Unplanned Day

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The only pre- decided activity on our latest trip to London was the musical theatre scheduled for 7.30 in the evening. We would have to work our day around it, if we wanted to stir out at all.

I decided the Charles Dickens’ museum would fill up some vacant time in the late morning. I had done my share of the city’s massive museums in the past but still retained space for something niche with a relevant personal connect. An iconic author’s home fairly close to where we stayed fitted the bill. One’s own craft as a writer has drawn lessons from his richly character driven, eventfully paced and socially ameliorative works. So we browsed around his five storeyed home, perched on his furniture, ran our fingers along the first editions, took pictures and listened to narrations of his colourful love life. Even so, the tour ended fairly fast.

We thought we might explore the retail on Kensington High street and grab a bite at Whole Foods, but halfway on the route alighted from the Uber having spotted an interesting destination. The place we were dropped off allowed us to realise we were ravenous. An organic Indo-Pak eatery made possible some spicy comfort food – aloo samosas and stuffed aubergine curry with the most amazing long grained brown rice I have so far set eyes and taste buds on.

From there to the National Portrait Gallery. It’s true I wanted to go easy on more museums, but with time to fill, we took in portraits from the Tudor and Stuart periods which had always interested me, coming face to face with Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles II and many more familiar historical figures. It was amazing to take in the breadth of history that just a single portrait could convey about a monarch’s life and times, love affairs and military involvements.

My still healing leg was fatigued so we then headed to the neighbouring St Martin’s in the Fields which I knew to be a concert venue. There was in fact an ensemble getting ready for a performance the next day and it was a treat to take a pew and hear them in rehearsal amidst a hushed and beautiful ambience. Trafalgar Square was right in front. Oddly enough, we hadn’t ever visited this famous landmark on our previous trips, but now availed the accidental chance of taking in the great monument celebrating an epochal battle.

Still some time to go. I wanted to visit a Lush store since those delectable plant based and cruelty free cosmetics are no longer available in Indian malls as they once used to be. Crossing to the neighbouring street , we wandered into a Japanese sweet shop and munched on a steamed rice ball with red bean paste. Waiting for a taxi thereafter, I had the opportunity to take in on the opposite side the beautiful monument that gives Charing Cross station its name.

The store with the name Lush that Google guided us to on Beak street related to some other service. Piccadilly theatre that we needed to reach was right there, so again we felt the yawn of time before the show began. The data cards on the phone were acting up and we needed wi-fi to orient ourselves to our chosen eating spot for the night. I spotted an Italian cafe right there, conjecturing that true to the non- dairy craze gripping London, we might just find our kind of beverage. We accessed the wi-fi amidst our respective drinks of mocha and white chocolate lattes whipped up with delightful oat mylk.

Warmed up in body and spirit, it was time to be in our seats at Piccadilly Theatre. Unlike the complex political convolutions of the musical ‘Chess’ we watched the day before at Coliseum, ‘ Strictly Ballroom’ was light hearted with a very thin story, but superb dance moves. At curtain call with its catchy recap of dance music, the audience jumped out of their seats to dance along. Though recovering from orthopedic injuries, I used my crutch as a support to execute some moves myself.

London’s oldest vegan restaurant, Mildred’s was a must do. It was a happy discovery to find it within walking distance so we stopped by for our post-theatre refreshment. It was around 10-30 and just half an hour to closing time, but the place was buzzing an vibrant. We had a Mushroom&Ale Pie and a Sri Lankan dish, washed down with interesting cocktails. The star was the rhubarb and ginger crumble which was our delicious dessert.

A while before the Uber arrived, but the Afghan driver , a great fan of Bollywood like his other countrymen we discovered in this line of service effusively greeted us with ‘ Namaste Dharmendra and Hemaji!’ Our educational inputs continued for the rest of the trip on South Asian geo- politics and personally experienced travails under the Taliban that prompted flight to the West. Members of his family still in Afghanistan are studying in locations like Bangalore and Pune, some on scholarships from the Indian government, so the regard and appreciation for the Indian nation is great.

Back at midnight in the South Kensington home that housed us for the week.For an unplanned day, it threw together literature, history, art, music, dance, food and personal interface. I have rarely known a planned day with a more diverse mix.

-GISELLE MEHTA

 

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Fracture Diary

I actually feared a mishap when forced to undertake a challenging trek in Hawaii. The surprise was that it happened in a careless moment at home. It was a busy Friday morning. I had much to wrap up before travelling out on the weekend. In a preoccupied moment, I lost my footing on the stairs, took a  tumble and toss. I discerned a crack of what felt like bone and the shoot of excruciating pain from an injured limb.  I was alone at home; my cellphone wasn’t with me when I fell. My mind is still a blank as I try to reconstruct the agonizing journey from the foot of the stairs to the other end of a large room to reach the telephone and summon help. I would discover I had suffered  a fracture in my right ankle.

It was some consolation it happened on homeground  where help and support were easily forthcoming. It might instead have happened during my planned travel the following week, where I would be by myself, with vastly complex logistics.

The unexpected also offers opportunities for learning, development and overall experience. I resolved to continue as normally as possible with all activities that did not require mobility; there are no limits to output of the creative and intellectual kind. Re-discovering mobility was creative in itself. My last acquaintance with hopscotch was in school. With the support of a walker, I turned into a dexterous hopper, albeit on my weaker left foot. A wheeled office chair enabled maneuvers within one level of  home.  Indeed one discovered new ways of doing things on multiple fronts, and learning to trust and delegate the rest to others.

Minimalism took on a true meaning- separated from my usual living quarters on an upper floor, a few essentials sufficed for camping in a lower floor guest bedroom.  One  discovered what might have remained totally outside awareness- like the design flaws and systemic deficits of toilets for the disabled in public places. In many ways, I was gifted the unhurried time to devote attention to things that might escape the usual rush. Simple fitness, the use of all one’s limbs and faculties takes on a whole new dimension of gratitude.

Expanded wisdom also happens from  enhanced appreciation of others. Concern and consideration received both from one’s personal circle and the public offers its own healing balm.  I was apprehensive about an overseas trip to be accomplished. I had to be part of an important family event, and thereafter take in my share of sights and sounds. Far from suffering inconvenience, personal comfort was elevated to an entirely new level. Being in a wheelchair at international airports cut short a great many time consuming travel formalities not only for me but my accompanying family. The interface that happened with the personnel who wheeled me around was interesting;  I am grateful to those who went out of their way to ensure my comfort. Finding me lean on a crutch as we waited in queue for a taxi in Rome, it was heartwarming to be tapped on the shoulder for quicker access to transport. A few days ago, in a resort closer to home, we were gratuitously allotted a cottage with the best view in the property because its location suited my mobility constraints.

Our circumstances are what we make of them. Equanimity is the key to dealing with situations. A broken bone should not rob one of a smile; being stuck with oneself need not reduce one’s involvement with the world.

-GISELLE MEHTA

 

 

 

 

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GIFT OF A FESTIVE SUN

It was the morning of a festival that Indians variously celebrate as Makar Sankranti/ Lohri/ Pongal/ Bihu, a thanksgiving for the solar radiance that makes life on our planet possible. Driving through dense fog in the wee hours to Bengaluru International Airport did not however signal this warming presence.  The young traveller’s father hoped it would dissipate before take-off time. But the sun continued to elude on the morning that hailed his return to our hemisphere. Aircrafts scheduled to land were diverted elsewhere. Our daughter’s flight for London which should have taken off at 7am departed at noon, ruling out her catching the onward flight to Los Angeles. She could only be accommodated on the next day’s schedule. Since it was a weather related delay, the airline’s call centre declined to confirm transit accommodation. The young lady practically howled at the prospect of an entire day holed up at Heathrow airport. Her parents could only counsel patience and the wisdom that hardship  strengthens one’s spirit. We voiced the possibility from accumulated past experience of things “working out”, though we hadn’t a clue about how precisely this might happen.

The airline fortunately assumed its due obligations. Passengers who missed the day’s connections were granted a Visa on Arrival for the day (minus the rigorous screening of the usual process) and given hotel accommodation.

It could only get better for the weary traveller from there. Earlier she found it absurd that a mere airport touchdown in London would leave her  without meeting up with her brother. The strange turn of events that gifted her a temporary visa and a day’s time in the city would indeed make it possible for the siblings to meet. Luckily, it was a weekend and the busy young man had a spot of time for his younger sister. They dined together with a shared zest for food. Time permitted the visitor a peek into his home and a stroll by the river Thames in the picturesque neighbourhood.

Back on her college campus after an untroubled onward journey, a previously peevish young lady seemed delighted with how inconvenience yielded to the unexpectedly pleasant. Things hadn’t just worked out; the surprise element in the situation was a blissful bonanza. Equally, her parents were vindicated in their wisdom, not just in that instance but as a larger lesson on going forward with patience and hope through life’s tricky situations. All personal journeys undertaken with courage and confidence  enjoy their own illuminations.

And I think to myself …the sun smiles behind the fog…

– GISELLE MEHTA

 

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When a Drive Saved a Life

 

I told my daughter  to take   the school bus, daunted by  the thought of driving her on the first day of her  School Leaving exam. My mind agonized on flat tyres/ traffic jams/ mishaps that cars travelling long distances are subject  to. During her mock exams, I  executed some crazy stunts to beat a GPS prediction and get her to a paper on time. But I wasn’t up to it on the day, and I had also promised  to attend the first birthday ceremonies of a friend’s child later in the morning. My daughter  wore me down  with the argument that her sleep deprived body would benefit from a nap in the car.

Happy to see her doze off, I congratulated myself on having reached the school’s vicinity within an hour without mishap or traffic snarl. But I drew my breath in horror to see what looked like a dead donkey. Completing the drop-off, I returned to investigate. The donkey wasn’t dead but injured in an accident, lying in its own blood. Its bleeding limbs had been crudely bandaged but I surmised deeper injuries and the need for better care. I gave it water for its sufferings in the blazing sun, took  pictures on my phone and posted them on an online animal welfare group. Constrained to wait on, I proceeded home with the assurance that a rescuer with expertise in equine matters would soon reach there. He shifted the animal to a nearby shed where drips and medications were administered. It turned out that the poor injured donkey was also pregnant. He also coordinated for an animal ambulance from Bangalore city  to pick up the injured donkey from those distant outskirts.  In the meanwhile the donkey’s owners appeared and finding its recovery viable belatedly took charge of their ‘property’.

This was not the satisfactory conclusion one might have wished – the supervised treatment and recovery of a suffering being. But it was an eye opener to the synergies of caring hearts in an area that lacks the established cachet of reaching out to fellow humans. It was heartwarming to take in that the chain of links goes forward without one even knowing the onward rescuers face to face. I was also struck with the realization that there might be a hidden purpose in the directions we are sometimes compelled to take. My reluctant outing alleviated suffering and hopefully saved a life. The host of the celebration I couldn’t attend excused my absence and wisely gauged the larger plan for me to be elsewhere.

-GISELLE MEHTA

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To Push Change

To push change is the driving force of every activist. At an individual level, there are limitations to completely and immediately changing huge systemic issues, to singly effect change with everyone, everywhere. It might suffice if one can be a catalyst for transformation with some individuals. The assumption is that there are also other people with inspirational mind sets elsewhere, who can see bigger pictures and possess similar resolve to transform an unjust status quo. Each such individual serves as a change agent in a respective circle.
History has witnessed the lasting legacy of awakened inspirators. Change in a latter day starts with the awakened individual inspirator, mirrored to greater or lesser degree by similar individuals. It then adds up for cumulative effect.

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Daughter

A daughter is a mother’s assurance of a lifelong companion- an inner understanding that defies words.
I never mind the time I take off for her because in effect, I am there for myself. She is like the breath of my own body, the echo of my heartbeat.
She continues not just me, but all the strong and interesting ladies in her ancestry whose essence she carries. And she is amazingly, her own distinctive person at the same time.

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Nostalgia

While clearing out the cupboards to give out school stuff I revisited after a gap a drawer of socks.
They represented a range of sizes; it was hard to make up matching pairs. The perception triggered a memory that made me laugh. Socks of school going kids have a strange way of getting bereaved. The prudence was never to throw the widowed one away, but to hold on in the expectation of another sock being bereaved. In time jams with the watch ticking, one individual from a partner less pair usually made up a couple with another sad single.And so the matchmaking of odd couples saved many a day when the clock loomed large.
Thing of the past I realize. I miss those exasperating times.

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