Tag Archives: gratitude

The Venus Flytrap: Wishes For Well-Being

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I write from a place where I manufacture hope for myself – and for the world – out of nothing but with all of me, the way a silkworm spins a cocoon from its body, or the way the sunlight-catching gossamer that a spider weaves from itself becomes at once its home and its art.

May you find in this time of constraint that you have more will and more heart than you usually have recourse to. May you draw from old wells of strength, and may they show you how you have been here before, and how you lived through it. The circumstances may be amplified, but the feelings are familiar. You have felt helpless before. You have known isolation. May you receive this while bolstered by that memory, just as I send it to you from a place of periodic equanimity, gained by experience and with the sense that all the world has slid now to the level of disquiet I always live with. And having lived that way, I can tell you that you can too. If you have the bare minimum to stay alive in this adversity, you can still find or make mirth, romance, creativity, comfort.

I know that somewhere in this city, the boughs of mango trees must be ladening with ripening fruit. The season for them has surely arrived, as seasons do, even out of turn in this time when ecospheres evolve. Soon, the rare jacarandas – you may know where amidst these many streets suddenly empty of our urgencies and our vanities they are rooted – will prosper in purple. Have you noticed how many words in the English language for this colour borrow from the names of flowers that carry it? Lilac, lavender, violet, periwinkle. Jacaranda is not one among them, both tree and tint. How beautiful to think of them all: summer’s bounty – the flowering trees, the fruit-bearing boughs, the weeds, a wild luxuriance. They will loom radiant in their posts whether we can see them, or touch them, or take from them or not. I write from a place with no foliage in my sight, for the first time in over a dozen years. It’s enough for me to know it thrives out there, away from our plucking hands and our polluting vehicles. Remember that nature has its own rhythms, and that you can conjure them up in thought. They susurrate within you. They are you.

May this find you in a place where your water, your electricity, your subsistence and your Wi-Fi are blessedly stocked. May you have enough. May you know that your coffer of courage, your vault of ingenuity, your repository of goodwill, and your larder of intuition are renewable resources. You do not have to fill them as we did before, using the ways we took for granted. There are other ways: gentler, simpler, more generous, more connected from afar. May you know that you are precious, and so is each life. May you know that if you are lucky, it is disgraceful – as in, incognizant of the universe’s grace – if you do not use your survival to make the world a better place.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 26th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: What’s Gratitude Got To Do With Genocide?

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So America has copied India, and if that makes you happy, feel free to use my sour grapes to make faux champagne. The imitation remains mutual, though. India – or more precisely, cashless, digital, desensitised India – now celebrates Thanksgiving, a North American festival with a history its name completely belies. I noticed it last year, in personal status messages and corporate sales promotions, and the trend continues.  It falls today.

For some reason, many people seem to think that Thanksgiving is a day when you express gratitude. For, I don’t know, having PayTM, credit cards and god-bless-Amazon-India? For being the first to get exclusive UNESCO-certified Whatsapp forwards? Alright, maybe I’m being uncharitable (see sour grapes from earlier). Some sincere, well-intentioned, but sadly ill-informed people seem to think Thanksgiving is a day to be appreciative of one’s good luck and myriad blessings.

But its North American observance, memorializing an autumn harvest feast shared by Puritan colonisers and Native Americans, is also a fictitious lustre on facts. To be exact, it’s nationalist propaganda. The first Thanksgiving of 1637 celebrated a massacre of 700 Pequot people. Native Americans were probably not seated at that table. Among what followed and preceded were: the Trail of Tears, smallpox as warfare, stolen lands, systematic slaughter and too much more.

Reading beyond skewed history textbooks, we know that Columbus sought a direct sea route to Asia. His poor navigation skills opened the Americas up for exploitation over the coming centuries. So when you observe the festival in India, what are you saying thanks for: that it wasn’t your ancestors, just someone else’s?

The Native Americans who survive to this day – whose voices I seek to neither represent nor appropriate – as well as all who were wiped out, with or without descendants, deserve more respect than that.

Distantly, we hear of the resistance against a pipeline that violates sacred Sioux grounds at Standing Rock, where water cannons and mace are blasted at unarmed protestors, who were even locked into cages and attacked by dogs. Distantly, we read of how even as these events unfolded, Obama was posthumously awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Elouise Cobell, who successfully litigated against the United States government in the largest class action lawsuit in its history, for mismanagement of funds and lands leased from Native American nations. Such dissonance, between the things we are told and the things we know to be true. And still, so very distantly, we type out “Happy Thanksgiving! So grateful for all the good things in life yo!” as though nothing is connected, as though the history of human survival is not twinned by the history of human carnage.

Don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Your “good intentions” don’t bring back the cultures that are lost forever, or revive the ones that are under threat. Your “good intentions” don’t keep human rights violations from happening to this very day. Hell, your “good intentions” haven’t even solved the riddle of how India sends missions to Mars but hasn’t invented tools that replace manual scavenging with bare hands, right here in our own backyards.

And as for gratitude? What’s genocide got to do with it?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 24th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: A Jarful Of Joy

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At the start of this year, I decided to keep a jar of wonders. Each time something very good – truly meaningful, or in the form of an accomplishment – happened, I wrote it down, folded the paper and kept it in a container meant just for this purpose.

Some years ago, during a time of struggle, I had embarked on a similar exercise, though far different in scale. Each day I would find three things I could be thankful for and write them down. They were the smallest things. A chance to wear certain earrings. Somebody’s smile. Ice cream. They were all I could have at the time.

A new year is like a birthday: no matter what we say about not taking them seriously, we do. Something in the stardust of our bodies responds to the orbit of the earth around the sun, and so we keep score, mark off tallies, calculate and clear the slate. Some years allow you to enjoy looking behind you; some years demand that you turn your back on them.

And where do I find you? Here we are at the very last page of that free tearaway calendar everyone has in their kitchen. Are you looking forward, or are you holding back? What did you make, using what you were given, this year? What do you carry with you as you step over, trying to keep your lucky foot forward, into the next?

It doesn’t feel like December in Madras this year. It’s not cold enough. It’s quiet, too. The intangible fabric of the city has been creased by the strandline of floodwaters.

But tomorrow can still feel like January. We’re only two weeks deep into mystical, romantic Margazhi. The harvest is around the corner – may our pots overflow!

Tonight, I will open my jar of wonders and read the notes, and bask in gratitude. This was the year I was blessed enough, and brave enough, to ask for more. This was the year the Queen of England was in my audience, listening to me recite a poem. This was the year I finished writing books I worked on for years. This was the year I started writing The Venus Flytrap again! For every piece of paper I fish out of that jar, I will be thankful, thankful, thankful.

I feel like I should add a dhrishti-dab, so let me just say that somewhere there’s an inverse of that jar and it contains disappointments, dead-ends, lost friendship, fear, grief, nights when even the moon snubbed my company and – of course – my perennial heart condition (i.e. broken). But I didn’t keep that jar.

And so, after reading the notes in the one I did keep, I will clear it out so that it will be not empty, just not yet filled. I don’t know how I will measure the coming year, whether it will be a year for asking or for accepting. Whether I will collect pebbles or count cairns. But that’s the beauty of a turning year, and the human need to reckon. We can always begin again.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 31st. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Human Circuitry

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At the same time that I was asleep and dreaming of a long drive along dirt roads looking for a temple, wondering why we could not just stop and worship at one of the many snake-hills we passed along the way, across the world, she was saying a prayer for me at the shrine of Marie Laveau, Voudou high priestess of New Orleans. A year later, someone else travels to Portugal, and does the same for me at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem. Again, it is unasked for, unexpected, but welcome.

There are those who fill us at every moment that to think of them is only as natural as prayer. For some of my friends and I, what this usually means is to pray. But even those who don’t pray, invoke. Each time I find myself alone with a decanter I think of all those who should share it with me, and raise a toast. I have become a collector of objects that catch the eye only because they are weighted by their associations.

All nostalgics are masochists; we subject ourselves to the tyranny of memory and history and insist on the accompaniment of ghosts. Sometimes it is beautiful, as when across the breadth of the world, one connects and connects and lights up a web of human circuitry, each point of connection a live wire, always active.

As I was writing this column, a friend asked why I equated prayer with pervasive memory, because prayer is expectation. I realised that this is not how I pray, at least not most of the time. I ask, of course, but mostly what I do is receive. Not in the sense of getting what I hoped to, but in the sense of being constantly plugged in, engaged with the world, connecting. I am blessed with an incredibly rich life only because I am willing to receive it. My relationships are rewarding beyond measure. The only distances that matter are the ones we choose to place between ourselves.

I regularly experience synchronicity, and I think that this is because it is almost as though, from our respective locations, my dearest ones and I are tuned in to the same radio frequency. Someone will tell me she’s trying to find an image online to send me of what she wants to get tattooed: that same image will be on the tee shirt I wear at that very moment. I will send a text message and get a call back instantly – “You won’t believe it but it’s freezing and I am wearing a balaclava and six layers, but I suddenly had to speak to you, and just as I stood up to step out and call, there was your text.” But I do believe it. We could have gone months without contact. It doesn’t matter, it never does, because somewhere, on some profound level, we were connected.

And this is why, when I meet someone who refuses a connection, who reduces it to its most functional or profane terms, I am saddened. If we think again of prayer as a point of connection, as I do, then just as in my dream of snake-hills, some of us are looking for a place to pray, when everything around us is already a prayer in itself.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.