Book Review- Unstoppable: My Life So Far

Unstoppable: My Life So Far
By Maria Sharapova
Penguin Random House, UK.
2017

“Despite an injury-prone career, Sharapova has achieved a rare level of longevity in the women’s game. She won at least one singles title a year from 2003 until 2015, a streak only bested by Steffi GrafMartina Navratilova, and Chris Evert. Several tennis pundits and former players have called Sharapova one of tennis’s best competitors, with John McEnroe calling her one of the best the sport has ever seen”

                                                                                                                                 -Wikipedia

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Unstoppable: My life so far is a gripping autobiography by tennis star Maria Sharapova. Through the book Sharapova gives honest insights into an athlete’s life and highlights the hard work, commitment and sacrifice it takes to create an international sports star. The book is written in first person and is direct and hard-hitting.

The book chronicles the journey of a father-daughter duo chasing a common dream- that of turning the daughter into the best tennis player in the world. Their synchronised partnership, quiet understanding and mutual respect emerges as an outstanding facet of Sharapova’s early life and career. Other outstanding aspects of her life include her exceptional grit, focus and never -say- die attitude, her relationship with her trainers and coaches; and her love for the sport.

In a nut shell

The book starts with the 2016 Australian Open incident wherein Sharapova fails a drug test conducted by the International Tennis Federation and is banned from professional tennis for two years (later reduced to 15 months). The book then goes back in time to the beginning of Sharapova’s life in Russia and charts her life through various stages; her birth and early years, discovery of  her latent talent,  her struggles to settle and train in America with her father, her gaining a strong foothold in the junior tennis circuit and gradual transition into a professional sports, the tests and trails of competitive tennis and her continuous fight to reinvent herself and her game while facing unexpected challenges on and off the court (shoulder injury and surgery). The book delves into all these aspects of her life with a wonderful mix of honesty and real emotion which makes for a riveting read.

The last chapter of the book that brings us back to the issue of the failed drug test, Sharapova’s clarification on the matter and the final verdict on the case which clarified that she wasn’t an “intentional dopper”.

While Sharapova was contemplating retirement after winning the French Open in 2014, she states her commitment to continue playing the sport, “till they burn my racket” at the  end of the book.

Chronology of life events

  • 19th April ’87, Birth at Nyagan, Siberia
  • Move to Sochi at 2 years
  • Spotted by Yuri Yudkin, 1st coach at 4 years
  • Spotted by Navaratilova at a tennis clinic at age 6
  • Move to America with father at age 6
  • Training in America at
    • Nick Bollettieri Academy- asked to leave
    • El Conquistador Academy run by Sekou- Left academy because of arm twisting tactics of trainer. Doled out by Bob Cane and stayed at his house for a year.
    • Requested to come back to Nick Bollettieri Academy- she was defeating all the Academy’s trainees at matches. It made sense to take her back into the Academy.
    • Signed up with IMG at age 9.
    • Trained with Robert Lansdorp who transitioned her from a junior player to a professional adult tennis player.
  • Mother’s move to USA at age 10.
  • String of defeats at age 14 due to growth spurt.
  • Entered WTA at 14 years and began playing professional tennis. Played Monica Seles.
  • 2002- Youngest to reach Australian Open finals. Reached Wimbledon junior finals but lost. Saw Williams win the professional championship.
  • 2003- Turned full-time professional player at 16 years.
  • 2004- Won Wimbledon final against Williams
  • 2005 – Reached world No.1 spot
  • 2008- Yuri(father) and Lansdorp split, Sharapova loses her coach and mentor.
  • Separatsd from father as a coach
  • 2008- Shoulder injury, rehabilitation and learning to play tennis again
  • 2012-Wins French Open (after should surgery)
  • 2013- Begins training with Jimmy Connors as new coach. Turns out as inappropriate and is replaced  by Sven. Develops positive partnership with Sven.
  • 2014 -Won French Open. Contemplates retirement
  • 2016:
    • Drug Test: fails drug test and banned from playing professional tennis.
    • Enrolling in Harvard Business School
    • Receives clean chit from ITF

Inspiration in words

Key people in Sharapova surface repeated in the book. Prominent in them are Sharapova’s father who was her driving force, her manager and on-and-off trainer, Sharapova’s mother who played an understated but critical role in her life, Robert Lansdorp a trainer who was instrumental in honing her technique and shaping her game to transition her into an professional player, Serena Williams a seasoned player and daunting opponent who Sharapova faced repeatedly and finally triumphed over.

The book is interspersed with incidents and words that inspire the reader. Having lead an exceptional life, Sharapova has gathered understanding and wisdom through experience. This is found interspersed in the book.  Many life lessons are universal and  can also be applied to our lives as well.

While she is transparent about her life, its events and the people in it in the book, she maintains a dignified stance even while talking of difficult issues such as her rivals or her relationships with her trainers and her separation from a father as a coach.

Inspiring words

Yudkin (Russian trainer) to Yuri (father):

I seemed to be unique, special. Whether I developed into a player would depend on my toughness. By toughness he meant ersistence, the quality that makes you lock in and focus when asked to do the same thing a million times. Yudkin believed that you had to be able to endure a tremendous amount of boredom i.e.you had to be tough.

“Can you develop her talent? It’s a full-time job. It will mean dedicating your life.”

“It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. She is strong, I know that. But what about the long run? She will have to play constantly, day after day, year after year. Will she detest it?”

Nick (trainer) on Maria:

“You were just 6 years old and you were hammering it. And it was not just the power- it was your footwork, your grip. Of course, a lot of that can be taught. The amazing thing was your concentration. You never lost focus. You could do it again and again. You did not have the moves at first, did not have the strength  but you did have the mentality and that can’t be taught.”

At the academy there wasn’t a single lazy day.

Yelena (mother) to Maria:

She said I was never to forget who I was and where I came from. If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know who you are.

Gavin Forbes(trainer)on Maria:

“That was the thing that really stood out. When you walked on the court, it was 100% focus till you walked off. It was beyond maturity. The level of concentration for a person you age- what were you?10?11? The focus was just unreal.”

Maria on Robert Landsdorp (trainer)

Robert’s practices were pretty much the same every time. That was the point of them. He believed in repetition. Doing the same thing again and again and again. Doing it till its second nature.

Robert was so certain about what he was doing that it made you just as certain. He was a guru. You could feel his presence in your head. It was a voice that said “This is how it should be done. There is no question, no doubt.

It took two years, but Robert remade my tennis game. May be remade is the wrong word. May be he just made me find what had been dormant. I emerged from the lessons with a new confidence and new mind, this is how I made the transition from kid to adult.

He never coached me again. It was a bigger loss than you might have imagined. It was not the flat shot repetition Lansdorp gave me. It was friendship, confidence, it was a kind of stability and balance you rarely encounter. Many great players cite the role that Lansdorp played in their success. And its not technical stuff they mention. You can get that from anyone. It’s the intangibles, the relationship, the sense he gives you that no matter what sort of slump or hole you have fallen into, you will survive because you are a champion.

Robert on Maria’s loss at 1st professional match at 14 years

“That loss told me more than any victory could. Because you did not back off or give in. You kept going for it and going for it. That’s when I knew Yuri was right. You were going to be the No.1 player in the world.”

 Maria on several matters

That was my biggest mistake. I was sloppy. That moment of carelessness threatened to ruin everything.

What’s defined my game more than anything- determination and tenacity. Knock me down ten times and I get up the 11th and shove the ball back in your face.

My father believes you have to be tough to hold anything together: a household, a career, even a country.

The early years toughened me up. It explains my character, the style of my game, my on-court persona, why I can be hard to beat. If you don’t have a mother to cry to, you don’t cry. You hang in there, knowing that eventually, things will change- the pain will subside and the screw will turn. More than anything, that has defined my career. I don’t bitch. I don’t throw my racket. I don’t threaten the line judge. I do not quit. If you want to beat me, you are going to have to work for every point in the game.  I will not give you anything.
( On the absence of her mother)

Back at training academy, I was on a completely different track. I was on a mission. I never made friends. If you wanted to be No.1 these were the girls you had to beat. Being friends would make that harder.

But how do you deal with a losing streak? That’s the big question-that’s what separates the professional from the cautionary tales. There really is so much to learn from losing than winning-about the game, about yourself. Do you get up when you’ve been knocked down?….. Do you quit? That’s the toughness Yudkin had been talking about all those years ago. No one really knows how they’ll react to disaster until the disaster is on top of them.
(On her losing streak at 14 years)

People think it’s a glamorous life. May be it is. I’m not convinced. It’s confusing and lonely.

I always believed you have to train harder than you play.

Without tennis parents you would have no William sisters or Andre Agassi or me. The tennis parent is the will of the player before the player has formed a will of her own.

 

As soon as you start playing, you realise its her confidence you have to deal with. Its also her attitude that defeats you. She looks across the net with disdain. Then there is her temper. The best way to deal with people like this – I’ve learnt from experience- is with composure, a maddening composure and stately calm. It drives them crazy.
(On Serena Williams)

In 2004, Navratilova played her last professional matches at Wimbledon. She was 47 and it was her 31st consecutive appearance. Does Navratilova even remember the first encounter? To her it was nothing. To me it was everything.

We went to LA so I could get back to work with Robert. There’s always something else to work on, prepare for, improve. Even the biggest win gets you just a moment of celebration, then its right back to it. The when never stops turning. Stay off too long, and you never get back on.

Knowing and accepting these weaknesses turned out to be the most important part of my development. It meant I could steer matches away from my deficiencies and towards my strength.

As a rule, the task gets tougher as you get closer to the prize.
(In reference to semi-finals of Wimbledon, 2004)

As you get older your game has to evolve. That would be the case even if my shoulder had never been hurt.  You have to learn to do consciously what you once did without thinking. If you don’t do this you won’t have a very long career. If you do, you can actually get better as you grow older. That’s why careers of great long- lasting athletes can be broken into phases.

At the beginning so much came so fast for me. I won Wimbledon when I was just 17. I became a star. Sponsors picked me up. I was the centre of ad campaigns and jealousy. I won the Us Open in a black dress at night. And then, one afternoon, when it seemed like nothing could go wrong, everything did- the tendon in my shoulder snapped and suddenly a sport that I loved meant defeat and pain. My shoulder was cut open and repaired, the recovery was long and difficult.  For stretches it felt like I had forgotten how to play the game, like I’d never get back what once came naturally. I was lost. I wandered, then slowly bit by bit and by working like I’d never worked before in my life I began finding my way. I learnt to play the old game in a new way. I realised there was more than one way to win a match, and now, 8 years after I took the grand slam at Wimbledon, I made it all the way back.  I was in the same place but I was not the same player and not the same person. I saw it all with new eyes and truly appreciated it for the first time.
(On winning French Open in 2012, which she never had until  then)

I waited till the last legal word was typed. Now it had been. I guess I wanted the ITF to acknowledge their mistake. Instead I git hedging and hems and haws. But that’s ok, its something experience has taught me: there is no perfect justice at least not in this world.

Closing words

Sharapova’s biography makes a spectacular read. The reader gets insights into the true workings of a sportsperson’s life- the endless practice sessions, long tours away from home, the intense competition, the physical exhaustion and loneliness, the continuous fight to get better at the game. These are true for all sports persons, but Sharapova’s story become special because of the odds she beat to become No.1.  Her story is exceptional because its initially a story of a unique father-daughter team overcoming challenges to enter the game of tennis. It is also exceptional because throughout her life and playing career she has faced her challenges head-on, overcoming them with her grit, focus hard work.  Her story motivates the reader to do more with their life, that and makes them believe that everything is possible with the right mid set, guidance and determination.

 

The house that was..

For two years we called it our home. A badly constructed and ill-maintained DDA flat that we lovingly turned into a warm and livable space.

We moved into this apartment with one bed, two trunks, two cane seaters,  a few essential household gadgets, a carton full of utensils and a few suitcases holding our clothes. Most of it was stuff I had collected when I was living alone in the city.  Over the span of two years,  the apartment transformed into what I considered to be a “proper” home- a full pantry, stacked book racks,  some hardwood and cane furniture, plenty of  bed linen and knick-knacks collected from here and there. I can’t say I did it all alone- I got help from the parents whenever they visited,  some friends shared useful (and economical!) ideas and the spouse pitched in too. Of course, he couldn’t fathom why we needed anything other than what we had moved in with and we had countless “discussions” on this! Men!

The house required a lot of work but I was willing to give my all. Being my first home after marriage, it was special to me.  It  offered me space (lots of it!), however drab and ill-kept, to turn it into into something aesthetic and comfortable.  Such a departure from the tiny accommodations that I inhabited while living alone that gave no scope at all !

Gradually, bit-by-bit, the 2 room apartment transformed. The whitewashed walls and the grey-base mosiac floor no longer looked that bad. The paintings on the walls, the colourful bed covers, the smell of baking wafting through the air and the pretty flowers blooming in the balcony took your attention away from the unappealing sights 🙂 We added some elements for comfort and convenience as well. The apartment’s old DDA look and feel steadily faded away and what appeared in its place was our home.

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As time ticks on..
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Feeling zen?
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Neatly made bed meet haphazardly laid pillows
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Mirror, mirror on the wall..
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Pink is in 🙂
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For a few quiet moments
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Making the kabaadi look pretty

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The balcony garden blooms

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AC window “art”
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Zen again
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Cane all around!
 

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An eclectic collection

 

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Yeh Dilli hai mere jaan
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Salt & pepper shakers share space with fresh cut flowers
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Break your fast with us?
 

Then in August 2015, we welcomed Baby C into our lives. Along with the immense joy and excitement, came a deluge of responsibilities!  Nothing and no one can prepare you for parenthood.

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After the initial rough months, I settled into the new role and learnt to love being a mother. It was more demanding that I had imagined but it was also the purest form of joy and love I had ever experienced. I contemplated quitting my job, time and time again. After going back and forth on my decision for the nth time, we finally decided I would continue working, but we’d need to fall back upon the family for help. It simply wasn’t possible to hold a full time job and raise Baby C single handedly. After some family consultation and for the convenience of all, we decided to move- in with the spouse’s parents.

We packed up our apartment in November. For me it was packing up a home created over two years with painstaking effort. I  packed my belongings once again but this time it felt different. Along with the belongings came many memories, some lovely, some painful, some happy, some funny- truly a mixed bag.

However it was and whatever memories it may have held, this was my home and I loved it. Moving on wasn’t easy, but it was time to restructure my life again.

Looking for answers

The quest to find answers to many deep and perplexing questions about life is gradually pulling me towards philosophy and spirituality. This subject is brand new to me. Coming from a background where discussions on spirituality were common, oddly I never delved into the subject. I heard the discussions and in a superficial way understood them, but never made a real effort to explore the subject or apply it in my life.  Probably there wasn’t a need for it then. A loving, warm family and a secure and happy life that mostly took the direction I wanted it to, was a blessing but it did not either motivate or force me to demystify life and its hidden laws.

Changes in the internal and external world have made me turned my attention to matters spiritual. I am trying to build on my frail foundation now.

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Sri Yogananda Paramahansa (Picture from Wikipedia)

I read the Autobiography of a Yogi by Sri Paramahansa Yogananda many years ago- I think when I was in college then. The book impacted me immensely and has been an all-time favourite since. I have gone back to reading the works of great ones, including Yoganadaji.

Some  popular quotes by Sri Paramahansa Yogananda are presented here.  I like his writing because he speaks with absolute conviction. I find that his powerful quotes offer guidance,assurance and  inspiration and when applied to life, vital answers.

Read a little. Meditate more. Think of God all the time.

 God is simple. Everything else is complex.

 He is the wisest who seeks God. He is the most successful who has found God.

 Forget the past. The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until man is anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.

 What is meditation?
Becoming one with the soul. It means banishing the consciousness of being related to the body and to human limitations, and trying to remember that one is a soul. Meditation brings proof of the existence of God

First practice the presence of God in daily life by making your meditation very deep. It is better to meditate a little bit with depth than to mediate long with the mind running here and there. If you do not make an effort to control the mind it will go on doing as it pleases, no matter how long you sit to meditate.

 First, free yourself from wrong thoughts and habits.
Second, establish good habits and perform good deeds.
If you keep on trying, you will improve.
A saint is a sinner who never gave up.

 Most of the world is like a mental hospital. Some persons are sick with jealousy, others with anger, hatred, passion. They are victims of their habits and emotions. But you can make your home a place of peace.

 Success is not rightly measured by the worldly standards of wealth, prestige and power.  None of these bestow happiness unless they are rightly used.  To use them rightly one must possess wisdom and love for God and man.

 You must not let your life run in the ordinary way; do something that nobody else has done, something that will dazzle the world. Show that God’s creative principle works in you.

 Every tomorrow is determined by every today. 

 Since you alone are responsible for your thoughts, only you can change them.

 Before embarking on important undertakings sit quietly calm your senses and thoughts and meditate deeply. You will then be guided by the great creative power of Spirit.

 Seeds of past karma cannot germinate if they are roasted in the fires of divine wisdom.

 Before you act, you have freedom, but after you act, the effect of that action will follow you whether you want it to or not. That is the law of karma.

 You alone are responsible for yourself. No one else may answer for your deeds when the final reckoning comes. You work in the world – in the sphere where your karma, your own past activity, has placed you – can be performed only by one person: yourself.

 Reincarnation means that you did not finish your schooling; you have yet to pass in all the grades of physical, mental, and spiritual unfoldment, which will earn for you a diploma of perfection and freedom.

 Your physical appearance, especially the eyes, shows more or less what you were like in previous lives, so deeply does the inner being impinge on the outer form. The eyes are one’s most significant physical feature

 Since all effects or seeds of our past actions, our karma, can be destroyed by roasting them in the fire of meditation, concentration, the light of superconsciousness, and right actions, there is no such thing as fate. You make your own destiny. God has given you independence, and you are free to shut out His power or let it in.

 Millions of people never analyze themselves. Mentally they are mechanical products of the factory of their environment, preoccupied with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, working and sleeping, and going here and there to be entertained. They don’t know what or why they are seeking, nor why they never realize complete happiness and lasting satisfaction. By evading self-analysis, people go on being robots, conditioned by their environment. True self-analysis is the greatest art of progress.

 I look forward optimistically to a healthy, happy world as soon as its children are taught the principles of simple and rational living. We must return to nature and nature’s God.

Common ground

We come from different background. So different, in fact, that we came to this marriage with very little in common. Our personalities, hobbies, food habits, approach to life situations, temperaments, communication styles…… were all very different. The only common thread in our dissimilar lives was our interest in amateur photography and the fact that we worked in the same organization.

Starting off on opposite sides, we were lucky to  find a common interest early on in the marriage. Birding. We discovered it quite by chance on a trip to Coorg. We enrolled for one of the early morning birding tours on the property we were staying at and took a liking to it. I struggled with the binoculars, preferring the camera instead. The camera we had was a DSLR, one that brought far off objects close by to a fair degree, but not one with the right lens for capturing birds. The lack of appropriate birding gear didn’t deter us from enjoying the morning excursion. A quiet activity, it introduced us to nature, giving us an opportunity to marvel at its beauty and diversity. It made us realise how dis-connected we are from nature and how much abundance and joy nature is willing to generously share with us.

A book on birds was purchased on the way back to Delhi and V spent a good deal of time browsing through its pages. Subsequent trips to the hills introduced us to more birds and our interest grew. The book is now our guide and we go back to refer to it frequently. A field trip would mean frantic photography session in the morning hours trying to capture each bird we spotted. It would be followed by a session of identifying the names of the birds and then another session of photography in the evening. With our basic birding gear our work was neatly divided. V would spot the bird either with the naked eye or the binocular, I would do my best to quickly capture it with the camera and then we’d go home to our faithful book and find out the names of the birds. It was a great outdoor activity.

Back in the city, we tried to keep the interest alive. I was sure we wouldn’t find anything beyond crows, pigeons and mynas. It was going to be a challenging activity in this polluted, concrete jungle of ours. But when we keep our eye peeled for the flighty, feathered little creatures, we found a whole lot of them! There were starlings, green pigeons, oriental eyes, barbets, bulbuls, robins, lapwings, ducks and even gulls! What a delightful surprise!

We’d like to present in this post, some of our best or most favourite pictures of birds. They are in two categories: Birds in and around Delhi and Birds in the hills (south and north both). Photo credit varies with each picture. Sometimes its me and sometimes V.

Birds in and around Delhi

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Silverbills
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Spot billed ducks and Stilts
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Red whiskered bulbul
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Peacock
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Red muniya
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Babbler
Tailor bird
Tailor bird
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Treepie
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Starling
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Yellow footed green pigeon
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Robin

Birds in the Hills

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Red billed blue magpie
Laughing thrush
Laughing thrush
Nuthatch
Nuthatch
Asian Barred Owlet
Asian Barred Owlet
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Spotted dove
Great Barbet
Great Barbet
Brown fronted Woodpecker
Brown fronted Woodpecker
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Grey hooded warbler
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Oriental white eye
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Green backed tit

One

This marriage turned one in November. An achievement that deserved a post. A post that was written and the promptly lost (irretrievably) somewhere in the new WordPress system. I wish to make a note of this milestone and thats the only reason I am back at my desk.

The past year was a roller coaster ride for me.  It involved moving in and moving out of homes (two to be precise),  coping with cultural and value-based  differences, meeting unexpected challenges at the work place, trying to develop new and unstable personal relations and what not. If I were to describe the year in short, I’d call it the Year of Settling In. I am not entirely sure I have settled in completely yet, but compared to November 2013, I can safely say  I am doing well.  🙂

The year was a mixed bag. It brought  with it moments of happiness and sorrow, frustrations and achievements.   It also taught me some important life lessons. Those are rather personal and I  would like to keep them off the blog.  The learning continues – as I see it, the path ahead is long.

Here are the highlights of the year:-

The good:

  • Setting up our own place. Rented but still. It a simple, no-frills accommodation that comes with a balcony where you can sit out and watch the tall trees. I have a line of potted plants that is my contribution to enhance the greenery around.  The house meets our needs perfectly and we have cooperative neighbours who regularly bring us special dishes to eat, keep our letters and tell us when the maid is not going to show up for work. We are fed-up of the recurrent seepage problems, but honestly that is the only major drawbacks of the place.
  • Finding common interests and pursuing them. We’ve discovered birding and we both enjoy it equally. The pictures we take aren’t outstanding that’s mainly because we can’t afford cameras that cost over two lakh rupees. I personally find bird watching exciting and educational and I am even willing to wake up early for it.
  • Travelling together. The more you travel, the better. Sharing this simple philosophy we’ve managed four trips ( one to the south and three to the north) in the year. Work travel was additional. We would have liked to get out more often, but we need to keep our jobs (to fund the travel).  New places, new people, new food, new experiences. All good.
  • Saving up! From distinctly independent people we gradually inched towards the “joint” lifestyles. We’ve (after a bit of a struggle) got the joint bit of the financials in order too. A good move, I think. Money multiplies faster when two people work at a goal.  It’s also one of the ways in which we build trust in each other.
  • Acquiring worldly objects, some big, some small, that has made our lives comfortable.
  • Rediscovering cooking. If you lived alone (as I did) or lived with a large family (as he did) there isn’t much reason to cook. In the first case you can survive with anda-toast/ sabzi-roti and in the later there will be enough people happy to cook for you. When you live together, you need to cook because after a point eating out is not an option. It gets expensive and only helps you pile on the kilos while being malnourished. Both are avoidable outcomes. Old cookbooks have been dusted and brought into use. My cooking continues to be simple (nothing beyond 5 steps) but the results are getting consistently better. He believes he can cook but that usually doesn’t go beyond tea, eggs and toast and pasta.

 The not-so-good:

  • Establishing relations hasn’t been easy. I am told is never is.  Its been a partly-bumpy ride, but its getting smoother.  Because it was extremely smooth with my parents, the benchmark is high, and I feel that’s a part of the problem.
  • Getting accustomed to different communication styles, religious beliefs, family traditions and accepting the differences and moving beyond them was a challenge. Some of the issues continue, but fortunately with reduced intensity.
  • From leading a quiet, single life to being amidst a large number of people with frequently socializing with friends and family was a big change.  The one I haven’t yet mastered.
  • Moving from a fit and energetic person to a borderline over-weight, the one thing I didn’t want marriage to bring me, it brought! Corrective action has been initiated in this area and I shall hopefully have something positive to report on that soon.

Fingers crossed, the next year shall make the list of  The Good longer and The not-so-good shall shrink to half.

Remembering my grandfather

I lost my grandfather on the 10th of September.  He was close to ninety and had been ill on and off for many years.  Somewhere in my mind I knew that his time was limited but of course none of us knew when it would be time to go. I got to know of his passing from my parents. Almost immediately after that I found a flood of messages on Facebook. I stayed away from that medium. While I appreciated the time people took to remember him and the kind words they wrote, I felt he deserved more than a fleeting mention on a swiftly changing newsfeed. I wanted to remember him in a more permanent manner, hence this post.

I spent a large part of my childhood with my paternal grandparents. Being the first grandchild I was much loved and wanted. Every summer vacation and any other vacation that my parents would consent to would be spent at their house. Living in small educational township, they had privileges unique to such places. The community was close-knit and everyone really did know everyone else. With only cycles (and an odd scooter or two) for transportation, they had the cleanest air to breathe. At nighttime you could spend hours gazing at the sky, counting innumerable twinkling stars. The roads were wide and tree-lines. The solitary shopping area offered such few spending avenues, that even with the measly Institute salary you could probably save more than you ever can in the city. External source of entertainment were few. That meant you learnt to keep yourself busy with sports, crafts and socializing. The entire township wrapped up in a couple of kilometers and this made sure that nothing and no one was too far away. The sprawling house they lived in was another benefit of the township. The two-storied house came with a hedged front lawn and a backyard full of fruit trees.  The backyard opened out to the shifting sands and sand dunes of the vast Thar desert.

Arriving in the township as a student in the pre-partition era, my grandfather made it his home for over fifty years. After completing his studies, he worked for a short while in Calcutta and quickly realized that life was not for him. He came back to his alma mater and over the years took many academic and administrative posts. He continued to work for over ten years after his retirement.

My relationship with my grandfather was wonderful.But on that smooth road of life, there were some rough patches. I would be lying if I said there weren’t any.  As I grew up, there were differences in approach and beliefs on certain issues. Sometimes we agreed and sometimes we didn’t.  When we didn’t, we chose to disagree without making much noise. He wasn’t one for much discussion or persuasion or even negotiation. I think that came partly from character and partly from belonging to an older generation.

Despite the rough patches, there are hundreds of things that I would remember my grandfather for.  Things that I believe made him stand apart, gave him character. Some of which I wish to inculcate in myself.

  1. A man of few words, he spoke little. For those who didn’t know him, that quiet exterior was unnerving. Those who knew him were used to it. They also knew that he spoke little, raised his voice almost never, but when he said something, he meant it.
  2. My grandparents (and my parents) are the hardest working people I have met. I am not lazy and manage a job and a house largely on my own. My days are pretty full but inspite that I don’t think I have ever worked as much as them. I have time for leisure. That luxury I didn’t seen my grandparents or parents enjoy. Hard work takes you a long way. My grandfather’s life reaffirms this. Starting with practically only an education in hand, he worked hard to build a life for himself and his family. I didn’t see him participate much in the household, but when he was at home, he was usually working. Either it was some Institute related work, or a book he was writing or editing, or an academic discussion with a bunch of students he had called home. There was hardly any time he wasted. His only indulge was the television- limited hours and mostly the news.
  3. A determined man, he approached his goals with focus and grit. When he worked, the world around him ceased to exist. It would take a few moments and a call or two before he could pull himself out of his work. Such was his concentration.
  4. My grandfather was extremely disciplined. His day was neatly divided into time slots, each with a specific task. He was extremely particular about sticking to his schedule. As a child the schedule was at times impressive and at times annoying. It was difficult to understand how someone could keep a schedule day after day, without a break. In the last few years, health failed him, yet he did his best to keep his schedule.
  5. Everything associated with him was neat and orderly. On his side table next to his sofa (which doubled up as his writing corner) lay a tiny tray with neatly lined up pencils and pens, an eraser and a pocket comb. You weren’t allowed to fidget with that tray.  If you picked a pencil (as privileged grandchild we were allowed) it had to be returned. The pocket comb was used several times in the day- his hair needed to be absolutely in place. He placed hand-embroidered (my grandmother’s creations) napkins on the sofa arms. That was the arrangement he had for as long as I could remember. I remember opening his cupboard a few months before he passed on. It was exactly as I remembered it as a child. Tidily stacked shirts and pants and handkerchiefs.
  6. Being a disciplined man, indulges weren’t for him. He once told me he was an occasional smoker as a young man. He gave that up once he made up his mind about it.
  7. Truly fond of getting and giving an education, he motivated countless students and relatives to pursue higher studies. I think may be with me he was a little disappointed because I neither studied the subjects he loved nor did I get a Ph. D.!
  8. He was worldly wise and managed his money well. On a limited income, he gave his three children a fabulous education and made adequate retirement plans for himself. Today I  earn more than he did at the time of his retirement. I still dont think I have the ability to juggle my money  as smartly as he did.

As much as he loved us grandchildren, he was strict with us. Summer vacations were a lot of fun but sprinkled with a good dose of work. There was no over-sleeping, no laziness, no last minute hurriedly completed holiday home-work. We had a schedule that involved studies, sports, a small amount of TV, lots of wholesome home-made food and lots of friends. It wasn’t that he was heartless. Within his disciplined approach, he found space for indulging us. He made sure there was a crate of Thumbs Up waiting for us when we reached home after the journey from Delhi.  But it was one crate and we had to make it last the vacation. He even bought us an expensive brand of chewing gum a few times during the summer months. He took us to his office in the Institute car (such a privilege!) and let us spend hours scribbling on the large blackboard with colored chalk. When the parents came to fetch us, he’d take everyone to the guest house for a rare treat of authentic Rajasthani food. Once in a blue moon, he’d let us go venture into desert (of course, supervised) and visit the sandy hamlet from where the house help lived. He’d take us with him on his morning walk; introducing us to people we met. Once every summer, he’d arrange for a car  to take us comfortably to the outskirts of the township. With my grandmother in -charge, we’d visit a local  lac bangle maker and choose dozens of colourful bangles. We couldn’t wear bangles to school but he’d let us collect them anyway.  He would take the time to personally oversee the homework. I have distinct memories of him sitting with me on that big dining table solving maths problems.

It’s a whole life of memories and it’s mixed. Some happy, some sad, some bittersweet. Its actually too much to put down in words. And when words fail me, I take to pictures.

This is my grandfather at my parents’ wedding. He looks joyous and healthy. This is also the only time I have seen him dance!

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This picture was given to me by my grandmother some months back. She said there were too many picture to keep and she was giving them away to children/grandchildren.  I remember this occasion particularly well. It was a wedding in the family and I attended it with my grandparents. Lost in a sea of relatives, known and unknown, I clung to dada.

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My joy turns green

Moving into an apartment close to work has been a lot of fun.  Living on our own given as an opportunity us to learn and grow, to face live on our own and to begin thinking as a unit.

In the past six months that we’ve been here, I believe we’ve turned a bare, white-washed apartment into a home. It now has enough furniture to accommodate get-togethers and family visits, the kitchen is well- stocked with gadgets and food, cooling and heating systems are in place.  This is a space where we are truly ourselves. Living here we’ve taken the time to discover each other, we’ve talked and argued, cooked and cleaned, laughed and cried. In every sense this is our home.

The apartment has balconies. If you come from Bombay you know how precious they are! We’ve turned one of them into our “garden”.  The “garden” is basically a few well tended pots lined up along the length of the balcony. A little greenery in the concrete jungle.

I took to gardening with the purpose of learning something new. I thought I’d learn about plant names and nature.  It turned out that I learnt a lot more. I learnt the importance of hard work, patience and hope.

After a rough start where a couple of my plants died, I now have plants that are thriving. The Delhi rains, though delayed, have been kind.  This “garden” is my pride and joy. Take a look.

Jade in a matka planter
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Rain on foliage
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A stand alone terracotta horse amongst moneyplant that is recovering from the severe summer.
Homegrown curry leaves.
Homegrown curry leaves.
Buds. Hoping for lots of hibiscus flowers.
Buds. Hoping for lots of hibiscus flowers.
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Rain lilies
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And a few more.
A solitary rose blooms.
A solitary rose blooms.
And soon finds company with this pink one.
And soon finds company with this pink one.
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Jasmine. Absolutely the best part about summers.