Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Fear Of Flying

Every time I travel by an aeroplane, my insides drop to my feet. I hear a roar in my ears, my stomach muscles work overtime and my heart beat accelerates. A friend, who also happens to be a doctor, tells me that I have some "underlying issues" and I need to go through some "cognitive coping strategies to deal with the anxiety disorder". Remind me never to have a doctor for a friend.

I feel if some one up there wanted me to fly, he would have given me wings. It is unnatural to fly strapped in a weird giant bird making a strange noise.  Every time I fly, I make it a point to sit next to my tolerant husband. That way, I can really grip his hands hard, twist his fingers  and squeeze his palms almost to a pulp. That is the punishment the guy gets for insisting I fly with him. If I had my way, I'd be walking or driving every where.

This time, when we went to Rajasthan for a short trip, I flew in the smallest aircraft I've ever flown in. The damn thing did not even require proper stairs. You could just haul yourself up the plane. And there was only one door. The familiar claustrophobic feeling slowly engulfed me. I thought a strong cup of tea or coffee would settle my nerves.  (Damn the puritan Indian airliners for not serving liquor on board).
 "Sorry ma'am, for your own safety, we would not be serving any hot beverages in flight," the cheerful air hostess informed me.
 " Why the hell not?"
 " Because bad weather and turbulence might cause your coffee or tea to spill."
 I nudged the husband. " Honey, may be we should just spend Diwali in Mumbai. I hear the lights have a spectacular effect on the otherwise dull city and makes it almost pretty."
"There, there," my husband just patted me indulgently. " Take a few deep breaths and count backward from 100 to 0, you'll be just fine."
 "Yeah but did you hear the air hostess? Turbulent weather ahead. What will happen if lightening strikes?"
"Chances are the bolt would pass through the nose or the wing tip and exit off through the tail." That explanation did not sound very comforting. What if the bolt decides to enter through the fuselage? That would be a disaster, right? My husband of course was blissfully unaware of my incessant worries. The flight was at an ungodly hour and he had slept off even before the plane took off.

Rajasthan is a lovely state. I have been there countless number of times and every visit I discover something new. This time the discovery was in Ranakpur temple, around 100 kms from Udaipur.

I saw this temple for the first time when I was in IInd year college. A gang of us had gone there during our
Holi break. That was quite a few years ago. The temple had looked absolutely breathtaking. Exquisitely carved pillars, underground vaults, beautifully sculpted domes, the temple looked majestic amidst the Aravalli range.This time though. it was a disappointment. The light marble looked black and ugly. There were too many people inside and we were barred from going up.Somehow the temple had lost its pristine looks. The peace that we found there so many years ago had disappeared.

Perhaps we looked lost. Or perhaps we looked disenchanted. A little girl came to us and offered to show us around. Her name was Yogini and she was the priest's daughter. Since the temple's inception, the men in her family had been the priests there, performing the Puja every day.. Her brother, who was only 5, would be the  the 20th generation priest one day.

She acted as our guide, telling us various stories associated with the temple, expertly weaving fiction with facts, history with mythology. She knew the story behind each pillar. She knew the temple like the back of her hand. Her command over Hindi was impeccable and I could not help but be impressed. She was only in Grade 5.

End of the tour, we asked her if she liked to study. Her beaming aunt, who was standing behind us for sometime, informed us that the girl stood first in her class every year.
" So what would you like to be when you grow up?" We asked, expecting the answer to be the standard 'a doctor' or 'a teacher'.
 " A pilot," pat came the reply.
 I was flabbergasted. " Why a pilot? Wouldn't you be scared to fly a plane? Going so high up in the sky?"
"Not at all. To be able to fly, to be able see the earth in a whole new way, to be able to soar... it would be so liberating"

So there. That is what I found in Rajasthan this time. The cognitive coping strategy to combat my anxiety.

 There is joy to be found in soaring after all. Even a little girl knows it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Say A Little Prayer

Yesterday one of my friends took me to her Nichiren Buddhism chanting class. Though she is a practising Hindu she has been attending this class for a year. She says this has helped her tremendously. Chanting, she feels, has made her serene and tranquil. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to go there to figure out what made her so enthusiastic about Buddhist chanting.

The class started with a chant of  Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, (I bow down to the mystic laws of cause and effect). The group, which consisted of women between 30 to 50, also chanted some other prayers, which went completely over my head. They were all in Japanese.

I am not very religious, though religion fascinates me. I do not perform  Puja every day. I rarely go to the temple. I do not believe in rituals. But I do have a strong faith. I believe there is a power above. I firmly believe if offered sincerely, prayers come true. I have experienced it many times myself. For me, understanding the language of that prayer is very important.Though the chants were mesmerising and sounded really beautiful, I felt completely out of place.

The leader of the group, who thankfully did not take offence at my scepticism, asked me if I understood all the Sanskrit prayers that I was more used to hearing. Most Hindu prayers are from the Vedas or the Upanishads. They are in Sanskrit which has been dead for centuries. If I could place my faith blindly in them, why could I not show the same faith in this. In my defense, I did point out that I do not chant mantras blindly. The few shlokas that I know and chant, I know their meaning. Moreover, even now, in India, there are people who can explain the philosophy behind these mantras. Sanskrit is still not so dead that we do not have teachers. How many people would I find who can explain some 13th century Buddhist texts in Japanese?

But the whole session did make me think. Is language really important when it comes to religion? How many Muslims are there in India who can fully understand the Koranic verses which are in Arabic? How many Hindus have studied the Vedas or the Geeta which are in Sanskrit? But does that make these people less devout? Do they really need to connect with the language before they connect with the faith?

You decide. All I know is that though God is universal, my relation with Him/Her is private. My prayers are unique. They are not found in any religious texts. When I chant some prayers, I want to know what they exactly mean. I pray because I want to be a better human being. I pray for strength. I pray to be a better mother. I pray for the well being of the society that we live in. I pray for my family and for my near and dear ones. What good is it to me if I do not understand that prayer?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Itchy Feet And Painted Shoes

Every six months or so, the travel bug bites us.

We get this sudden, strong desire to travel.We feel a strange restlessness, an irresistible impulse to get out of our house and see some new places. Even when we go away for a short weekend trip, we come back to Mumbai recharged and refreshed.

The summer holidays, which are longer, are reserved for international travel. We have been to a lot of countries in Europe, renting apartments and staying like locals. Which means doing the grocery, getting the laundry done, travelling by local trains and buses, cooking our own dinner.We walk a lot, travel by trams and trains. The kids love the experience, and so do we. The shorter Diwali breaks are meant for India. We just choose a city or a state and experience the marvel that is India. The food, the customs, the markets...we can never have enough of it.

My kids, who have been travelling since they were knee high, are seasoned travellers. They never complain about the pace, the food, the journey. Like us, they too have itchy feet.

Every year, they also do something different. Like when we went to Austria, they made a scrap book. They collected every scraps of paper, their entry tickets to various museums, the information booklets, the maps. They collected things like fallen leaves and pine cones. They beautifully stuck these things in a small notebook and wrote their memories of the places they visited. Along the margins, they drew pictures of the things they saw and stuck the relevant photos. One day, when they are all grown up, these scrap books will bring them happy memories.

This time,my daughter Ayushi, who is the artist in the family, has painted the shoes she plans to wear. Ordinary Bata canvas shoes, now look exciting. She coated them with acrylic paint, drew flowers, painstakingly filled them with her favourite colours and gave her cheap shoes that special touch. She is happy knowing wherever she goes, people are going to stare at her shoes and admire them. The shoes look so stunning that now she plans to gift her younger cousins shoes painted by her. Inspired,the older sister, also plans to make her own pair. And so does the mother, some day.

After all, itchy feet deserve beautiful shoes, don't they?

I wish all of you a sparkling and happy Diwali. And if you intend to travel this holiday season, do post about your experiences. I love to read itchy time tales...