Monday, 23 September 2019

Mindfulness journey #2

The mindfulness journey is ongoing with some tweaks here and there. I have tried to be more intentional in my listening, to my kids, husband, friends. I meditate and do pranayama every day, for 20-30 minutes. Recently, I took up my drawing pencils and brushes again, to revive a long-ignored hobby. Nothing begets mindfulness as much as poring over thin brush strokes, petrified that a single shake of the hand will wipe away several hours of hard work!
I'm pretty sure it's the one thing that's helped me do better with keeping my temper in check. I still have a long way to go, but baby steps :) 
Some of my art-work: 

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Reflections on 'hardship'

When I was 7 or 8 years old, we lived in Meerut and for days my mother slept with a kitchen knife under her pillow. Communal riots were common in Meerut and occasionally the entire city would be on edge due to an "incident", leading to riots. One night we sped across a handy connecting door into our landlord's house and huddled with his many kids and grandkids as a rampaging mob laid siege to the city. My father was away in Chennai and my mother was all alone with us. 

Last winter, S was away and at 4 am I leapt out of bed to find the burglar alarm going full blast and the back door thrown open. It turned out to be a false alarm but for several minutes, I sat on the stairs clutching a useless weapon (a heavy stone Buddha!), my heart thudding frantically in my chest, and cursing that I didn't have even half of the courage my mother possessed. 

Communal riots (not once but multiple experiences), 6.5 Richter earthquakes, accidents, life-threatening illnesses, deaths. When I think of all the bad stuff that my mom/parents have been through, I count myself lucky that I saw some of these happen when I was a child and not expected to behave like an adult or otherwise take responsibility for anything other than my own self.

My mild-mannered mother once took our landlord severely to task over some issue. I remember being astonished at her sudden bravery, and simultaneously proud that she was standing up to a bully who was taking advantage of her vulnerable single status (my father was working in the Middle East at the time).

It is not lost upon me that the hardships that many families faced as a matter of course in those days made the people involved stronger and incredibly resilient. Our grandparents and their parents did not have it easy, our parents may have had it somewhat better. As the next generation, mine had the advantages of a good education, a comfortable if not luxurious lifestyle and economic opportunities far surpassing anything our parents could have dreamed of. 

And our children have no conception of hardship. The experience of hardship is a half day spent wondering at the evil in man, at the Holocaust museum. The experience of hardship is volunteering at a homeless shelter once in a while. Not knowing what it was like growing up with frequent power outages, being bitten to death by mosquitoes, hanging on for dear life in public transport, having severe financial difficulties, no AC, and no telephones (what's that!) 

Yes, life is so good now. Yes, there will be hardships (who doesn't have those) but there are unlikely to be hard times.

I thought about this during a discussion in a Facebook group about our childhood, and how different it is for our kids. I commented that we hit the birth lottery a few decades ago, and so did our kids. Immensely grateful for the opportunities we had, and continue to have.

And we are done with the school year

Almost a year since we landed in the US, and a couple of days ago, we were done with the school year too. 
I remember my gut-wrenching anxiety in the months and days leading up to the start of the year. It has not been smooth sailing, but the kids have blazed through the year with aplomb, grace and confidence, making a fool of my paranoias and anxieties. I am so very proud of them and very glad to have been proved wrong once again! 
Ads got onto the honor roll two terms and received a prize for outstanding achievement in English. He has made a few friends, played a lot of cricket and recently, even started a new Science blog. Y has loved her teacher, her class and had a lot of fun the entire year. 
Ads will go to a new school (high school) in a couple of months and that will be a new experience entirely. I am sure I will have my usual anxiety attacks next year also, but fingers crossed he meets any challenges head-on with his usual quiet confidence.  

Monday, 13 May 2019

Peru and our first foray into South America - Part 2

Part 1 of the Peruvian adventure is here.

Back from Machu Picchu, it was back to Cuzco and onward to our next adventure, in the Amazon rainforest.

Imagine flying to an airport called Puerto Moldonado. It's nothing but a large, asbestos-roofed shack and the minute you step out of the building, you just know you are in the tropics. The air is warm and sticky. It is a sea of green all around. The bus you are asked to get on in painted with bright toucans, jaguars and caimans :) 

The bus took us to the Rio Madre de Dios, which flows across Peru and Bolivia and is a sub-tributary of the Amazon. This river looks pretty powerful and impressive so I immediately wondered what the mighty Amazon would look like!

The journey had just begun. We were on a motorboat for 2 hours, in the middle of the Madre de Dios with lush and impenetrable green on both banks. The odd fishing boat was the only sign of any human habitation. Later I discovered that the rainforest occupied 60% of Peruvian land area and held only 5% of its population (no surprise there).

Our lodge was a large one and stuffed to the gills with European guests. It didn't have phones, mobile signal (there was a radio set for emergencies) and electricity would be available from 5-10 pm every night. There was limited electricity at other times, powered by solar panels. Three square meals a day in the communal dining room were fresh, local and delicious. We thought we would relax in the lodge after our busy schedule in the Andes, but that was not to be. Between long and short hikes and caiman-spotting excursions, there was barely time to snatch a few moments here and there to lie on a hammock and read.

One of the hikes was exhausting, the air still and stultifying, thick with humidity so that in minutes we were soaked with perspiration, our sunscreen and insect repellent-coated skins taking on an additional sheen of sweat :) The sun beat down on us so that we would be relieved whenever we were able to move into a patch of shade. We didn't see as much wildlife as we expected to, although always there was the slightly menacing sense of something breathing and observing us from behind all the thick foliage. Maybe it was just my overactive imagination!

The Amazon jungle is massive, majestic and utterly fascinating. Full of things (flora and fauna) that can bite, sting, cut and kill, it is also full of things that can heal and restore, as our guide demonstrated to us time and again. 

I was so glad that we saw two very different sides of Peru on this vacation, from the sublime and lofty Andes to the splendid Amazon. There remains much more to explore in this beautiful country, and hopefully we go back some day. 

Peru and our first foray into South America- Part 1

If Costa Rica and Peru are even a little bit representative of Latin America, I see a long love affair looming! So colourful, geographically diverse, beautiful and friendly! We choose Peru for our first South American foray for the simple reason that it doesn't require a visa for Indian citizens so long as you have a US or Schengen visa. Also, we wanted to see what the big fuss around Machu Picchu, was all about.

Now Peru, like most big countries, is a 10-15 day trip. I know people fly in to see Cusco and Machu Picchu (MP) and fly out, but that's a bit like seeing Delhi and Agra and pretending that's all there is to India. A nice taster and appetizer, but not the whole meal! The kids had the week off for spring break, and with the weekend on either side, we would have 9 days. Given the time taken to travel (with flights and layovers, we were losing a day on each side), I decided to pull them out from school for 2 days so that we would have 9 days in-country.

As it turned out, both kids went down with the flu one after another just the week before our departure and ended up missing the entire week of school. It was exhausting running up and down the stairs and to the doctor and pharmacy, dealing with fever, cold, pain and vomit for 2 kids, maniacally disinfecting all common surfaces and areas and praying that S and I don't catch the flu. Fortunately, since the kids had had their flu shots in the fall, this infection was not as bad as it could have been, and they were recovered well in time for our trip.

We flew to Lima on Copa Airlines via Panama city. We left at 10 am EST and reached Lima at 7.30 pm CST (Peru just being an hour behind DC time). Annoyingly, after such a long flight, we couldn't find our pickup/driver and after waiting for 30 minutes, decided to take an airport taxi to our hotel in Lima, where we had dinner and called it a night.

The next day, dawned bright and sunny. I had planned a self-guided walk along the cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean, and that occupied a couple of hours after breakfast. It was supposed to be a longish walk, but we had to cut it short because of the heat. I had packed for fall weather, with full sleeved tops and pants, and the warm weather caught me unawares. Poor Y kept asking me - "Why didn't you pack SUMMER clothes? I am so hot!!!"

The ocean views were pretty, and the parks were clean and crowded with fitness enthusiasts (it was nice to see a large group of women boxers).

The cliff path with a view of the Miraflores lighthouse

Relaxing at the "Love Park" 

After a quick lunch at a pizzeria where they served us with amazing veg pizza, we were off to a walking city tour led by Urban Adventures. We were the only people on the tour so it became a private walking tour. Our guide Paola led us through a food market, where we got to see and taste many of Peru's distinctive fruits and vegetables.

Chrimoya, a sweet and fleshy fruit

Granadilla, from the passion fruit family

Walking through the market 

A stop for gelato!

I had the lucuma gelato, which was a bit like tutti frooti and very yummy 
Some of the other Peruvian favourites, were toasted and salted corn (yummy!) and Inka Kola..and of course, the national drink, Pisco sour (alcohol content between 38% and 48% so definitely not my thing).

A crowded bus drive brought us to the Plaza de Armas, the main square in Lima, filled with gorgeous buildings- the Presidential Palace, the Basilica of San Pedro, the Archbishop's Palace etc.

We had a hard time getting back to the hotel. Apparently, Friday night traffic is not a problem only in Bangalore! It took ages to find a cab and we got caught in an epic traffic jam before being dropped at our hotel, settling in for an early night before our flight to Cusco the next morning.

Cusco (or Cuzco, Qusqu being the Quechua spelling) was the capital of the Incan kingdom for about 3 centuries until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. A gorgeous city with the ubiquitous Plaza de Armas, it took our breath away, quite literally (as it's the same altitude as Leh, around 3400 m above sea level!). 
Very few of the original Incan or pre-Incan buildings remain as the Spanish invaders razed everything to the ground. The pre-colonial buildings that remain are in ruins, some partly restored, a mute and sad testament to the ingenuity and technology of the Andean kingdoms that were native to the Sacred Valley (or Valle Sagrada). 

The kids and I missed the city tour as Y and I got a touch of altitude sickness and we stayed put at our hotel drinking copious amounts of coca leaves tea and staying hydrated. But we were fine the next day, which was good because the next 72 hours were super hectic as we whizzed through the Sacred Valley, covering Pisaq, Ollayantaytambo, Chinchero, and Machu Picchu, marvelling at the Anden civilization's mastery of astronomy, architecture, engineering, agricultural techniques and of course the sophisticated art and craft forms.  

I didn't quite know what to expect at Machu Picchu. You know the feeling when you've seen a place and read about it innumerable times? One is always anxious whether the real thing will live up to its promise. When we climbed up to the caretaker's hut, I almost let out a gasp. There it was! The "classic" pic of Machu Picchu, seen countless times in magazines and travel blogs. If possible, even more stunning in reality (though S went back the next morning and brought back more outstanding photos of the citadel in the mist and rain). 

But I go too fast. The train ride to Aguas Calientes (the base to pick up buses for Machu Picchu) is itself beautiful. The panoramic windows of the train allow for mostly unrestricted views, over a landscape of gushing water and high mountains, green (in April) with foliage.

The rest, contd in Part 2.