Tag Archives: spring

The Boy Who Loved Vasant Panchami

The year was 1940. It was Magha in the Hindu lunar calendar. The Sun God was in Uttarayana. The Devas were offering their morning prayers. The portal to Heaven was open. On planet Earth, the mortals were stirring to welcome Vasant Panchami. A harvest festival flushed with food, flavors, fragrance, and fun. A fiesta of kites was coloring the skies. Bharat was in the clutches of the mercenary British empire. Bushels of gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and black gold(pepper) were flowing into the pipes of the Raj.

He was eleven years old. Everyone knew him in the Krishna Nagar Mohalla, Lahore. The sweet water of the Five Rivers “Punjab” flowed in his veins. His feet were a few feet above the fertile land. He was born a Sufi. A Dervish. His family called him Kaka. His sisters Rama, Sunita, Santosh, and Tripta called him Pahjii (older brother). To cousins he was Pah. His Jhaiji (ma) and Maji (grandma) called him Nikka, as they stood on the street corner at dusk, watching out for his lanky frame on a bicycle. Curly dark locks flying in the wind. He was a force to be reckoned with. His birthplace shared a wall with a Krishna temple. Bhakti of the Blue God was imbued in his soul like the Raag Basant Bahar. Always eager to help everyone. Ever ready to share stories, and always immersed in poetry. Solving riddles of life with a flick of his fingers.  He knew which neighborhood aunty made the best ladoos. Which house received bushels of guavas. Who saved a tall glass of thandai for him. Which uncle played chess and which aunty loved shahtoots (mulberries). Friends of all ages called him Vatta out of affection. He had charisma. He was carefree. Fearless.

To him, every day was a festival. Vasant Panchami was his favorite day of all. Perhaps because he was born close to Vasant. Spring was in the air. He was up at the crack of dawn. After procuring a fistful of annas (coins) from Maji, he woke up his sister Tripta. They were off like the wind on his trusty bike. They rode along Nisbet road to Gawalmandi to purchase kites. The shops were decorated with multicolored guddis, paris, and magnificent patangs. Delightful with colorful crepe paper streamers. There was enough money to buy a dozen kites, dor  (sturdy string coated with crushed glass), and wooden charkhis.

Tripta was good at striking a bargain without even trying. Melting at her enchanting smile, shopkeepers gave them five percent extra merchandise or chunga. Moreover, the merchants held their gentle father Lala Gyan Chand Kapur in high regard. The halwais of Gawalmandi were setting up shop with big kadhais of hot milk, mounds of kalakand, jalebi, and chhole-puri. Women dressed in floral pink and yellow sarees and phulkari dupattas were going to the temple for Saraswati Puja, melodious bhajans reverberated in the city center. The brother and sister stopped to get breakfast. They bought two donas of kadah – his all-time favorite – made with equal parts of cream of wheat, butter, and sugar. Tripta always got more kadah or halwa in her dona but she exchanged her dona with her brother’s. Their love soared like a yellow kite in a blue sky. Fearless.

The year is 2021. I am a grandmother now. My grandson will soon be eleven. I never knew dad at that age but in many ways, he never grew up. I wish I could have accompanied him on the streets of Lahore but he never went back after the partition of India in 1947.

Last night, I dreamt that our home in Mumbai was decorated with garlands of mango leaves and orange marigolds. Mom looked angelic in her rose pink sari and dad’s shirt was tinted in buttercream. The Krishna idol was resplendent in yellow pitambar and a fresh vyjayantimala graced his neck. Koels were singing on the mango tree, mom had planted in the courtyard. The black golden retriever was beside himself in joy. The house was bustling with festivities. Trays of fragrant saffron basmati rice, flavorful yellow pumpkin sabzi, halwa, puffed puris, dahi bhallas, sweet and tangy chutneys were being placed on the breakfast table.

Dad was sitting with his grandchildren sharing their candy and reciting his school assembly poem to them Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua (Urdu: لب پہ آتی ہے دعا بن کے تمنا میری‎), authored by Muhammad Iqbal in 1902. He regaled the children with stories about Vasant Panchami the “Shah of all Seasons”. He painted word pictures of children playing tag in billowing mustard fields. He told them about Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire, who encouraged the celebration of Vasant Panchami in temples and in Gurdwaras. The good king and his beautiful queen distributed food for forty days leading to the Spring festival of Holi. Ranjit Singh organized Vasant melas and sponsored kite flying. The people of Punjab loved this boisterous activity. The sound of – Woh kata! Guddi looto! – jubilance echoed in the maidans.

In my dream, the children sat around their Nanaji( grandpa) their eyes as wide as patangs in amazement. After feasting on stories, they polished off the nutritious home-cooked meal, squabbling over the last puri. Later, Dad took them to the terrace to fly kites. There was a gentle sea breeze. The sky was colored with kites like a multicolored Matisse collage. The kaka from Lahore was having the time of his life! My son was holding his charkhi. My daughter and my nieces were spinning. I was helping Mom in the kitchen. It was a perfect morning dream. I woke up all smiles, beguiled by dad’s playfulness. Tender, mellifluous notes of Raag Basant Bahar played on my heartstrings.

I retold my lucid dream to my grandson in India, who listened to me by candlelight. We laughed. Dad had incarnated the fearless essence of Vasant. He lived his life in accordance with Iqbal’s timeless words.

 Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke Tamanna meri 

Zindagi shama ki surat ho khudaya meri

(The longing of my heart alights my lips

May my life be lit like a candle of wisdom…)

And, it was. It most certainly was. Fearless.

Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

Tender Renewal of Spring

Spring has a charm, at once joyous and peaceful, almost unparalleled.

Over the last few weekends, gardens everywhere are coming alive with the tender palette of green and the skies put on their best shows of blues, indigo, saffron, and gold.

The birds that peek soon swell, open up in brilliant colors or earthy shades, greeting the sun and the wind, braving the rain, invite the bees and butterflies to dance around, hum and feed, and share. Cheery little hummingbirds join the dance, flitting and fleeting, lapping and tweeting, tiny arcs of sheen and energy, leaving us mesmerized as they find their nectar in the tiniest of flowers! 

Then there’s birdsong, tuneful, rhythmic, full-throated, right from announcing the arrival of dawn, singing for mates or for sheer joy, forming patterns in company, some bringing notes from other lands and seas and humbling with their graceful might!

The scents of the flowers vie with the riots of hues, some sweet, others emphatic, nonetheless unique to each, perhaps to woo the bees and butterflies.

And….. along come the critters that nourish the soil and garden, mostly at work unseen, at times wiggling and poking out of the rich, brown earth and looking surprisingly clean, smooth! Imagine if we’d had a dirt bath… how much of a wash it would take! There are the nifty hiders with legs aplenty, the husky rollers, the shelled footers who are so clever at their feeding, I almost want to leave them on the leaf or stem!

The nourishing clods, and grains, which with the added sun and rain create the magic of food as has churned on and been the source of energy for creatures large and small.

Vellai Pookkal (white flowers)

The freshness is intoxicating, never tiring, year after year. I wish I’d been keeping track of all that we’ve planted, thrived, liked, disliked over ever so many seasons – like the Algerian tangerine that I had the pleasure of going to a lesser-known nursery with our dear friend and children’s music teacher, Jane. I also learnt of the sprightly Peruvian lily from her, the leaves that have an earthy scent and flowers of happy colors.

More recently, our son planting and grafting fruit trees has given yet another purpose to our garden, with great variety and promise.

As the day moves on, the sun mercifully burns the fog, though the crisp mist and slight chill are refreshing to begin with. Soon the rays beat down on me, the jacket needs to be shed and sweat starts to bead up. I often realize only too late I’ve set out with no hat. I’m quite a mess… wind-blown hair, bronze tanning and sweaty trotting back and forth, clearing, planting, snipping, all the while being almost lost in the garden meditatively with great admiration for all things in nature!

At times it may not look a whole lot different, but the closer I look as the sun begins arcing down, the drier old branches are spread or out to compost, wilted flowers cleared, new plants or seeds in, some flowers, greens discovered, admired and my muscles, joints in a happy well-used tiredness! And certainly with hopes for seedlings to poke through!

Spring this year has a whole new meaning, one of gratitude, for the selfless frontline workers and scientists during this coronavirus pandemic, for loving families and friends, educators, food and farm workers and everyone who’ve been tirelessly adapting! It is one of hope and prayers for new, empathetic and well-reasoned beginnings!

Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who enjoys writing, exploring our great outdoors, gardening, and art as a pastime.

Oh Rapturous Spring!

“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson: The Sense of Wonder

Growing up in the Nilgiri hills in South India, I must admit that I did not feel the keen delineation of seasons. In jest, we often told each other that our seasons were broadly divided into two: rainy and not rainy.

It was beautiful and scenic all around me, and I am eternally grateful for a childhood spent in those charming environs. It isn’t a gift granted to many – I realized this truth as a child, and this becomes even truer with every passing day, as I live as an adult far away from those beautiful hills which formed the landscape of my childhood. Nestled in the South of India where the Eastern Ghats met the Western Ghats, the Nilgiris was at the unique spot of inviting monsoon rains that lashed both the East and West coasts of the Indian peninsula. Between the South-West monsoons and the North-East monsoons, it rained for almost 9 to 10 months during the year. The few months in April and May, when we could hope for sunshine, doubled up as our summer.

Spending many months with rainy weather in an environment devoid of electronic stimulation meant that we learnt to occupy ourselves with books and our imagination. Complaining about being “bored” got us the gift of chores or more homework. We were smart enough to give these two a wide berth and be completely at peace with ourselves. The books that I read were varied and often spoke of fantastic adventures in the English countryside or on the slopes of the Alps; books about sleuthing that made me yearn for such deductive skills; or travel and humor that made me want to pack up and get started on adventures of my own.

Many of these books were set in Europe where the seasons were far different from the rainy and not-rainy strains of weather that I experienced.  They spoke rapturously of spring and autumn. I suppose the magic of youth made me read about “gold and scarlet leaves” and imagine a wondrous world of multi-colored leaves though my forays into the forests nearby always revealed only shades of green. I wondered what geography textbooks meant when they spoke of Deciduous and Evergreen forests. Did the leaves fall like clumps of hair? What did they mean by resplendent autumn? The trees were always beautiful, green and calming – I could not quite understand how they became especially resplendent in autumn.

I think it is fair to say that I did not truly get the meaning of spring and autumn till I saw it for the first time with my own eyes. When I first moved to the United States as a wide-eyed lass in my twenties, everything about the weather and seasons seemed wondrous (it still does!). Suddenly, what the books were talking about when they referred to autumn and spring took on a new meaning.

The bare trees of the winter have a beauty of their own. How could there be trees without any leaves, I wondered when I first came. But every year since, my heart has burst at this explosion of beauty when the leaves change colors, when the stark branches stand out, and when the flowers burst forth on the trees all at once, before slowly growing and complementing them with leaves.

I watch wondrous, a child again, as I see my flowering cherry tree, and the apricot tree that flowers a little later.

Looking at the earth fresh and colorful in its spring glory has been marvelous. Does your heart not sing when you see geese flying towards the waters making a perfect landing? The joyous anticipation of seeing mallard babies as they get ready to hatch in a few weeks has me in a tizzy. The blooming of my first daffodils has given me joy beyond measure.

Growing up in the Nilgiris gave me the immeasurable gift of finding pleasure in the simple gifts of nature. It is the reason I persist in passing this on to my children, even though I am given the “who-is-the-little-nature-nutcase?” eye roll and pat on the head by them.

I could not have put it better than Rachel Carson as she comments in her book, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring.”

Spring is here!

Las Positas College: Spring Session Begins January 14th Sign Up Today!

Las Positas College currently enrolls nearly 8,500 day and evening students. The College offers curriculum for students seeking career preparation, transfer to a four-year college or university, or personal enrichment. The College provides university transfer classes, retraining classes for those in need of employment or career advancement, a first-time educational opportunity for many adults, enrichment classes for those seeking a broader perspective, and career and technical training for those entering the technical and paraprofessional work force. Las Positas College excels in helping students transfer to the University of California system, the California State University system, and other four-year institutions.

Students who come to the College can choose any of 24 Occupational Associate Degrees, 17 Transfer Associate Degrees, and 44 Certificate Programs. In addition, the College offers community education courses geared toward personal development and cultural enrichment.

Academic rigor is maintained in a friendly, personal atmosphere. Las Positas College faculty and staff are distinguished by their energy, creativity, and commitment to making a difference in the lives of the students they serve.

Las Positas College is a learning-centered institution focused on excellence and student success, and is fully committed to supporting all Tri-Valley residents in their quest for education and advancement.

The campus is accessible from BART and Interstate 580. Students can take buses from the Pleasanton-Dublin BART station and from many locations in Livermore and Pleasanton. The College is proud of its exceptional safety record, which has made it one of the safest colleges in the Bay Area, and its commitment to sustainability, including LEED facilities, recycling and paper reduction practices, and photovoltaic (solar) parking structures generating one megawatt of energy.



South India Fine Arts: Spring 2018 Season

South India Fine Arts (SIFA), is the premier organization in San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and presentation of South Indian fine arts. SIFA is proud to present its Spring 2018 Season artists.

We started off the Spring 2018 Seasion in February by celebrating Saint Thyagaraja’s Aradhana. A lot of talented local Bay Area artists and Bay Area Music/Dance Schools presented their tribute by presenting various Kritis of Saint Thyagaraja. Check out our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/carnaticmusicbayarea/ for photos/videos from this program.

We kick off April with a concert by the dynamic duo – Dr. Krishnakumar and Smt. Binni Krishnakumar, followed by amellifluous Flute concert by Shri. Shashank Subramanyam.

In May, we have a blockbuster Vocal concert by one of the giants in Carnatic Music — the great Shri T. V. Sankaranarayan, followed by a scintillating performance by the dynamic duo – Shri Ganesh and Shri Kumaresh on the Violin.

In June, we present a grand Vocal concert by Shri Palghat Ramprasad, the grandson of the legendary Mridangam player Palghat Mani Iyer.

In July, we have a divine Harikatha / Music Discourse by Harikatha exponent, Shri. Dushyanth Sridhar. We have also planned for an enchanting evening with a Vocal concert by Kum. Pragathi Guruprasad, who was the runner-up in the third season of the reality-based singing competition Airtel Super Singer Junior.

SIFA is super excited to present the above line up of artists and hopes that all rasikas would attend and enjoy the above concerts. We also would like to remind that SIFA sponsors get FREE admission to most concerts.

Please signup for Sponsorship here: https://care.way.com/#/public/13492

For the latest Concert information, including artists information, venue, timing and other details, please check our website http://www.southindiafinearts.org. 

Monday Morning Discovery!

“Ho, winds of March, speed over sea,

From mountains where the snows lie deep

The cruel glaciers threatening creep,

And witness this, my jubilee!”

~ Elizabeth Drew Stoddard

March has blown in with blustery winds and brought with it skies filled with the drama of cumulus clouds. Despite the chill in the air, my morning walks have been colored by gardens putting on their spring sheen. And William Wordsworth has taken up residence in my head – thanks to the brilliant daffodils nodding their bright cheery heads. Their presence is like a headline proclaiming the onset of spring.

I made a wonderful discovery on my front porch that heralded the coming of spring in the midst of a humdrum Monday morning routine. A little hummingbird’s nest! About an inch across, and maybe  the same in height, it was carefully tucked into the foliage of a potted curry leaf plant and was easy to miss at first glance. I marveled at the artistry with which it was constructed. It had all the finesse of a museum piece! Pine needles, bits of cloth, moss and other materials woven together tightly, and lined with soft feathers. Even my father-in-law, a civil engineer would have approved of the manner of building. What was amazing was that the bird took a chance with choosing this particular spot for its nest. It seemed to me like there were other places in the garden that were better suited, offering more camouflage, and higher off the ground. Obviously she had better instincts than I did! Sheltered from wind and rain, the nest sat securely balanced on a branch, warm in the mid-morning sun. And there was the best surprise of all sitting pretty inside its cozy confines – a tiny little egg. Perfection! – that was the word that came to mind immediately. It felt like the most amazing gift! Yes, indeed. Spring was definitely here with a sight to behold on my front perch.

I can’t wait to share this discovery with my child when she comes home from school. I’m sure that her first question will be “How did the bird know to make its home? Who taught her to do it?”. As always, I will find books and videos so we can learn together. We will spend the next few days learning about our resident hummingbird hard at work, searching for materials well suited for her task, painstakingly weaving together her cozy home – doing what comes naturally to her. We will take pictures to observe how the egg hatches and catalog it all, so she can remember it. 

And in this process, the Mommy in me will try to impart some lofty lesson camouflaged in the guise of a story, along the lines of “You must be persistent like the hummingbird,” or, “You have all the imagination you need inside you waiting to be found’,” in the hope that my child’s sponge-like brain will soak it all up. Examples of courage, trust, perseverance – nature is full of such lessons. While I try to teach, I am aware that I am learning as well.

We live in a DIY (do-it-yourself) world – Pinterest, YouTube video tutorials, you name it. It is almost as if we have lost the intuitive ability to figure out how things are put together, without the aid of a set of instructions. Even then, it can be a daunting task to manage and follow the steps correctly. This little bird’s nest seemed like a reminder of an elemental ability for creative exploration hardwired within us. A reminder that the effort is central to the end goal. A perfect, enduring example of  the “Spirit of Renewal.”

All it takes is for us to be aware of the possibilities.

And trust our instincts.

And explore.