to experience the happiness of collecting raindrops in the palms or getting drenched in the season’s first shower. Even today, the soft drumming of the raindrops fill my heart with excitement and rekindles a wave of nostalgia. The onset of this joyous season after the scorching summer heat brings in, relief and welcomes the silent miracles of nature in the form of lush vegetation spreading all over the landscape making the canvas appear so luxuriant.

The onset of monsoons catapults me back in time…the vivid memories of blissful childhood when life was unfettered and reminds me of the beauty of Doon valley which is unparalleled. Heavy rains and gusty winds typical of the place, the mesmerising view of the Shivaliks with the white puffy clouds veiling the mountains and the sight of surreal colours of the sky when the sun oft managed to break through the gliding clouds in between the rains makes for an unforgettable and overwhelming remembrance. Apart from the memories of beautiful views, quaint eateries with steaming bowls of noodles and the clouds all around…the soul-stirring music of that time reflect feelings of love and melancholy inter-woven in beautifully composed songs. I often love to hear songs of that era along with a hot cup of tea if it’s raining and I’m in the house.

The purest form of water which was never known to be adulterated and parents never stopped us from enjoying in the rain…meant making paper boats by tearing pages from notebooks and floating them in water puddles or ponds and taking aim at them with pebbles…the sight of jumping toads and little snails added to so much more fun. The colourful umbrellas always throwing tantrums because of the incessant winds accompanying the lashing rain, made a difficult task of walking, colossal. The full length colorful raincoats and wearing gum boots while going to school, trying to escape the slosh from the vehicles but the inevitable always happening and then sitting in the class with damp uniform and socks and then on returning home with intermittent sneezing added to an excuse from school. Then came those days, when on being caught unawares in unexpected showers, we utilised the the god-sent opportunity to advantage…escaping to some road side tapri aka tea stall to satisfy our taste-buds with a plate of fried pakoras or samosas along with hot masala tea with friends and gossiping and waiting for the rain to stop.

From those paper boat days to these days….when I enjoy the rain, sitting in the verandah or from my window, gazing up in the sky, watching and listening to the sound of rain which helps me block all unwanted thoughts and casts a magical effect on me. The repetitive sound of water helping to calm our overworked brains by inducing a state of mild meditation and helps us to embrace relaxation. The silence after the rain, the verdant look all around, the chirping of numerous birds, the monsoon scent and dripping water droplets off the leaves, all making a delightful experience. Just like nature rejuvenates itself by the falling drops of water, quenching the thirst of the parched land…similarly it brings joy and a hope to all of us that whatever be the storms in our life, they will pass and the sun will shine again, giving life a fresh start.

Like it is said….save for the rainy day. I treasure the beautiful memories of my paper boat days…they help to brighten up my rainy days.

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My New Abode…

“A house is made of bricks and beams…a home is made of hopes and dreams.”

New Chapters, new beginnings….new places with new surroundings, every two years; this is how we live our life and we adore it. Travelling and changing stations is a way of life for those in the forces, and their families. It is almost like a natural instinct. It’s not only packing comb to cupboards of linen and crockery, it’s about moving places into new houses, new neighbourhood, new environment…where someone else has lived earlier…now becomes ours. Wherever you live, your home becomes an embodiment of your memories and warmth. As a famous Hindi quote says….har ghar kuch kehta hai, meaning every home has a story of its own or simply is a reflection of its inhabitants. When we set up our house we do it our way…every corner every wall resonating our likes and interests.

Setting up homes sometimes in unseen and unheard places and at times in big metros can be really challenging yet an experience in itself and gradually you become a master at lodging and dislodging enjoying every bit of it. At every posting, we have to start de-novo right from finding a salon to grocery to daily needs. Quaint Army Cantonments with their beautiful surroundings, appealing verdancy and exclusiveness is a safe haven for its residents with facilities for a healthy lifestyle…lush golf courses, parks, walking plazas offer a quality life… something that one can only dream of in this era of concrete jungles. Sometimes the rare opportunities of having our nest next to a gushing stream flowing through the Himalayas or amidst the tea gardens of the Nilgiris in the south or of the stunning mountains of the North East…is what we gain in the bargain. The searing summer heat of towns on western frontier and sometimes braving the never ending rainfalls of the East…slowly prepares us to face any challenge in life by teaching us to adapt and enjoy.

For a newly married couple, setting up their first home is very special…even the small little things add up to memories for lifetime. As a young officer’s wife we made two rooms as our first home; happy and contented with a makeshift kitchen and two small rooms to ourselves …all in all our home sweet home, where, each and every thing we bought was so thoughtfully placed by us that the remembrance of which still occupies a special place in my heart. We started our life with two suitcases and three boxes and as life progressed, the size of our house and our paraphernalia both increased. From two bedroom house to three and then graduating to bungalows…but, the feeling remains the same each time we step into a new home. Changing houses and transforming them into beautiful homes, remains an inevitable yet fascinating part of being in the olive green family. Sometimes waiting to get an accommodation and sometimes moving to separated family houses, the whole rigmarole of getting into a house is painstaking yet intriguing…packing trunks and moving trucks can sometimes give you panic attacks, but you’ll do it…there are no two ways about it, and will gradually love it. Within a few years you become a connoisseur of this nomadic life. You qualify as a perfect army wife, only, when you learn to stuff your belongings in wooden boxes, cartons and crates skilfully, with their ever increasing number in every move containing the most unique handpicked items from different parts of the subcontinent, and then unpacking carefully to tastefully decorate her new home. The transition is always stressful…I cried like a baby at the time of bidding adieu during our first few relocations…whether it involves larger distances or small, it requires breaking attachments, leaving friends and moving out of our comfort zone created.

Today as I sit with a hot cup of tea in a perfectly manicured green, seeing the feathery visitors with wings, playing around us feeding on the grains and flapping their wings, cleaning their plumage in the shallow puddle of the birdbath, a bunch of parrots dancing on the white marble of the Buddha statue, and a rustling sound emerging from the gentle breeze flowing through the tall trees, makes me feel blessed to be in another beautiful place far away from the din of the cities. The story of past so many years flash through my mind, recounting every little thing that made, that place so extra special. My new abode is in a small and scenic town surrounded by mountains and year round greenery; our second posting to the same place after 22 long years…where we had spent some remarkable period of time with our newly borns….now we start afresh yet again…painting it in our very own colours, in the process of making new bonds and creating our own sweet world once again.

Bliss
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From my Shimla Diary- Another leaf

It’s time to move on….and I name it ‘Another leaf’. I call it so, because it’s the nth leaf of the innumerable profound memories created in the past one year. Dedicated to this Dev Bhoomi (Divine abode) where serenity and splendour go hand in hand…the beautiful orange radiance of the rising sun, and the mystical alpenglow of the evening with the silhouette of the mountains make an amazing backdrop resulting in a heavenly experience every day; this blog marks an end of our stay in this heaven. Promising that my other penned memories of this charming hill station will keep making their appearance every now and then.

What is in it that makes this halt so cherishing? Like every other move, this time too I feel nostalgic. The nomadic life beckons once again…the nuances of marrying a man in olive but always looking forward to new horizons with hope and optimism. Having spent, one full annual cycle here, it’s difficult for me to fathom which time of the year was the best here. Every season offered its shade of uniqueness. The simple people, architecturally picturesque heritage monuments, the colourful local bazaars, the delicious traditional food and flavourful wines, everyone afoot, the long walks through the verdant tracks, beautiful bungalows with low trellises draped in ivy…all compounding to a memorable experience and a perfect retreat from a bustling city life.

Our exciting Sunday drives to nearby panoramic locations will always be remembered with fondness…Naldhera our favourite…the beauty of its lush and immaculately pruned Golf Course, actually stole our heart. The unblemished beauty of Mashobra, Fagu, Theog and the fascinating green alpine landscape of Narkanda…the Skiing and Winter sports destination, with the Hatu Mata temple sitting atop the highest Hatu peak of Shimla district makes for a paradise on earth. The enthralling apple orchards sprawling on the mountain slopes during August-October offer an exhilarating experience and a perfect rapturous mood…all documented chronologically with my camera preserving those smiles and times for reminding us later of our good days spent in the pristine surroundings .The thought of the flavour and aroma of mouthwatering local cuisine especially Siddu and Dham, so fresh in my memory (courtesy Khadu Cafe, Thanedar) still tantalise my taste buds.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs also, a walker’s paradise-Shimla, its early morning and evening walks, come what may, formed part of our regular regimen…a time for soaking in fresh air and to build a reserve of unadulterated oxygen in our lungs… those familiar smiling faces, those curves and turns of the meandering roads, those beautiful houses with their very English names, the sun rays penetrating through the tall cedar and oak trees with familiar sounds of chirping birds tempting us to cover 10-15 kms every day…made for our lifetime’s memory. The town moved by the hooter slicing the quietness of the air at 10am and in the evening at 5pm signalling the begin and end of office working hours, a practice existing since the British rule…now an elemental part of everyone’s routine…the evening siren a reminder of our tea-time…those little things make a bigger difference…and add up to greater memories.

The last few days before we move from any place are always hectic…when we really want to touch all those places once again where we have enjoyed the most. Bidding adieu to friends is always high on agenda and to balance them with official commitments, farewell dinners, dining out and above all packing…calls for real time management. Simultaneously, you want to be a part of every activity happening in the station…here, it was the coffee at the Honey Hut for a final goodbye to a friend, lunch and dinner with different groups at Amateur Dramatics Club– part of the famous Gaiety Theatre, the long pending Breakfast buffet at The Cecil to relish the authentic charm and grandeur of this heritage building, and yes, the unavoidable exciting nature walk conducted by a friend, made for a befitting farewell from this Queen of hills. The running around to Lakkar bazar and state emporiums for impulsive shopping of souvenirs, wines and colourful caps and stoles, was also packed in the schedule. This is how multitasking becomes our way of life gradually.

The sun facing bright southern side with the colourfully stacked matchbox look houses making the front facade of this magnificent town, and the clear vision of the coral tinted Monkey God, standing erect on Jakhoo hill, makes for a good reference point to spot any place in this area. Just below this, the Christ Church the most sought after place for capturing magical moments in the same frame makes a complete spectacular portrait . This picture post card view of Shimla will always remain etched in my memory and while driving away from Shimla, this spectacle is clearly seen for kilometers till Kandaghat, which slowly fades away, reminding us of the heart-robbing town snugged in Himalayas which was once our home. The thought of friends, memories, routines, favourite haunts, favourite smell and all the little things with a more poignant feeling keep recoiling back like a boomerang exerting a gravitational pull and a yearning to go back. There’s something we have left behind…our footprints and a chunk of our heart…and have taken with us those countless happy moments to cherish for lifetime.

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The Chemistry Of Emotions…

Chemistry….a word that reminds me of the days when learning of the Periodic Table was like climbing the Mount Everest…balancing of equations gave sleepless nights…yet, it all seemed so intriguing . The presence of Hydrogen and Oxygen being the elements in the elixir of life…the water we drink, sounded unbelievable, presence of acids (which we knew were only corrosive)in some of our favourite foods made no sense…still, the bonding with atoms, ions and molecules came so naturally to me. However, Chemistry is not everyone’s cup of tea, a general notion because some find it complicated while some hate this subject for its complex structures and chemical names. Phew!!! for them, mention of the word ‘Chemistry’ is like some nightmare which brings certain terrible looking symbols and species in mind that interact amongst themselves involving breaking and forming of bonds. Chemistry, in their opinion is good only when it helps them in removing those stubborn stains from their favourite garments or helps clean things with the magical mixture of Vinegar and Baking soda. We can lay off Chemistry from our choice of subjects but we cannot take it out of our system. Chemistry cannot be considered solely a subject or even ignored…it is the basis of our life- which once started with a Big Bang…the beautiful enigmatic life. Some compare life with a roller coaster ride with its twists and crazy loops making the journey both scary and exciting.

What does chemistry between two people mean? The way two individuals look at each other tells us a lot about what they feel about each other. It is an emotional connection and an ability to connect on every possible level which arises if you are understood well, supported and accepted for whatever you are. The neurotransmitters (the invisible messengers inside our body) and hormones (chemicals produced by different glands in our body) totally control us and our emotions…love and jealousy, pleasure or pain, all being a backwash of the various chemical reactions governing us. It is hard to believe, but, the feelings whether romantic or of hatred…all rely on a complicated concoction of chemicals and psychology. At different points of time we all have felt good and bad emotions…which is very normal but being aware of our feelings and controlling our reaction is very vital. Emotions have the tendency to fluctuate through the highs and lows in life, and it is on us how to enhance our own sense of well-being. A proper balance of these chemicals is a prerequisite for maintaining good health to some extent through a balanced diet, limited stress, and exercise.

It’s hard to overlook the time when we had our first brush with hormones…the first crush or the first love…clammy hands, racing heart or fluttering butterflies in stomach and difficulty in focusing…the adrenaline rush on being caught bunking the class for a movie…and how about that twinge of green eyed monster overtaking our senses when some one else took the credit for the long hours of tedious work we did…all these swoony sensations stemming from the chemical warfare that gets triggered when we feel nervous or excited about something. Sounds absurd but we are at the mercy of a cocktail of chemicals like pheromones, dopamine, Serotonin, oxytocin and Endorphins which have the power to dominate us…whether it was entering the transitional stage of Adolescence or embarking on the road to motherhood or hitting the climacteric phase…it was always these possessions which manipulated our behaviour and were responsible in regulating our mood and mood swings. A right balance of these promote positive feelings, happiness and pleasure.

The chemistry of love…not necessarily physical attraction and romance, it could be self love, affection or empathy also…all leading to a beautiful feeling; is actually the interplay of chemicals circulating in our bodies which determine our reaction to various situations. The underlying truth is that we need to remain happy in order to make these chemicals behave. So how do we hack these chemicals- anything that we love doing or something which lightens our mood, can be the right course to tackle our feelings. Happiness is heavily influenced by two factors, our innate temperament which is mainly genetic and our circumstances. If the former is not under our might, then it is imperative that we devise ways and means to attain contentment and bliss by mastering our emotions. The answers to our problems, are also upon us to discover…it is our attitude that seeks solutions…sometimes just basking in the sun or cooking our favourite dish can work wonders in uplifting of mood. Shopping has always helped me come out of a bad day. Sunlight, exercise, laughter, food, music, meditation, pets, sleep, shopping, cooking, gardening – do anything that gives you happiness. Indulge in “me-time”…take out time from the busy schedules and pamper yourself with those soulful songs which are lying somewhere in some corner of your mind or spend time by talking to a friend with whom you always shared those little secrets earlier in life. Learn something new; cheerfully adapt and attune to the changes in your life.

So how do you tackle the chemistry of your emotions? Do share the secrets of your happiness😊

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From my Shimla Diary- The Third leaf (White Shimla)

Days have changed into weeks transforming into months and so have the seasons…it’s almost been a year, since I came to Shimla and each day made me fall in love even more with this charming hill station…which, once started as a small hamlet and gradually flourished into an imperial dream of the British empire in India, continues to be enigmatic with its lofty heritage buildings still adorning this beautiful hill town snugged in the Himalayas. The trees, the birds, the clouds and spending hours looking at the ever-changing sky, makes me feel exalted and newly alive. The irresistible allure of this place taking a new embodiment with the changing seasons(now, winters), fills every moment with hope and optimism.

Poetic misty mornings with dipping mercury everyday, at dawn, these snowy peaks appearing even more mystical in the sun’s orange glow, crisp chilly breeze; would leave anyone wanting to just snuggle into the warm quilt with a hot cup of tea and a book but we love spending time outdoors, breathing in the fresh icy winds which makes the winters here so very special. Inspite of having been posted to other hill stations earlier, the thrill of snow still excites me and can never fade. Recounting my childhood days when we used to anxiously wait for snowfall in Mussoorie, so that we could go there (as distance between Doon and Mussoorie is barely 30km) to enjoy the walk on the slippery snow, shaping snowman or throwing snowballs at each other…reckons some haunting memories of those times. This, winter wonderland too, between December to March is replete with snow covered grandiose Himalayan ranges and the vistas nothing short of the ones in fairy tales. Although Shimla experiences it’s first snowfall around Christmas and we were hopeful of experiencing white Christmas this year also, but instead it happened two days later and my joy knew no bounds. The entire town was draped in an immaculate white blanket which swept away the blues of the entire year bringing back cheer and joy. The tourists thronging the town around Christmas time filled the streets with gaiety and laughter. The Ridge and the Mall is the most frequented place and remains overly crowded with people taking leisurely walks along the bustling promenade. Their colourful jackets, coats, scarves and woollen berets make the white canvas even more vibrant. On a cold winter day, the temptation to sip steaming hot coffee or snacking on hot boiled eggs can certainly be a comforting idea to warm up a bit but taking a dig into the frosty softies(cone ice-creams) at the iconic ice cream parlour, ‘Embassy’ is matchless.

For those who love adventure activities and winter sports,there is no dearth of opportunities in Mashobra, Kufri and Narkanda but their breathtaking and captivating views can be equally enjoyed in other seasons too. A drive to these not so far places, is a great way to explore and soak in the magnificent snow draped surroundings of this hill station. An inhibited view of the sun sinking behind the jagged white ranges forms the most idyllic sight to behold.

The Kalka-Shimla toy train ride is a wonderful experience to undertake in winter months, if not the entire journey, one can revel in a shorter distance to enjoy the bliss of nature. An excerpt from my first leaf of Shimla Diary, dated 20 July, 2020….The road journey to Shimla is as beautiful as the travel by Kalka to Shimla in toy train …the railway line being an engineering marvel and recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Though the gentle paced train journey takes much longer than the other travel means but to experience the breathtaking misty views of the hills through 102 tunnels and lofty arched bridges with the surrounding villages offer an unforgettable panorama. However in winters, the landscape looks totally different and pristine carpeted in snow…with boughs of conifers hanging low under the mass of snow and the rays of the sun breaking the horizon feels like salvation.

The ethereal beauty of Tara Devi( Shogi) temple, during winter months is worth mentioning. Last year in February, we decided to undertake the much famed toy train journey and then follow it up further on foot to the temple. The train, from Shimla station to our destination took us less than an hour, chugging it’s way through small tunnels, across mountains, meandering through pines and deodar forests, maintaining its slow pace, making our joyride an incredible experience. It was a perfect time of the year for a trek to the 250 year old Tara Devi Temple which sits in splendor on Tarav mountain at a height of 7200 feet above sea level. After we got down of the train it took us about 2 1/2 hours to go uphill as two of our members lost their way in the forest and we had to wait for them midway. To add to our adventure came a heavy downpour along with lightening, thunder and hail….we ran to find shelter which we luckily did near the mobile towers installed in a clear area on the mountain. This place offered a wide panoramic view of meadows and thick jungle in the backdrop blending picturesque landscape with incredibly exhilarating experience. Another few minutes of walk to the temple with snow covered terrain and the spectacular view of Shimla from the top and surrounding Himalayan ranges made our trek perfect in every sense.

I feel, nature has endless opportunities for rejuvenation, serenity and wonder….it’s upon us, how we profit from it. Every day is a gift and what we encounter is unique and precious. This one year in Shimla…the volatile year of pandemic, passed by, admiring the beautiful foliage in summers, blossoming trees in springs, ember red leaves of autumn, benefitting from and appreciating the different shades of the magical annual cycle of the ecosystem .

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The Musical Memories….

It’s the final countdown…. (Europe) An indomitable song without which the clock does not strike 12 to usher in the New Year, has played year after year, making the moment exciting and wistful.

Daddy Cool or Ra Ra Rasputin...(Boney M); Voulez Vous or Dancing Queen…(ABBA) are some of the classics which trigger some beautiful memories of those days.

How can I forget the songs of QSQT or MPK…Romeo Juliet redux during our sophomore years…awed by their music, I distinctly remember crooning to these songs with heart rending ecstasy. Every song of those days has a beautiful memory attached to it which will continue to influence us always.

I remember, when I was traveling along the west coast while heading to Bangalore, I started humming some old familiar songs, a number of old songs kept popping up in my mind…it drifted me to the year 2002 when we traversed the same route with our little ones in our small car…a distinct memorable trip. Does it happen to you all too? During that trip we played some songs a number of times in a span of over 2000km while driving on the same route. Yeh lamha filhaal jee lene de…(a song with a deep meaning) or the mischievous Whenever, Wherever (Shakira) played repeatedly. This déjà vu (not in literal sense) feeling has visited me so many times. I get transported back in time, when going through some repeated activity and music connects me to the past. Music has enormous power to evoke memories. It’s a proven fact that when we hear some songs that we love; they prompt nostalgia when certain specific scenarios or important life events reoccur resulting in an influx of certain chemicals in our brain like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, making us feel good.

Music plays quite an important role in our life…right from childhood to now music has always been an indispensable ingredient…sometimes as a best pastime and sometimes a medium to relax and unwind. Throughout my life whenever I have been happy, sad, or wanting to just spend time on my own, music has always helped me. There’s always music in the background, whether driving, eating in a restaurant or sitting in a salon getting my hair done…music is all around us. There were times when I used to flinch away by the mere mention of singing aloud in front of others and preferred practicing my vocal expertise in the bathroom or behind closed doors, and now, I enjoy singing those age old songs which had wormed their way into my memory decades before, during every karaoke night…Yeh raatein, yeh mausam, nadi ka kinara…being my favourite, rather our favourite (my husband shares this interest with me). Music has always helped me through various mood swings…it’s been a great healer at times and always been a source of letting loose. Music helps to reflect our moods and emotions. Beginning my day with gentle and soft songs helps me start my day on a happy note.

One of the factors for my liking towards Indian movies rests largely on the melodious songs in them…a major element missing in foreign language movies. Sentimental songs to hip-hop, I relish all…it’s my mood that defines the type of song I want to hear. There have been times when the lyrics have brought tears in my eye and at times they have even made me laugh and dance. Music is universal, I feel…I have loved songs just for their melody sometimes even though I did not understand a word of it…Macarena or Kolaveri di are some of them…which had that stimulating effect, that made people dance to their tune.

The rise of digital music, internet radio and on-demand streaming services,has changed the way we listen to the songs these days. The only means to listen to music, way back when I was a kid, was Radio…Binaca Geet Mala, used to play all Hindi chart busters while limited English songs channel used to play Grammy award winner songs. Songs of Bobby, Kabhie Kabhie or Chura liya hai tumne…from Yaadon ki Baraat still rekindle the most vivid memories of the most impressionable time of my lifetime. Our library of vinyl discs (flat records) of the gramophone in two sizes…EP’s and LP’s are still treasured. Whenever I see them, it makes me miss those times so much. The beautiful jackets of these records with their colourful pictures were my prized possession. Then came the era of audio cassettes and CDs…and then music became so easily accessible. Now listening to music does not involve much exercise…it’s just switching on the Spotify or YouTube to listen to our favourite numbers…I still love listening to those classics which bring back such incredible memories of the best years.

Some Flashes (only happy ones) from the various stages of my life which make me come alive:

During School days…spending time with friends practising Tina Turner’s song, what’s love got to do with it or Stevie Wonder’s, I just called to say, during free classes and recess or swaying to the most romantic numbers like Jimmy Jimmy aaja aaja, or intoxicating songs of Nazia Hassan casting their spell on all teenagers.

Oh! I cannot forget our fondness for the Enigma’s MCMXC A.D…our first album on our newly bought music system.

The songs of DDLJ, Roja or RHTDM capturing our hearts in our early years of marriage and then came the Remix trend…like Roop Tera Mastana or Kanta laga…our time just flew grooving to these tunes with friends when we were posted in a remote place where there was nothing much to do.

The list is endless and so are the reminiscences…music is eternal which connects us to the past. Today what we enjoy….it’s the music which will draw us to this time years later when we sit and recollect these days. Let’s make pleasant memories!

Wishing you a fabulous New Year 2021 !!!

If you also believe in the magic of music….do let me know your favourites.

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Your thoughts are yours….

“All actions result from a thought, so it is the thought that matters”

A profound thought, that often looms in my mind; which time and again has helped me take decisions and makes me feel steadfast and totally accountable for my actions because my thoughts are mine. There are two sides to everything, a proverbial phrase which appears quite simple but with a deep meaning. It is upon us what we perceive….our perception may not be the reality. A glass may be comprehended as half full or half empty, which rhetorically indicates our state of mind. Getting a bit philosophical but that is how life is…we judge the world from our viewpoint. We may not be fully correct but we are not totally wrong in expressing our outlook…people may overlook and not be in agreement to what we see from our vantage point. However, we should learn to respect other people’s thoughts, rather than get hostile and aggressive (something which is quite prevalent on social media).

A simple anecdote that resonates in my mind quite often that gave me a lesson for life, goes back to my first day at school. As I entered the class, a four year old shy, cherub looking girl then, was made to sit with three other children on a round, red table and instructed to write numbers as were being called out. A little anxious because of the new surrounding…forgetting how to write 9, I asked the beautiful, elegant lady (my first class teacher to be, Mrs Jordan) who was observing us all the while, as to how to write the figure . She smiled pointing towards the number charts on the wall and asked me to discover on my own. For me the number 6 was number 9. Though wrong, she hugged me and corrected me. Later, in my life I understood that everyone has his/her line of thought… though they may be wrong but that is how they discern the situation. Accepting other persons vision and later providing a suitable explanation can help in better understanding . Being wrong is not important, but attempting is far more important. Like it is said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

During my teaching years I realised how important it was to understand my students and give credit for their uniqueness by imposing faith on their point of view. It was imperative on my part to realise the individuality and exclusivity of each and every individual in my class. To give my conviction certainty, it was very essential to first understand their social environment intrinsically to build a bond with them. By giving them freedom of thoughts and expression, different viewpoints popped up every time we got stuck…sometimes out of the box too. I feel ingenuity is totally dependent on the originality of ideas. At the same time, paying too much attention to what others say, can sometimes malign our thoughts and manipulate our actions resulting in a concoction of notions leading to a confused state of mind.

Many a times in life it so happens that when we meet a person for the first time, we start forming an image of that person and sometimes might end up in character assassination, without even knowing that person well. If our thoughts have led to a proper conclusion then all goes well but misinterpretation can lead to unnecessarily making things murky. The ability to read others greatly affects how you deal with them. When you understand how another person is feeling, you can adapt your message and communication style to make sure it is received in the best way possible. So, it is very important to remain positive and control our thought process before making a final impression. But your thoughts are yours, no one can change your perception. Your thoughts are also the reflection of your personality, so let not others form an opinion about you from what you reflect. Like it is said, train your mind to see good in everything. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.

Labelling 2020 as the most distressful year, would be unfair…it is because of it, that families came together, if hugging or handshake became taboos so did spitting(for good) in public places; health and hygiene became paramount. Always look at the brighter side of things…without rain, there are no flowers.
My thoughts are mine!!!
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The Festive Razzmatazz…

As I sit to compose my next blog, nothing better crosses my mind than an ode to this delightful month of hope and excitement, which we have celebrated year after year soaked in religious sentiments and emotions…the most auspicious time of the year for starting new ventures, house warmings or weddings. Albeit this year, the spirits are dampened, the enthusiasm seems to have been robbed by the dreadful COVID 19. This, further impels me to go through this period remembering the happy times and the transformation that has taken place in our attitude over the years.

Come October and India is abuzz with activities and excitement. It all starts with the 9 pious days, followed by a series of month long festivities. India being a treasure trove of diverse cultures and religions, the entire year is in fact marked with celebrations and festivals which are celebrated by one and all irrespective of their social or economic status. However, this particular period is like carnival time here, basically commemorating triumph of good over evil. The markets bustling with people thronging to enjoy the shopping extravaganza make the atmosphere vibrant and a memorable experience.

This month is also the transition time in meteorological conditions…winter starts to set in and is the most beautiful time of the year. Actually it marks the pre-winter month, Autumn (fall season) and in India we call it Sharad Ritu (Sharad means Autumn and Ritu, also my name, meaning season). The pure and gentle weather manifests clear skies with countless stars; migrating birds, earthy colors of the surrounding infuse virility and liveliness all around offering the most ideal conditions for sowing seeds for winter flowers; pansies, verbenas, phloxes and petunias with dancing marigolds bringing sunshine to the garden. This pleasant season enables people to break free from their humdrum routine and take out time to enjoy.

The concept of rejoicing has undergone a major change in the past few years. There were times when with the onset of this season, major cleaning and painting of houses, shopping of new clothes and items for home, indulging in homemade sweets, buying gifts for friends and families used to kickstart with proper planning and budgeting and for children it meant break from school, time to feast and enjoy. I vividly remember, my parents used to start planning for these days well in advance and I always had my list ready much before time of what all I would love for my doll house which too needed an annual upgradation and beautification and my brothers ready with their list to buy an array of crackers. Every household was illuminated with oil lamps and glittering lights. Soaked in religious fervour and festive spirit for days, people enjoyed fireworks and crackers as they burst into colorful sparks in the dark sky and brought cheer amongst revellers, ignorant of any air or sound pollution. No one ever cared about phenomenons like global warming…life was carefree. Little did people realize that bursting crackers contributed exponentially to the increase in air pollution. Celebration was never considered calamitous though we started hearing of pollution from the 1970s.

As we grew, realization dawned and we started controlling ourselves and brought in certain changes…more than fireworks, lighting up the house and decorating it became more important. The essence of the festive month of catching up with near and dear ones, exchanging gifts has remained intact over the decades. We started enjoying fireworks collectively getting together, organized for all people in the station, which brought down the smoke levels and our conscience did not prick us.

Things have changed, life and situations have changed too…which gradually have brought a major shift in our mindset. Human activities and negligence resulting in environmental degradation has brought in a twist in the traditional fervor. The true spirit and significance of these festivals is losing it’s charm. The main contributory factors being modernization and globalization which have taken over the inculpability linked to the manner in which we celebrated all these festivals. It was more inclusive and even people with limited means enjoyed the festivities. Now people have become more self-focused and are moving away from their tradition and culture. Working couples find this time as an opportunity to unwind, they prefer to go on a vacation during this break rather than go the traditional way. With no dearth for money, new dresses and items for home can be bought at any time of the year. It’s poignant to see the traditional clay diyas (oil lamps) and decoration items losing out to the fancy lights and stuff in the market. The good old ways of festivals and celebrations are far more merrier than the way it is being translated into. We should not let our coming generations, forget the glorious heritage, culture and traditions who treat it like “Sale Months” or “Mega discount” days. Rather it is on us to reflect and recreate that connect with the past and teach them the importance of these festivals so that they learn to rejoice these special days with the family.

This too shall pass…in the process of defeating the virus, we have probably learnt to value the little things and realize the importance of our existence. Let the blooms of this month, the cool breezy winds with nip in the air and its freshness always remind us of the numerous fragrant moments we savored along with our families.