An Ode to the Kind Stranger at the Café

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A bitter argument.

A door slam.

An empty apartment. A heavy heart.

Tears. Surplus tears.

Misery spanning the entire morning and half of afternoon.

No breakfast, no lunch; hunger killed by words as sharp as a knife.

Hunger killed by somatic brashness.

Soul crushing, sky falling, world burning.

It feels like death – this beginning of the end.

Death of a person still very much alive.

Death of a marriage.

Death of love.

I push myself up. Wiping away tears.

I head outdoors.

I walk aimlessly, like a lost soul.

I see a small café.

Self-care beckons.

I should eat something.

An order placed with gloom. Face full of despair.

Eyes down. Gaze lowered. No strength to face anyone.

No strength to smile.

A cup of coffee and a sandwich.

The order arrives.

I lift my gaze. It makes me smile.

The coffee has something drawn on top.

A heart.

A beautiful little heart.

Intrigued, I look at other cups around me.

No, this one is just for me.

In a sea of deep, numbing pain, it felt like a wave of comfort.

A compassionate message.

A comforting hug.

I look around for the waiter.

I spot him. At a corner.

Working but eyes fixed on me.

He smiles compassionately.

I smile back.

Warmth.

A sign that the world is not so bad after all.

A sign that I’ll be okay – even if it’s the beginning of the end.

Context: The magic of kindness. A stranger I’ve never met before provided me hope on the most hopeless of days. I never met him after that. The incident happened years ago, but I still think of it fondly. I feel a cocktail of emotions whenever I flashback to that moment in the café. It still makes me teary-eyed. It still makes me smile.

An Ode to Staying Unmarried Forever

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I am in my late 30s, and I might never get married.

Initially, I wanted to. I terribly did. When I was in my teens, I never pictured myself as an unmarried woman with no children. In my dreams, I had a dashing husband, the cutest of kids, and all the usual, regular mush coated with a sugary sweetness that had the full potential to make anyone diabetic.

Then life happened.

Life happens for everyone of course, but for me, my journey took a complete U-turn from what I expected.

I did not get a dreamy husband.

I was not a dreamy wife.

I did not get any dreamy children.

My fairy tale turned out to be a horror story in disguise.. and I got divorced.

I thought my life was going to end. How is a woman in her late 20s going to live without a husband? It used to hurt a lot initially. The thought that life would be so unfair, blessing others with the good things in life while I was left with nothing but despair, was too much for me to fathom. A desolate soul in search of a deeper meaning in the form of marital status – that was me.

In hindsight, I never enjoyed my marital life – if you take away the husband part of it as well. The regular chores, the responsibilities, made me think, “Is this what I am going to do the rest of my life?” I had no time for hobbies, things that mattered to me, my work, or anything that kept me alive, active, and fulfilled. Marital life is indeed a busy world, and you should not step into it unless you are ready to take on the responsibilities, compromises, and adjustments that come with cohabitation.

I was never ready for it.

Within a few years of my unmarried life, I realized how much I was adjusting and compromising in my married life. When I left the relationship, it was as if a chain was broken, and I finally attained wings to fly. This freedom felt like finally finding water in a desert. My thirst, however, did not get quenched. Instead, I found it ever-increasing. The thirst to enjoy the things I want, the thirst to not be answerable to anyone for the first time in my life, the thirst to just be. It was liberating, it was extraordinary, and it felt like love. I never knew love in the form of freedom. I thought love could only be found in people. It took a break from one kind of love for me to discover another. The type of love that I had never experienced before because all through my life I was told: “marriage is important.”

I never realized a woman could live without getting married. I have seen others living a content life without tying the knot, but I used to look at them with compassion. The thought that marriage is mandatory and the only thing that can make a woman happy was so ingrained and indoctrinated in me that any other way of living was callously dismissed.

Why did it take a divorce for me to find freedom? The answer might be that the people in my vicinity finally stopped pressurizing me to get into something I was not comfortable with i.e., marriage.

Note the usage of the word “unmarried” instead of “single.” A good relationship is like a cherry on the cake. It is a bonus—a plus. But I feel if a relationship is what makes you feel “complete,” then it would mean that you are lacking otherwise. This is far from the truth. We should celebrate individuality as much as coupledom, if not more. In the end, it all boils down to choice. There is never really one single right path. But you should have the complete freedom to choose the path you desire.

My dream is no longer marriage. It feels like I have seen the other side, and now I choose the other side – the path less taken. My dream is now to selfishly enjoy my freedom till the end of life. To those wondering how the path is – it is not easy. It is definitely not easy. You always have this big FOMO because everyone around you is following a path entirely different from yours – they find someone they love, they marry, and they live happily(?) ever after.

What happens when you don’t marry? For a reclusive person like me, it is a journey of self-discovery, freedom, and fulfillment. For another, it might be that of melancholy. It truly is subjective. But it is a life that is definitely worthy, liveable, and sustainable.

To end this with the ever-famous lines by Robert Frost:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

The Best Quotes from Rumi’s Little Book of Life

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Rumi has a way with words. His love for all things divine and spiritual is like a medicinal balm for a tired soul. I am always swept away by his verbal dexterity and his nonchalant aura. He has the power to induce both transcendence and melancholy in a single frame and you are left craving for more by the end of each couplet.

There is a neat little book available for Amazon Prime subscribers for free called “Rumi’s Little Book of Life.” It is a quick read filled with wisdom, dreamy poetry, and wonder. An enchanting journey that takes you through Rumi’s ruminations on life (see what I did there?).

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book.

Why do you seek water when you are the stream?

Indulging our pride, we run after every fleeting image.

How odd that being so unimportant we cultivate such grand illusions.

The intellect is luminous and seeks justice so why does the dark ego prevail over it? Because the ego is at home in the body while the intellect is only a visitor, the ego-dog at his own door is like a lion.

Embrace sorrowful thoughts for they sweep the house of your heart clean, scatter the withered leaves, and pull out the twisted roots, preparing the ground for the new shoots of joy. What sorrow takes away from the heart it replaces with something better. Without the fury of thunder and lightning the plants will be scorched by the sun. Be grateful for all you receive, good and bad alike, for it may be a gift from the treasury of Spirit that will bring the fulfilment of your most secret desire.

You carry a basket full of bread, yet you beg for crumbs from door to door. You are up to your knees in water, yet you beg for a drink from everyone you see. Why are you so blind and stubborn? Beg at the door of your heart instead.

My heart whispered, “Do not be so concerned, in the midst of people I am like a gold coin hidden in the dust, but even gold cannot find buyers unless it is brought out from the depths of the mine into the light.”

The night is blind to the glory of dawn man is blind to the glory of the lover. He who complains of burning is not a lover for the lover’s heart is constantly on fire.

Of the rain at night no one is aware for every soul is asleep. Yet the freshness of the rose garden in the morning is evidence of the rain that no one saw.

Many pass their lives deprived of love unaware that their heart is dark and narrow where the sun never penetrates. A grave is better than such a heart.

The body is like a pot with the lid on. Lift the lid to see if it is filled with the Water of Life or the poison of death. Focus on the contents and you will become a master focus on the pot and you will be misguided. Your eyes only see the body while the spiritual eye perceives the soul.

My heart twisted with passion in the fire of your words. Now I see what I saw as fire was only ice what I saw as water, only a mirage and our story, an old forgotten dream.

There are hundreds of religious books yet they are all one chapter, there are a hundred different holy places yet only one altar. All roads lead to the one House from one seed a thousand ears of corn emerge. There are many kinds of food and drink with one purpose only, to feed. The eyes of hunger are greedy, when satiated with one kind of food all others become repulsive to your heart. I dissolved as a grain of salt in your Sea of Serenity. Nothing remained, no faith, no certainty, no doubt. In my heart a star was born and inside all worlds dissolved.

An Ode to Saying No to Dowry

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Yet another day in Kerala. Yet another dowry death.

Vismaya, a 23 year old, who died days after sharing her pics of abuse with a relative, has yet again prompted many to chant “A divorced daughter is better than a dead daughter.” Her parents were very much aware of the abuse she was going through, so was her brother and cousin, but unfortunately, not one of them could save her. There is no single person to blame here. Almost everyone is at fault, including the society.

I am a divorcee. Fortunately, my parents were super supportive, and gave my safety the utmost priority when I chose to leave my husband’s place after yet another episode of abuse. The day I left home was the day my parents came to know that I was facing physical and emotional trauma over many months. I did not want to worry them. Maybe Vismaya felt the same. The difference was, my parents did not tell me to compromise.

Mine was an arranged marriage. My parents and I were, are and always will be strictly against dowry. We always had made it clear when a proposal came by that no dowry would be given. My in-laws and husband said they had no demands, though traditionally their family practiced it.

On our wedding day, amidst all the flurry of activity, it felt odd when my husband quipped happily “(So and so) told me you are wearing a lot of jewelry; that I am a very lucky guy.” It was a hint of what was to come.

The emotional blackmail began on the first day of marriage. My ex-husband’s old relative, with a full authoritative tone, told me to put my jewelry in a locker at their chosen bank. When I naively told him that we usually put our jewelry in our own lockers, he was adamant that I keep it in a new one at the current location. This was odd to me, because I have never heard of such a thing happening in my family before. The women of the family always kept their jewelry in existing lockers. There was no question of transferring or shifting it to the husband’s place. Plus, it is so redundant – why open another locker when you already have one? There can only be one answer.

I consulted my mother, who panicked and told me not to do anything till they arrived. So I kept stalling their attempts to put my assets in their locker. My mother came to visit soon and took away the jewelry. This angered my ex-husband, and things (predictably) went downhill from then on. I remember asking him “Did you marry me for my money?

Physical abuse soon began. Not enough to get me hospitalized, but enough to give me bruises. “There are so many women getting hospitalized, that’s what real physical abuse is!” – he justified his actions to me. I forgave, but could never forget because he would keep repeating it. At the end, I ended the relationship and walked out. I realized my tears did not matter to him, nor my well being or happiness. I was married for just one year.

To all the unmarried women who are reading this, this is something you should note. You will hardly see anyone talk about this anywhere online – how dowry nowadays is rarely mentioned before marriage, camouflaged and hidden, all ready to make a move on its prey when the time is right. Many predators, cunning to the core, have realized that this right time to get what they are eyeing, is not before marriage but after it – when the woman is the most vulnerable, getting accustomed to a new place, confused and dazed. No one is explicitly going to use the word “dowry” but you will get to know from their actions.

Please remember, your current assets are yours alone. This needs to be strictly mentioned before marriage. You need to underline your deal breakers, so that there is no room for confusion. If after marriage, you decide to mutually hold future assets together, that is entirely up to you. But do not let anyone emotionally manipulate you into gaining access to your safety and security. Once you lose control of that, you lose control of your life.

I survived the worst phase of my life because I had solid support. Whenever I see a death or abuse case, it feels overwhelming. A lot of “if only” phrases come to mind.

  • If only, the family had supported her enough. Instead of telling her to compromise, they had told her to come home or “We are coming to pick you up” instead.
  • If only, the victim realized her life is not meant for suffering, to endure everything in silence. That staying married, even if toxic, is not the ultimate goal in life. Happiness is.
  • If only, the society made it easier for women to call it quits when her relationship with her partner becomes irreparable. Instead, mostly, we are told to compromise and adjust more.
  • If only, all men had the guts to strictly say no to dowry, go against tradition.
  • If only, a man’s parents did not put social status on such a high pedestal.

If only…

Many women, like Vismaya, would then still be alive.