My belated tribute today to Sr. Andrea, my school’s Headmistress, also my English teacher(shared a story below) for several years – who passed away on the 26th of April. This was exactly five days after my mother had left us on 21st April so suddenly, that this news of Sister following her – came at a time when I was completely numb from shock and grief already, to be able to write anything yet.
Today, the 10th of June is Sr. Andrea’s birthday and I take this opportunity to acknowledge my deepest respect and gratitude for her inspiration and strength since I was at boarding school. Not even heaven is far enough to make me forget your birthday, Sister. Although you aren’t here to celebrate it with us. I know that you’re getting a birthday serenade from the angels. As all of my life I compared your singing to how the angels might sing in heaven. Sending my best to you and your family today. Many birthday greetings from all those you left behind on earth. We love and miss you dearly, Sister.
When grief and a kind of insecurity from loss of your moral support are your inspiration, over and above every other emotion – it is extremely difficult to write what you truly want to say and yet I have been trying hard since the first word of this post. My mother, being with a teachers training college and getting on so well with Sr Andrea – much to my fear and consternation all through school – both have been the guiding, driving, nurturing and saving factors of my life in so many ways that I cannot even begin to elaborate here. I have been pushed beyond my endurance many a times as I often thought – by both these women and a few other people in life including teachers and bosses – but today I have to admit I am truly blessed with the values and strength they have thereby inculcated in me. My school character certificate that’s enclosed here – vis a vis the numerous job assignments I’ve handled, also the grit to persevere and never give up are what these two women have gifted me with. I have been severely penalised and punished in extreme ways by both – also kneeling at Sister’s office all day in view of anyone who passed – when I was in class 9. All my working life discipline is something I coached, trained and inculcated in others – would they believe I had passed through fire so many times to be able to do that. I’ve elaborated several of these instances in my books Across Borders and Existences. Sharing two short stories below: https://shuvashreechowdhury.com/2015/05/25/when-poetry-and-hymn-merged-in-my-soul-out-of-deadly-fear/
“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.”— Claude Monet
…also to be able to scribble words impromptu like I’m doing now, to pay reverence to Nature – the only way God communicates with me:
Thick dark clouds descended in waves over Sunset’s tangerine hues – I was drinking, and resuscitated me with streaks of lighting and incessant claps of powerful thunder that blew a conch shell in my mind’s temple – awestruck by the blessings of nature! — Shuvashree Chowdhury
PS: I’ve posted many more Nature photos and videos from the last year, in the link below, in an album ‘Lockdown Diaries’ – on my Facebook author page Across Borders
“The Twilight Sky” White clouds float over me in the dusk sky – patches of cotton embalming my tired mind; a solo bird reaching majestically for the sky, as a band of coconut and mango trees rustle in the heady June breeze – to cheer its climb: urging me to converse with the half moon, just like the lone star romancing it tenderly under the blanket of the cozy grey sky. — Shuvashree Chowdhury
“Leisure” by William Henry Davies
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
On ‘Letting Go’: sitting on my balcony now, typing this on my phone, viewing the heavily clouded sky with spurts of rain amidst roars of thunder – with the incessant ringing of the wind chime, reminds me of this morning in the photos – by the Ganges a few years ago. Cyclone Yaas apparently bypassed Calcutta…
I vividly recall – the best time I’ve spent with myself yet – is with the backdrop of the sun rising or setting over the Ganges; also listening to the thunder and then the lightening wash over the sky that bursts into rain – slowly soaking into every crevice of my solitary soul – whose rhythm and waves become one with the Ganges.
My thoughts on sitting by the Ganges in Rishikesh, which is the last and ending poem of my first book of poems “Fragments” – the blurb is in the frames here – is in the link below. My 2nd collection of poems “Trouvailles…” has an entire section of 20 poems on the Ganges in Varanasi/Banaras. Yet, all the spiritual thoughts, writings and experiences – seeing death so closely even from the ghats of Banaras like Manikarnika, as I’ve defined in all my books, did not prepare me, let alone insulate me from the sudden loss of my mother on 21st April. It took away the wind beneath my strong sails and made me drown – this desolation is also due to all that I’d been through in the last few months in seeing the desperation death brings – everyday at a hospital in Chennai. All these varied human experiences will now go into my next novel that’s stalled after over 7-8 chapters due to life’s circumstances. But I allow myself to feel everything I’m going through with the loss and pain and isolation, and today I have an awakened sense of gratitude that I can still feel so acutely inspite of all the circumstances I’ve witnessed. What use is a non-feeling poet or novelist – if I had turned to stone and merely recorded human experiences with facts and figures like newspaper articles or non fiction, without the ability to empathise, analyse and bring out and depict the actual human experiences, be it joy or pain. So I’m thankful to the ending of my poem below, or the thoughts that occurred to me then – that I understand attachment much better today, more than I did when I wrote this poem sitting by the Ganges.
Reminded of these pertinent lines now… “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – was an American novelist, satirist, and graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.
“Letting Go” –
Before me now, the river Ganges peacefully flows, its green ripples frothing over white cobbled stone; grazing boulders it glides with no perceptible force – yet it flushes my heart of all its obstinate toxic woes …to read the rest please click the post link: https://shuvashreechowdhury.com/2017/03/25/letting-go/
Memories of you are vivid - of school days distinct, of first of the month Visiting Sundays short and sweet - when we sat on the Hoogly’s strand at Chandannagar, regaled by parrots, under canopies of Banyan trees.
Afternoons, from one to five breezed past in a haze, boats plying on soft ripples assuring us Love is lifelong - for you brought picnic packs to feed us our favourite grub that emotionally fed our hearts for the rest of the month.
Yet tempted by vendors lining our school and strand, we sought compassion - sold through ice creams, puchkas: also savouring tamarind water tossed jhalmuri, churmur - upsetting you, taking your culinary efforts for granted.
These sights vividly come to my mind with such alacrity, three weeks since you left us, Ma, on the twenty first April - sixteen years after Baba on a fifth of January morning: with my resilience crushed, after a year's Corona pandemic.
The last three months I had relied on your moral strength, even if only over daily telephone and rare video chats - to see me through a worst crisis - to save myself going mad: at eighty - a weight even your athletic heart couldn’t bear!
It was in saving me yet again from collapse, that you left - not able to withhold saying, “why is my daughter’s luck so bad!” Quoting Tennyson's “A Will” you asserted, “whose will is strong: He suffers, but he will not suffer long...cannot suffer wrong.”
Now I discover validations of your talents, remarkable strength - through letters, certificates, news clippings - from your desk that you never showed us, so we don’t buckle under comparison: I find moral strength in reserve - inspiration as my inheritance!
Among your heritage - I found three old cameras, fm radio sets, reminding me of a passion for photography, music we shared: defined by our cooking, sewing, knitting, drawing, theatre, poetry; over that sportsmanship, leadership skills with a kind, creative flair!
Your loss is slowly but surely receding from my pained psyche, as I make determined efforts to seek you in my current situations - so in healing and moving on I’ll find you alongside at every step to lead a joyous but productive life - you have always willed for me!
Eid Mubarak with an excerpt from my novel Across Borders, in the link below, which vividly depicts my mother’s life - in her voice as the narrator Maya, also including my father’s life in conjunction with hers: https://shuvashreechowdhury.com/2015/07/18/eid-mubarak-an-excerpt-from-my-novel-across-borders/
“Will” By Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
I O WELL for him whose will is strong! He suffers, but he will not suffer long; He suffers, but he cannot suffer wrong: For him nor moves the loud world’s random mock, Nor all Calamity’s hugest waves confound Who seems a promontory of rock, That, compass’d round with turbulent sound, In middle ocean meets the surging shock, Tempest-buffeted, citadel-crowned.
II But ill for him who, bettering not with time, Corrupts the strength of heaven-descended Will, And ever weaker grows thro’ acted crime, Or seeming-genial venial fault, Recurring and suggesting still! He seems as one whose footsteps halt, Toiling in immeasurable sand, And o’er a weary sultry land, Far beneath a blazing vault, Sown in a wrinkle of the monstrous hill, The city sparkles like a grain of salt.
PS: this post is in continuation and reference to the last few posts.
The videos might play better from the Facebook link:
Sharing samples of my Inheritance: Also how I’ve passed on my mother’s legacy to the world, through the books that define her life and teachings. The first few recommendations here for a woman who was about 26-28 years at the time – when there was a lot of discrimination against women, and that too she had just come from East Pakistan a couple of years ago in 1964, heading straight to Gwalior and didn’t speak a word of Hindi – was indeed remarkable and commendable. I have tried to live up to her coaching and leadership training at my numerous and varied jobs but much more through my writing. After drama, sports, drawing, and leadership that she’s excelled at – I have been compiling Ma’s book of Bangla poetry from 5 diaries she’d written in – till 1967/68 since last year and will hopefully be published in Dacca by year end. Ma just didn’t have the patience to see it through anymore! But I’ve shared a short video clip of a sample of her verses at the end …and mine on her in the last two posts. Please click on the album link “Pictorial Biography …” below, to view more photos:
It rained heavily all last night, yet I woke up at five to bathe, adorn myself in a sari - red and white: for the thirteenth day rituals by the Ganges ghat - recreate Ma’s mortal form for rituals of the Shraddh.
Sarbamangala ghat near Kashi Mitra crematorium, in the heart of Kolkata in Bagbazar, was isolated - it’s lowest rungs submerged in the nightlong surge: The priest’s family asleep in the temple’s premises.
In the porch our pundit set stage with candle, incense, aasans; on banana leaves - raw rice, black sesame, peeled bananas; a perforated mud bed to bring her cremated form alive - so as tomorrow, to give Mother a farewell to the next life.
I’d shopped for the Shraddh, not missing a thing in the list - she would need to transit through time and space, till rebirth: including a mattress with pillow, bed sheets, mosquito net; two umbrellas, several saris, shoes; fruits and vegetables.
At the Shraddh from eight to five I repeated after the priest - with sincerity, a dedication to ensure Mother’s soul’s release from this life - undeterred by my poor Sanskrit pronunciation: for it I’d even bartered - two cows, silver and gold tokens.
On our birthdays, Ma, always insisted on traditional rituals, wore her saffron bordered Gorod sari in spiritual elevation - hand fed us payesh, out of a silver plate-spoon-glass set, blessing with pradip, mala,chandan, dhan-dubbo in god’s grace.
I’ve dressed with self discipline she inculcated - in saffron; embroidered trees, giraffes - on a ghee backdrop as witness: draping the sari just as in my youth she first demonstrated - to ensure sari, shawl aren't impediments to agility in movement.
Every mantra I uttered after the pundit towards Ma’s photo-face, seeking her blessings in upholding all her principled teachings: After Geeta-path I set out to immerse the pind modelling her form - at Subhas Sarovar, vowed to sustain her unconventional traditions.
Last rites are conducted in honour, a farewell to the departed soul, yet in effect are for emotional closure for those they leave behind - so I’ve done my spiritual duties to both my parents to satisfaction to move on with their happy memories and liberate myself lifelong.
All your efforts Mother, may they not go in vain –
My success in life, is what then will be your gain.
Truly fortunate I have always been through life,
Excellent coach, and role model in you to find.
for my Mother, Dr. Mahamaya Chowdhury.
PS: several short stories in my book ‘Existences’ depict Ma as coach and role model. This poem is from my first poetry collection ‘Fragments’.
Ma (Mahamaya Chowdhury) retired at the age of 60, twenty years ago at the end of Sept 2000, as Principal of a teachers training college in Kolkata – after a long career as lecturer in Gwalior – Jiwaji University, and then Delhi University for about 8 years each.
Incidentally, just a couple of days back, while looking up her personal documents on Ma’s desk, I found the handwritten rough draft of a very pertinent speech now — Ma had made on the passing away of someone, as a college student in Gwalior — at the same institution that she went on to be a lecturer in the next year. The profound thoughts here reflect her spiritual perspectives even as a young woman. And ironically, perhaps what she would have wanted to say to me just now from the other world. I wrote the above poem in 2007…Even in her absence she doesn’t stop taking responsibility for my development …why didn’t she show me this speech nor did I find it till I needed it the most, and would grow from it.
Good evening, my honourable teachers, affectionate brothers and sisters. I take the privilege on behalf of my class M.P.E (final) to speak a few words to you.
Every one of you seems to be thinking that it’s a sad occasion, but let us not mind. If one does not create the place, the others cannot fill in. If every one of us is to be existing forever, this world would have been a horrible place to live in. Nothing is lost as the scientists believe, so do I. I am an optimist, why should we sit and cry.
As Shakespeare said, “This world is a stage and we all are actors and actresses.” So we must act our role well.
I do not know whether we have acted our part well or not, that judgement is not in our hands – it’s unto your audience to decide. And as what standard of finished product are we going to be – the outer world will judge by seeing our work.
One advice to you, it’s not a bookish idea – it’s what I have learnt in my life. This world is a two way process, we cannot demand from our fellow human beings when we do not give anything to them.
This world is what we make and it is upto us to live to the standard.
…it’s continued in more pages
by Mahamaya Chowdhury – 1965/66 LNCPE, Jiwaji University, Gwalior
“Wrapped in your Presence”
I’m sitting out on your Rattan chair in our balcony,
viewing over a dozen earthen potted plants –
ceramic ones have now lost their colourful charm
yet regaled by intermittent chirps of varied birds.
A wind chime on which sits a metal bumble bee –
has gone silent now in the still, early May air,
but the crows, pigeons and varied feathers chirp
aggressively – questioning why you’re not there!
I listen to distinct voices now – of mynas, pigeons
and god knows who else among your friends –
as one by one they come in view then fly away,
marking attendance – as in essence you’re there.
Always a teacher and principal till the end of life,
students loved you – plants, birds, the househelp:
who you tended to with a gardener’s vigilant air –
in it an airplane passes low – bearing your soul.
A black pedestal fan, I’d ordered for this balcony
as April brought in gusts of warm Calcutta air,
also give you company as you sat here daylong:
he now stoically awaits you – fifth day you left.
There’s a light, cool and soothing breeze now,
but not enough to tingle a mourning wind chime –
who’s watching me with the clock reading 8am,
knowing I can sit here in your presence till night.
I’ve uploaded several video clippings on YouTube of my mom’s last couple of years in the link below…
Time, is the truest elixir of Love and Life – a balm for rejection, heartbreak, illness and strife: if only you’ll allow it to percolate in your heart, to nurture every facet of life’s twists and turns.
It teaches you more than what any book can, holding your hand through toughest experiences; unmasking the untrue faces of family or friends – identifying acquaintances who you need to clasp.
Time, it helps you eliminate those from your life – who are mere shallow seekers of your good time, and give you up in failure, illness, penury, strife with an arrogance – that with money they’ll thrive!
It’s tough experiences that earns you wisdom, enhances your maturity and emotional quotient – also an ability to be sensitive to others needs, saving you foolhardy, arrogant, critical statements.
As you develop a maturity in time, to recognise arrogance sheaths – frivolity, stupidity, ignorance: in it people hide immense insecurity and lies, making them smug in shadows that never hide.
Time heals wounds – physical, mental, emotional from problems both personal and professional: If you can’t cope with life’s tumultuous situations sprinkle liberally with time – they’ll stew solutions.
— Shuvashree, the Timekeeper ☺️ – at one of India’s oldest and grandest Watch/clock shops…on Mount Road in Chennai.
To all my friends… Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem! Also wishing you for Ugadi, Vaisakhi, Navratri, Vishu, Cheti Chand, and Gudi Padwa, Nil Shoshti and all in all an auspicious season of renewal and regeneration!
“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. Strength comes from OVERCOMING the things you thought you couldn’t.”
Moral strength training is much like physical strength training and is enhanced through consistent and elevated resistance. This was my takeaway from the varied and numerous assignments that I took up in life, to add as much colour to my black and white understanding of it through reading – including the previous cooking show one for the very first time. ☺️ At each of these assignments in diverse industries – I perhaps arrived without any knowledge of that industry – whether an airline – Jet Airways, a SITA world travels, a Sheraton hotel, a BankAm, a pan Indian branded jewellery chain Tanishq, a bookstore chain Crossword, or be it a Mothercare, even a cafe, then skin care Kaya or as a senior executive search consulatant or head hunter in Randstad. I have elaborated these experiences with the backdrop of my reading, in my collection of short stories titled, “Existences”. But one thing I arrived with at each place was humility, the positive attitude and confidence to learn – even if my juniors and those reporting to me deemed it fit to smirk till they didn’t know what had struck them so hard and pressured them to perform. ☺️My seniors always trusted me implicitly and when they didn’t I just left – as I was not going to allow my self esteem or confidence to be seeped out of me for the marathon of life.
This was because of all the childhood reading of literary fiction that I carried into my tasks and that I wanted life lessons now to supersede my reading, if I was to have the confidence to become the kind of writer I would want to read myself. I quote while talking or writing not because I doubt myself but because I have the humility to focus more on your inspiration and learning as I have had the strength to prove myself several times over in life to be rattled by my desire to prove myself to be a worthy writer.
Sharing these quotes below to substantiate my views above …
Henry Miller // “The idea is, you know, you live from moment to moment…this moment decides the next step. You shouldn’t be five steps ahead, only the very next one. And if you can keep to that, you’re always alright. You see, but people are thinking too far ahead…you know what I mean? Think only what’s right there. Do only what’s right under your nose to do. You know? It’s such a simple thing and people can’t do it, you know.”
Elisabeth Kübler Ross // “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Ernest Hemingway // “If a writer stops observing, he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed.”