Once upon a time, a wonderful kind loving man sent an email to a sweet silly scared girl.
She was upset about something, and in the middle of that upset she blurted out, “if that happens, I will lose all respect for myself”. Whatever that “that happens” might have been.
He did not interject and say anything while she was busy being upset. The next day he sent her an email which contained the best words anyone has ever said to me. Yup, that sweet silly but not-so-scared-anymore girl happens to be me.
I generally prefer to stay away from claiming that this is the best or that is the best. There is so much around that is so wonderful in so many different ways. However, I truly feel, in all the years of my life so far, these are indeed the best words any friend, family, fellow human being has ever said to me.
These words have stood by me and have been a source of strength at some of my most testing times – when I was in the midst of stuff that did not make sense to any of my near and dear ones, including myself, including that kind loving man himself. During those times these words gave me the strength to plod on, even if the plodding on seemed aimless, clueless. These words gave me the strength to keep faith in the choices I had made, keep faith in myself, despite dark dank depression.
This is what he wrote:
In our conversation yesterday, I did not say this explicitly. You would have tried to give an instant reaction. I wanted you to consider it at length later.
You said that if certain events happen, you will lose respect for yourself. Even in the worst case, never, never, lose respect for yourself. Personally, with my unshakable faith in life and God, my own respect for myself is not negotiable. I may fail, I may be stupid, I may be insulted, but I am a creation of God. I must have a role in this grand design of universe, so I must be what I am. Similarly my approach to life is that I have a right to want and ask, but whatever life gives me, I accept it with gratitude. Since I can express myself best in poetry, I wrote a poem on these convictions a few years ago. That poem is attached.
~ Vinod Tewary
I put in the italics to highlight the words I now pass on to you my friend. Consider it, make it yours, use it if you wish.
Even in the worst case, never, never, lose respect for yourself.
Personally, with my unshakable faith in life and God, my own respect for myself is not negotiable.
I may fail, I may be stupid, I may be insulted, but I am a creation of God.
I must have a role in this grand design of universe.
So I must be what I am.
I have a right to want and ask.
But whatever life gives me, I accept it with gratitude.
Suck away at the mango of life. Suck away at its pulp. Drink in every drop of its juice with awareness. Grate your teeth in its reshaa and on the guthlee. Take in the bliss. And steeped in joy, fulfillment and gratitude, with every ounce of life having been sucked, fling it away at the time of death – just like the guthlee is flung away.
A piece of writing has to be about something. But why?
I and my wrist just like going for a trot on paper, riding on a pen.
Some like to have an array of shoes, some, an array of cars. I cherish the array of textures of pen moving on paper. My favorite being smooth, but not too smooth. Thick, but not too thick. With a hint of resistance from the paper that generates an interesting rustle.
Not just the Mars rover, and self-driving cars – there is amazing technology everywhere. The way the ink flows through the nib, just the correct amount. It is not all liquidy, yet it flows. It does not all just plop down like water from an upturned bucket. The way its drawn out in a steady controlled stream is not just amazing technology, it is miraculous. Just because this technology has been around for eons and is so easily available does not mean it is any less fabulous.
So also the ceiling fan, and my breathing, and water…
What do I have in me that is of value, that I feel is worthy of being shared with the world?
All that I feel is of value in me, a bouquet of thoughts and experiences, ever taking shape, ever fading away, some staying longer than others, they all distillate into a single feeling – a feeling of expansive silence.
This silence is not the oppressive suffocating kind which occurs out of deadlock and frozen communication. This silence is deeply nourishing and loving. It permeates the being and expands into a gentle sense of awe and gratitude. A sense of wholesomeness, of being connected to the universe itself.
It is this expansive silence that accords value to every thought, every experience that I find worthy of being cherished. It is the essence of every speck of beauty that I encounter.
How do I make an offering of expansive silence to the world?
Will you sit quietly with me at the edge of a lake?
To sit quietly with someone is an intimate sharing.
Recounting the experience of my first ever art stall …
It is that boy’s eyes. That is the main reason why I am writing this post.
It was a wonderful day. Truly a blessing for me. An experience of directly reaching out and connecting with so many people via art, via the art stall I put up at the Diwali Dhamaka (a fun fest) in Manipal this weekend. At the stall, I was selling some of my paintings and also had all the paraphernelia ready for people to come and make a painting themselves.
Time and again I am pulled back to the memories and snapshots of those facial expressions of so many people and it fills me with so much gratitude and a sense of fulfillment. I feel amazed: “connecting with people in such a way is possible?!” Well yes, it is possible. It happened girl.
There was this small girl, 6/8 yrs or so, beautiful face, enticing smile. She kept hovering around my stall. Someone asked me finally, “Is she your daughter?” I said, “No, she is my admirer.”, and her permanent sweet smile got even brighter broader. She had been waiting for me to finish painting the pizza box side that I would give her for free to use as a bookmark.
A young man – a pharmacy college student here at the university. He was so enamored. He stood there and pondered long at the wares I had available. When he finally sat down to paint one himself, he pondered over that for long, along with his lady friend. I quipped a bit with this guy with a tip, “don’t apply your head so much” and later shared another painting tip with him too late, “backgrounds first, water first, coconut tree later.” That he was having a go at it with childlike enthusiasm despite being very clueless about it was so fantastic. Most adults do not do that. I realized later, I should have been gentle with him as I was with the children, rather than mocking joking.
I learned first-hand from a boy the impact of holding the paintbrush from far even when painting on a tiny canvas – and his mother had whispered to me that he does not know painting!
A lady admired the art on display and spoke of how she loves painting, has tons of art material at home but can only do copies. That is a struggle I have seen many adults have. Their technique is great, they can make beautiful paintings, but only copies. I told her to go home today and let her hand move any which way it wanted. She seemed inspired by my suggestions and said so too. I hope she tries.
There were many many wonderful expressions and human connections, saved in my heart. Each one precious and beautiful. I want to share each one with you, but will come now to those boy’s eyes. It is that boy’s eyes. That is the main reason why I am writing this post.
A small boy, again, maybe 6 8 10 years old. In school uniform, wearing glasses. Probably the first child I have seen here wearing glasses here in Udupi-Manipal, for that feature stands out in my memory, apart from his eyes. There was something troubled about it, his eyes. He came again and again and admired the stall, asked me how I paint like this (to which I wish I had an answer that would have soothed him and brought a happy smile to his face).
He came again and said “I have come to watch you paint.” I offered several times to him, “would you like to paint?”, he shook his head. After my nth asking, he said, “some other time.”. There was something very adult about the way he said “some other time”. It was sad.
He came again with his elder sister, a smartphone and a request expressed by his sister and not himself, even though he had been talking to me so far.
“He wants to take photos of the paintings.”
I said sure, and he took some photos of some, individually.
Whatever it was that was touching him so intensely, I hope and pray it finds self-expression.
That sounds like a sombre boy and encounter, but the whole day was a very happy art play day. Several dreams and wishes fulfilled: to sell my paintings, to share a “Art Play Place” with people, to earn some money after a hiatus of some 2.5 years.
There have been many many times when I have explicitly (though silently) felt very thankful that I know how to read and write.
There have been many many times when I have explicitly (though silently) felt very thankful to my parents that I know how to read and write. Well let me say it now, before I move ahead –
Mummy, Papa, thank you very very much for providing me a (very) good basic school education. Mummy, thank you for those repeated visits to so many schools, trying to get me admitted mid-term, despite having to listen to the frustrated (almost insulting) responses of many principals. Thank you for the fact that despite the need to have me admitted to a school, you did not compromise on the basic quality, environment and values that the school exhibited via its teachers’ behaviors and other organizational practices. So when I was admitted, you took me out with no hesitation and no delay, when these basic standards were found to be lacking, despite the fact that it just further lengthened my at-home no-school status. Papa, thank you for providing the financial means for the sustained education. And of course, thank you to both of you for all the other regular logistic and every other kind of task that is required to keep the machinery running for the child to go to school everyday. I repeat, I have many many times felt very thankful and grateful that I know how to read and write, and each time, I have felt very thankful to you Mummy and Papa, for that.
And now, thank you to graduate school. For further teaching me how to read. Today I experienced the sublime pleasure of that “more advanced” level of reading. Right through the time while I was reading what I was reading, I was feeling thankful to graduate school. For even while I was enjoying what I was reading, a parallel thought and knowing was that this is being made possible due to having indirectly learned “how to read” in graduate school. A bit during masters and more during the two years of discontinued PhD.
Thank you. With my arms mentally raised to some unknown un-named undetermined force: Thank you for giving me the ability to read.
I miss the ubiquitous “Have a nice day”. I miss blackberries. I miss wearing raspberries like caps on my fingers. … … A beautiful land and people that I am glad I experienced…
I miss Panera Bread. I miss sitting on a particular seat in the university/N. Tryon Panera Bread, looking out of the glass wall during sunset or night, at the cars passing by, the sky and the trees.
I miss the wide open expanse. Often, too wide for practical convenience, but beautiful for the soul.
I miss sitting outside my home watching children play. Going to the mailbox and seeing teenagers hang-out out there. I used to live in a Black and Spanish neighborhood, so there were only Black children and a few Spanish ones. And as I write this, aside of all the missing, I am feeling the joyous freedom of using the matter-of-fact-no-racism-intended “Black”, rather than the pretentious “African-American”. I can do that because I am not in the US now. I was and am very glad that I lived in that neighborhood, in the midst of that life.
I miss being able to sit in that neighborhood, amongst trees. Tall straight trees – not scarce and not too close together.
I miss going for walks to Reedy Creek Park (in Charlotte), Willow Creek Park (in Iowa). I miss the park (Sue’s Garden) in the university campus.
I miss people smiling at each other, eyes connecting for a moment, as they walk past each other, at normal public places – grocery store and such like.
I miss the ubiquitous “Have a nice day” greeting. It used to irritate me quite a lot initially when things were not going well with me. Later I started genuinely liking it very much (even if things were not going well with me) and I would mostly say it in a very genuine manner. Not in a robotic programmed manner. I miss having the opportunity to say it now.
I miss being able to talk to everyone in English, even the apartment maintenance guy or the window cleaner near Harris Teeter, or anybody else. This does not mean that I did not miss talking in Hindi and Bengali when I was there. I did. But there is mentally something very leveling and satisfying about being able to talk to everyone in my primary language of education and thought, which in India is still somewhat of an economic divide.
I miss blackberries. Luscious natural instant energy. I miss wearing raspberries like caps on my fingers and marveling at their texture. I miss kale. I miss the chicken salads of Panera Bread.
I miss Michael’s and the art supply stores.
I cherish the image of the constant change of colors – different flowers blooming at every stage of spring and summer, the riot of fall colors, the deep silent winters.
I miss the public libraries and the children’s books with its beautiful beautiful illustrations.
I miss older friends who were nearer and newer friends who are now far.
A beautiful land and people that I am glad I experienced…