Cynthia sighed with relief as she closed the backdoor behind her. In front of her lay the narrow mud path that led to her favourite spot in the whole world. Clutching the little cloth bag that hung against her knobbly knees, she scampered along the path and up to the base of an umbrella tree, its branches spread so wide that they appeared to shelter from wind, hale and rain.
Cynthia gazed in silence at the roughly hewn wooden base of a swing, dangling from sturdy ropes tied to a low branch of the tree. She reached out a seeking hand, and curled it round a rope. Soft tears dangled upon her lashes. Her father had built it for her, so that ‘his little princess’ would have her very own secret place where she might hide from the world.
Cynthia was hiding now. Hiding from the solemn voices, and the keening tears. Out here, under her little umbrella tree, she was alone with her father.
How still a monument can stand; the silent, stone-cold witness of centuries past. Its walls might have ears, but there is no tongue. History, as we know it, is shaped by the version we read. What living man or woman can know the truth? Read with a pinch of salt and connect the dots. That is the only way to look at millennia and a world of things that have happened and people who have lived. Who is to say what history would look like a hundred years from now? Will I feature in it as a villain or a hero? Or will I simply be a person without a voice — a blur in the face of history.
mark of a dynasty
lost in the truth of time —
the Qutb Minar
Seaside dinners near moonlit waters are utterly charming. I shudder in delight when I think of the dappled moon playing with the inky sea, drawing me into the non-anfractuous expanse that merges with the shadows stretching into the night. The dancing foam that flirts with the shoreline is a mesmerising sight too.
Only a few months ago, my husband and I sat sipping wine and gazing into the sound of the sea. We tasted ten blissful years of togetherness upon our tongue, and exchanged customary sighs of pleasure. The faint, rhythmic base from the bar filtered through the air, but failed to mar the beauty all around us.
into stars and silence —
must one get tipsy on wine alone?
racing through the seconds, minutes, hours of the day;
day after day, week after week, one quick month followed by another;
then a year is over, and another, and another;
and every time you think about it — how time flies!
memories merge one into another — the good, the bad, the ugly;
joy mixed with pain; both a necessary part of true living;
change — the expected and the unexpected — twirling
your life in to living, breathing moments of thought and emotion.
but, in it all, there is one constant, the never-changing presence
of Christ the Living Word, and the peace He brings from moment to moment —
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives.” —
and every moment spent thus, and yet to be spent, is worth it.
A few days ago, I mentioned how I was giving my class children a wee bit of time individually, this month, to speak of anything they want to. I have been intent on staying quiet and listening. Advice would not be given unless and until specifically asked.
Yesterday, one of my girls sat opposite me, and as I pulled out my lunch box, giving her time to pull herself together and say something, she startled me with — “Ma’am, I want to know your favourite colour, favourite food, favourite …” — she rattled off a few things.
I just looked at her in astonishment and then I laughed. “You’re the first of the lot of you who has asked about me. I’d called you here so you could talk about anything you wanted. Why would you want to know these little things about me?”
She shrugged and smiled saying she simply wanted to know. I looked at her closely. J- has always been a quiet child in my class. However, I had noted that she was not quiet in a timid way, but quiet in a confident way. At this point I could not help thinking it was the right assumption. It is amazing how people let out little things about themselves in the mere manner of saying or doing things. J- was establishing an equal ground for communication, and I was amazed by that. Amazed and impressed. Once she had set the pace, and had begun to communicate with me as an equal, she began to open up to me bit by bit. I could tell, though, that we were going into the conversation layer by layer. Each layer revealed something a little deeper. Mind you, this was just one conversation, over lunch, in a matter of twenty to twenty-five minutes, with an eleven-year old.
Young J- will grow up to be a leader. With her quiet confidence, and her natural ability to establish an equal standing with someone I can imagine she has something beautiful ahead of her.
Spring is not a season one experiences in the south of India. We just experience varying degrees of heat. As a result, we do not wholly understand the nuances of spring, the emotions that the season appears to evoke in those who live it. We only borrow emotions, explore the season through the sayings and writings of others. I would not have thought much about it, except when asked about ‘spring storms’, I realised I had no idea what they were. Does one have storms during the spring? I have always pictured it to be a rather mellow season — pretty, dainty, with young colours and grey-blue skies. Younger generations have no idea that spring is a season that symbolises rebirth and awakening — the hope after a hard, cold and bleak winter; the colour after a blanket of white. I realise now, as I write, that I too could be wrong, and merely assuming many things from what I have read.
spring storms — all I know, the latter springs from the sea swirling into chaos
Lately, I’ve been on a mission to listen at eighty percent, and talk just twenty percent. In other words, I want to be a patient listener. I used to be one once, a patient listener, that is. But those were in the days when I was younger and wiser. I am now older, and thereby a bit foolish — we tend to believe that as we grow older, we grow wiser, and therefore are in a position to dole out advice like candy to eager children. It makes me wonder at my presumptuousness. Very few people are actually seeking advice. Most just want to be listened to. I have begun to notice how everyone is busy talking and nobody is listening. How does one communicate, then? No wonder there is a breakdown in communication these days. Oh, the irony!
Recently, a missionary visited our school and spoke of how his ministry was about ‘listening’ — eighty percent listening and twenty percent talking. Yes, that’s where I heard it from. I thought to myself, ‘Of course! That is so obvious! Why haven’t I seen it before?’ I immediately set about creating time and space for my class students to ‘speak’ to me. I wrote dates on chits of paper and left them lying in my classroom drawer with the instructions that if anyone felt like they wanted to talk to someone who would simply listen without getting on an advice-role, they could pick a chit, give me the date, and we would set time aside on the given date for speaking-listening time. I wanted to leave the children space to decide if they wanted to do this, and stay away from peer pressure, in case they did not want to.
So far, I have met with five of my children. I was expecting to hear of difficulties in learning, home situations, friends and family relationships, that sort of thing. The kind that makes a person who loves giving advice feel all the more important and justified in giving advice. Silly me.
I am astounded that some of them chose to come and speak to me of things they could have come up to me about at any time! One child came and told me that he hadn’t received his SpellBee book in spite of his having paid the money. He said this while we sat apart from the rest of the class to give him some privacy. Another child told me she was unhappy with the seating arrangement because it estranged her from the rest of the girls (I hadn’t realised I had planned the seating rather badly where she was concerned), and when I asked her why she hadn’t brought this to my attention earlier, she just looked at me. A third child used his ‘date card’ to tell me that someone thought he was good enough in football to be sponsored and so he was going to a neighbouring state to play with a sponsorship. Apparently, his mother was also considering putting him in a sports hostel so he could pursue football professionally — exactly what he has dreamed of for awhile.
These extremely short exchanges have me realising that these children long to share even little things, and they don’t really get to. They feel their voices will not be heard among the commotion of judgement, rules and advice. It does break ones heart. It makes me wish I had been wiser to this earlier in the year, not when our academic year is drawing to a close. However, it is a lesson learnt, and I hope to carry this through — to always pay attention to the need of people to talk. This includes listening to my own two, little sons, Pixie and Roo.
As a teacher and an event coordinator, I am constantly in touch with people, talking and listening, dealing with high noise levels that appear to stay in the background in an endless droning. When I come home, I long to rest my ears, to sit in silence and soak it up. But, with my family needing attention, that is not something that happens regularly. I try to make it a point to lend my ears to my sons on our twenty-minute drives to and from school. At home, as well, they get their time. They also have an eager Papa waiting to listen to them.
So, when do I get to talk?
To be honest, I’m a chatterbox myself, and my husband gets hit by the brunt of it. I also trouble extended family and close friends with my endless chatter. But, I am on a mission, now, to talk less and listen more. So, less boring my family and friends, and more listening, especially to the words that are left unspoken and everything in between.