The wait for badminton

Another year gone by. Shiny new racquets sitting in the cupboard never fail to remind me that I need to take charge of my life. Take a chance they (the racquets, not the voices in my head) scream. We are lonesome. Badminton is tailor made for our times – a socially distanced sport.

Some things pass you by because you didn’t try hard enough. At the surface it would seem like that (there are always underlying factors) but some of it is true. While waiting for a partner last year the universe intervened (thanks pandemic). I will have to be a quiet athlete (thank you for the term Susan Cain), if I have to be fitter! Next time I will definitely play a sport but when the time comes I talk myself out of it like the sleepy me does when the alarm beeps every morning at 515 AM. I always tell myself I will run/cycle/dance but I end up just walking.

I love my solo walks. There was a time when I couldn’t walk much so I feel truly joyful when I take a walk around the park or the forested roads beyond my neighbourhood and catch the moonrise, sunrise or sunset or just sit under the inky skies. They are one of the few things that make me feel alive (and connected to the world at large) these days and, of course, drinking copious amounts of coffee.

The days are longer now, summer is here, and the spring was virtually nonexistent. It is the oddest things we hold on to what connects us to our childhood selves. Badminton is just one of the many. The things we enjoyed as children and could perhaps enjoy as an adult, refresh some memories to help navigate the uncertain present.

The racquets continue to sit on the shelf gathering dust. The time for playing badminton is long gone the adult me thought but the kids in my neighbourhood beg to differ. You see, they don’t quite believe in the rules we so easily accept. They truly understand the meaning of carpe diem, and continue to play badminton seizing opportunities when there is no wind during hot windy days, and cool breezy evenings during this unprecedented summer. This is the stuff that optimism is made of, and which self help books can’t really teach. The pandemic was there last year too, and maybe we are getting better at dealing with our disappointments. Sometimes keeping our expectations in check has to be done when survival is the endgame.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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First off how good is the minimalist cover of Olive Kitteridge? I really thought I got lucky with this edition not just because I love lighthouses.

I have been delaying talking about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge because I read it within a month of my grandfather’s death. Saying we were very close would be an understatement. At first the book hurt terribly. I thought I knew heartbreak and then life decides to say ha let me show you how you wrong you are! Initially, you want to escape the pain not experience it more deeply. But then the latter is more cathartic in the long run, and you start to heal when you realize this is the way of the world. We are all connected by loss, love and longing.

I was astounded by Elizabeth Strout’s writing. There’s a kind of gentleness about the everyday life she writes about. It is never banal. I never thought everyday life could be written about so poignantly and have such an immediacy to it. Ordinary people, everyday entanglements and normal lives in the hands of a gifted writer makes for a compelling narrative.

Henry Kitteridge, the husband of Olive Kitteridge, reminded me of my grandfather – kind and affable, never wanting to make a fuss and trying his best to be in harmony with what is.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. It is learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. It is about the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age. It is about finding companionship when you least expect it. It is about tender unexpected love that has no name but which gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate. It is a deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.

It is about the truth and being straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. It is about the meek and submissive becoming vile when it is they who wield the power.

It is about small things, things of no apparent consequence and almost invisible to others, having the capacity to cause such tremendous heartbreak that it takes you by surprise.

It is about compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. It is being true to yourself above all because in the end when Death is coming for you, that’s all that matters.

Olive Kitteridge showed me all that and more. I could identify with many things. Things I didn’t know I felt, things I suppressed because they weren’t important in the scheme of day to day living. And there were things I could foresee myself identifying with in the future. When a book does that you know it’s a keeper.

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Book review – Home at Last by Sarvada Chiruvolu

Note – Thanks to Amaryllis for a review copy. The opinions are my own.

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Home at Last is the kind of book which works best for someone who is looking to take a leap into the higher consciousness and finding the true self. I had my doubts about the book thinking I won’t be able to relate to anything the author said because unlike her I’m not on a quest to attain higher consciousness. But I’m aware of some niggling questions which have lingered in my psyche for years and they don’t have easy answers. In that respect, Home at Last was a step in the right direction.

It is funny how things find you when you are ready. The opportunity to review Home at Last – A Journey to Higher Consciousness came my way when I was in Puttaparthi, one of the places the author Sarada Chiruvolu, felt compelled to visit after her spiritual awakening. I was there as a volunteer this time and not as a tourist although that wasn’t my initial plan. Volunteering changes the way one looks at things because being on the inside the perspective changes, and thus I could identify better with the book.

It’s a blessing just to be given the opportunity to be of compassionate service.

The first chapter follows the foreword by Amma Karunamayi, her guru. She tells the readers how she began her journey and shares her experience while meditating. She ends the chapter with some tips concerning the frame of mind or the things one needs to do to mediate better.

This is not a how to book in the conventional sense, mainly because the path to enlightenment can’t be laid out like directions in a cookbook, step by step with exact measurements. However the book provides essential signposts of progress based on my own direct experience.

Sarada Chiruvolu makes that clear in the introduction itself and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

In the next chapter she talks about Reiki healing and how after initiation by a Reiki master she healed herself and others including her husband. After learning Reiki she feels more compassionate towards anyone who is suffering. You can scoff at the statement but I know people like that.

In the chapter ‘Renunciation and Detachment’ she talks about how being in nature and meditating outside has a calming effect on her. I worship nature so I was delighted to have this in common with the author.

I can’t express profoundly enough in words the attachment I have with nature.

I like the way she explains free will, karma and destiny even though parts of it were unclear to me.

She found her guru in Amma Karunamayi but she doesn’t follow her blindly. She visits the ashram for meditation retreats but remains true to her duties in the material world. Later on we see that she finds it increasingly hard to balance both the worlds. The author, in narrating her experiences gives us a peek into the relationship she has with her guru and the ashram’s inner workings. As she starts meditating twice a day she talks about an inexplicable sadness taking root in her and losing interest in her job and other day to day activities as she progresses, which used to give her pleasure earlier.

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