The great night of Shiva, tonight.

Tonight is Maha-Shiva-Ratri [maha – great, ratri – night], one of the most important of the all the Hindu festivals. Commonly, Shiva represents one of the three principal deities in the Hindu trinity. But more importantly Shiva represents the formless and the infinite divinity. Tonight marks the celebration of the limitless dimension in oneself by identifying it with the Universal infinite principle of Shiva.

The occasion behooves the mention of Adi Shankara, the young Indian scholar and philosopher from the 8th century AD, who propounded the concept of Advaita or non-dualism (a-non, dvaita-two/dual). Advaita holds that the Creator is not distinct or separate from the Creation; that finite beings born of the Infinite are, therefore, themselves Infinite. So, as a young boy of eight wandering  in search of a guru, Shankara encounters a seer who asks him “who are you?” Shankara responds in these six exalted Sanskrit stanzas that would be known as the Atma Shatakam. Below is a concise and beautiful translation of the sublime verses I took from the acclaimed spiritual classic and one of my favorite books, Autobiography Of A Yogi.

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Atmashatakam by Adi Shankara. (Photo: South Padre Islands Beach. #nofilter)

One of the renditions of Atma Shaktakam (also called Nirvana Shatakam) that I love the best is from the album Sacred Chants of Shiva:

Further reading:

Mommy ramble: My Broken Continuum

OUR FIRSTBORN:
I vividly remember the freezing night my husband took me to the hospital via the well rehearsed route, all packed up. Like most first time parents, we had all the time in the world to be over-prepared. The next day, little before noon, our first child was born. It’s interesting how the memory and pain of childbirth doesn’t linger on. I was given the baby immediately and as I held it for the very first time warm tears welled into my eyes. I glanced over to hubby standing by the bedside, and he smiled, his eyes moist. That moment is etched in my memory as truly the happiest and the most unforgettable one in my entire life. I was very tired and in a half-asleep state for most part of the day. But whenever I would wake up, I could see my baby in the hospital bassinet beside me, bundled and secured, yet lonely and all by himself. I wished it was by my side, but I didn’t say anything as I was not even fully awake, slightly disoriented and quite unsure if that would even make for a reasonable request. Our hospital offered a service to take care of the baby at night so the mother gets to take some rest. I was asked to go for it (a ‘wise’ thing to do without getting ’emotional’ for my own ‘good’). That separation tore me deep down. I had neither the experience nor conviction to choose the right thing, as I can see it now.

POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION
Once we got home, it was such a hostile sight for me to see the tiny bundle in this large oversized crib. I was told not to cosleep with the baby as a new sleep-deprived mom could accidentally smother the baby. Trying to abide by these “do’s and don’ts”, while my instinct rebelling subtly but surely inside of me, created a distressing inner conflict. Finally, I confided in hubby and we got this big rectangular plastic box (with sides short enough to let me see the inside, lying down), put in a soft cloth padding, and started having it by my side with the baby in it.

FORMULA OR MOTHERS MILK:
Before his birth, when asked if I’d be giving formula or breastfeed the baby, I remember writing “both”, having no idea whatsoever of how important that question was. It’s only with my second baby did I realize the difference it made! During the postpartum weeks that followed, I felt something was amiss, and I’d feel very low and disinterested. On top of it, I was struggling with latching (as the baby was also given a bottle since birth) and lactation issues like most first time mothers, which was not helping my situation either. It is only a few years later that I would know how interrelated it all was. My mother would often try to talk me out of my misery by telling me that I had a healthy baby, a loving husband, my parents around and so there was really no reason not to be happy. She was right, but I couldn’t help it much. I was grieving for something that I couldn’t put a finger on, yet it was very much there, lurking somewhere.

BACK TO WORK and THE MOVE
I resumed work after the 3-month maternity leave. Needless to say, it was tough leaving the baby, although he would be home and not in a daycare, under the the loving care of my mother in law. The separation felt unnatural to me. But the whole world around me seemed to follow this norm, so it must be a ‘reasonably right’ thing to do, I would tell myself trying to assuage the trauma. It might appear strange when I say this, but I would not call home very often from work to check on the baby. I couldn’t. I was in denial…

Thankfully, it was not for long that I had to go through the ordeal. Hubby switched jobs and we had to move out of town, a few driving hours away. I quit after working for a few months. In hindsight, this was one of the best things that could have happened to me after I became a mother. I can’t be thankful enough as I would not have quit of my own volition, primarily because I was unsure if it was a even ‘rational’ option I had the luxury to exercise. I loved being not having to be away from my son, but there still was an undertone of something I was missing or perhaps was angry about. I was irritable and would have an angry outburst here and there, until I finally got over it a year or so later.

OUR SECOND:
Our second child was born after a gap of two years. To my pleasant surprise, everything was so much easier and better, as it usually is for the mother second time around. This was also the time when we moved again, this time from the Midwest to the Southwest (a bigger move) when the baby was but 5 weeks old! We moved into a couple of temporary corporate houses before we settled for the permanent one. In spite of all these changes and activity around us, everything seemed to work out just fine, the baby was content and I was cheerful, with no issues with lactation or latching. So much so that I donated about two and a half gallons of excess expressed milk (immensely satisfying to be able to help premature babies in need ones own little way, also a grateful reminder to all of one’s blessings!)

THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT- a book that put it all into perspective.
I read The Continuum Concept 6-8 months after my second child was born. It answered why the two pregnancies were so different. As soon as Baby#2 was born, I had him with me for over an hour before they took him away to bathe etc. I didn’t put him in the bassinet but for a few times, but had him by me almost all the time (and yes, I didn’t smother him a even a little!). I didn’t care if I was going against the ‘norm’. I was so sure, so confident. He was with me all of the time, or his father/grandmother/uncle at some other times. I had no postpartum depression and the baby had nothing to complain or cry. This time everything was in line with the ‘continuum’, the way it should be. Both are good kids, I still see a lot of difference between my two boys in their disposition and demeanor.

If only I had known about the continuum concept before, I would have had the courage to follow the feeble voice within me. There is a lot of literature available on parenting, especially for first time parents. But there’s only some that is very crucial, and this book is one such. If I was to go back in time and change one thing, I would make my decisions differently moments after the birth of my first child, the continuum way!

This excerpt is written with a sincere hope that some future mothers stumble upon this post and explore Continuum philosophy, which is nothing but parenting by instinct, the natural way.

Suggested reading and resources
The website: http://www.continuum-concept.org/index.html
The super excellent forum the wealth of wisdom from Continuum mothers/parents: http://www.continuum-concept.org/forum/index.html

Festivals and cooking from a ‘non-veteran’…

I began several posts but never got to the point of posting them on my blog. Didn’t think they were worthy. Not that I didn’t have my occasional moments of “ah-has” and reflections…  I did. The festivals that came by sans fun on the downside, and the newly discovered passion for authentic Maharashtrian cooking, on the upside.

Lets talk about the downside first. As for the festivals, you didn’t have to do much in India. Just go with the flow and fun was guaranteed. In a foreign country, if you do not have an enthusiastic community that you are involved with or if you do not have kids (who you’d want to expose to Indian culture irrespective of how religious you were in the past!), you have nearly no motivation to celebrate! That was the bitter truth I was struck with. Hope the next time I have at least one of the two factors to motivate me!

On the upside, it was a whole new world of cooking. I never grew up thinking I would or could “cook”. I’d conveniently think I am not the girly-girl type and got away with it in my mind.  Then, just a few days back during one of my cleaning sprees, I found the tiny “Annapoorna” brass idol my mother gave me during my wedding. My allowance from hubby to keep God idols is limited to a few. The rest are put away only to come out on Diwali or some occasion that calls for it. I struggled for few moments to decide if it should go back in the ‘God box’ or be out. Made a decision and put Her on my gas stove top. This was the same time period when I saw myself ponder a lot on my childhood and how I grew up, the cooking and the customs followed, the festivals and the traditions observed…everything. The more I thought, the more I felt distanced from it, and that was painful. Unfortunately, those days are limited to the memories safe in my heart and to the old pictures; my parents are back home in India and my dear grandma passed on a few years back. Besides, the city where I grew up, the people, and the new phase the India in general is in makes everything so different. Nothing is the same but for the postal address… Or it could be that I was stuck and everything around has moved on. Whatever it was, the best way for me to relive it all was -yes you are right on- “cooking”! Pretty counter intuitive, I know.

I started with one authentic Marathi ‘eggplant potato dish‘ that I found online on a cooking blog. In Marathi weddings, this type of curry would be a commonplace as I saw growing up. This blog was awesome I thought, as this blogger had all these amazing regional recipes from Maharashtra. I felt at home and delighted. And with this blog I discovered several related blogs which was a treasure to me, to say the least! “Grandma was not around, but her kinda recipes came to me from the universe” kinda feeling (I left the theater, but “drama” hasn’t left me; please don’t hate me for the over-dramatization!).  On a serious note, I felt closer to who I was. I felt grounded (used as an adjective here).

Home made Methi Paratha

Then came the Methi Parathas, the pumpkin parathas, the pumpkin sabji (typically made for puja’s), the sabudana khichadi, and so on. I made my own variations to the recipes from inputs from my mother. These blogs opened up several new avenues with one click just like Minesweeper (oh-I would love to play that game). If you liked it too, you’d know exactly what I am talking about! Strangely, I never came across these blogs before in my Google searches. To me all this was something like suddenly discovering you were a great painter when you knew you couldn’t paint for nuts!

Pumpkin sabji (yeah- could've done a better job at the picture had I known I was to post!)

Friends and relatives liked my “work” and hubby has still to reach the point of  “cant take it anymore”. Now, when I am around in the kitchen, as I secretly catch a glimpse of the little Annapoorna idol with her ladle, She seems to transform but for a moment into the apron-clad fairy godmother, swings her ladle and winks at me with a mischievous smile before she transforms back into the tiny idol amidst shimmery gold dust!

Death of a hero!

On my way home from work, I was listening to a news story on NPR about the death of this 89-year-old woman in a small coastal town of England.  Eileen Nearne was described as a recluse with no family or friends. After her death, authorities found as a part of her belongings, medals and documents that revealed she was in fact a World War II spy whose code name was Agent Rose!

To read: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130025778

To listen: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130052499

Nearne was one of only a few dozen women spies in an organization set up by Winston Churchill, called the Special Operations Executive or SOE. Its mission was to support the French Resistance. She worked secretly in the Nazi occupied France where her job was to send out radio messages. Those times, if a British spy was found, the only treatment s/he would get : death! Even after being caught and subject to torture, Nearne refused to crack, and relentlessly tried convinced her Nazi interrogators she was only a local member of the French Resistance. She was dispatched  to a concentration camp for women from where she successfully managed to escape – a rare thing. She was captured more than once and managed to escape every time!

Eileen Nearne "Agent Rose"

Apparently, as much as she was stoic in facing the unimaginable atrocities, she broke down once she was back in England and was physically and mentally ill for some years, before she recovered. She led a quiet life and had a cat for company. She was known to support few charities.

Sadly, her body was not discovered for several days after her death.

The story lingered in my mind long after the broadcast that afternoon. Truth could be stranger than fiction, Mark Twain had said, and I couldn’t agree more in case of this unsung hero!

As I wondered, images from World War II crowded my mind – bombs, prisoners, atrocities, concentration camps and living every moment in fear and uncertainty. And what a thing to garner courage to live through it day in day out, have that strong will to survive and force yourself never to give up! And what would it be to live alone once its all over? Not to be able to share, as it would be too personal to do so.. What would it be like reliving in memories the same old life, too horrifying to be forgotten in a lifetime, even after it was a “free world” on the outside? That such a brave and serving woman had to live and suffer all alone was very heart wrenching to me. A true war hero indeed!

But the more I thought about her and those times (even though accompanied by feelings of sadness and intrigue, of course), the more it put things into perspective for us and our lives in general today. Life is so much brighter and beautiful for us guys!

Hope she found solace in death, that she didn’t, in life. May her soul rest in peace!

Me, Julie ‘n’ Julia

Me and Prabhaker went to the good old Family Video store to grab a few movies for the weekend. Every time I looked at the promotion display of this movie, I would tell myself I want to watch it..sometime. It didn’t happen for a few trips until that day. Along with two other ones (some hedging here), we finally we picked up Julie & Julia.

Julie & Julia: The Movie

The movie is about this girl Julie Powell who is a writer of a half-finished novel, suffers from ADD  (like most of us ‘multitaskers’), her job is not the greatest, three of her friends apparently are way successful than her and she is still trying to figure out something that really makes sense! After a long day, pushing herself through the train to come to this little attic in noisy Queens for home that was atop a local pizza place, made it worse. The one thing that she loved that would take her mind off the monotony: cooking! Talking on blogs, one night her husband suggests she start a blog on cooking. She has her mothers copy of  Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. And she sets herself up against a challenge – to try all 524 recipes in the book in 365 days! With some successes and many failures with the recipes she pours out her frustration and her moments of joy on the digital pages and sends out there in the colossal cyberspace, and her blog starts shaping up. She doesn’t know if anyone on ‘the other side’ will stumble upon her blog. It’s almost like sending messages in outer space and expecting a response. Interwoven with Julie’s life is shown Julia Child’s life decades back in France: the food, the lifestyle and her transformation as a cook!

Without giving out much, and explaining the whole story and critiquing for the nth time, I would save it for you to watch, if haven’t already. What I would say is, its a simple story that is beautifully told. It is not a story of  someone with an exceptional work of rare genius, but one of common people like us who have a job to do, have our own issues within or outside, and our unique ups and downs. Life is not a novel or a movie where ‘one big finite and defined obstacle”, once overcome, everything is happy ever after. For (most of) us, this ‘big obstacle’ is broken down in several big and small pieces sprinkled randomly across our lifetimes, and life goes on.. and on. It is a daily challenge on an individual level to find our peace and happiness. The movie takes us on a ride and the little  ups and downs of Julie’s life while simultaneously traveling in time to enjoy Julia’s French living.

The movie reminded me of my Chicago days when I lived on-campus as a student sharing the apartment with three other roomies – Smrithi, Athiya and Prajna. Smrithi loved cooking, and whenever upset or bored, she would cook!  She would find it therapeutic. We’d tell her about your hunger pangs in the middle of the night, say, after watching a late night movie , and she will whip up some quick recipe. And more often than not, it would be delicious! Another food lover was Prajna – she loved to cook, to feed and to eat! She has fed almost all of us including the boys who lived upstairs, who were ‘permenant visitors’ for dinner when it came to meals. We would always have about 8-10 of us, if not more, Prajna was the perfect hostess for our ‘1018 community dinners’. I felt as if tThese two ladies were the Annapoornas of the den! I must admit, living with them was a “training” of sorts to get back into the practice of cooking. 

Back to the movie, Julia Child is played by Meryl Streep. Needless to say, she is nothing but great and adorable. The movie leaves you with a happy feeling. It inspires you to do something that appeals to you, to get your personal joy. And, the bonus: you might actually see yourself trying out recipes with a transformed perspective to cooking as well as eating! Thats the magic of this film!

Bon Appétit!