Chapter 4, Gayna Yoga, Verse 35

The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 35 –
“Arjuna, when you have realized this, you will not descend into delusion again; knowledge will let you see creatures within yourself and so in me.” (Barbara Stoler Miller, “The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War”, 4:35).

Knowledge, “Gayna”, here is synonymous with wisdom. Wisdom that allows me to see within myself and see without. Such wisdom when granted by Lord Krishna will save me from descending into delusion, confusion, and inaction. Such wisdom will allow me to see Lord Krishna’s wonders everywhere and in everything. I will learn to trust my judgement illumined by the word of the Lord, choose the right path, and perform actions without seeking the fruits of my actions. When I can detach myself from my actions, I will not be afraid to act, to perform my “karma”, my “dharma” and all the time I will be growing in my love for Krishna and all of his creation. I will be able to walk steadily on the narrow path leading back to Him. Even as I live it out my life and abide my time in this world, I will not loose sight of my real purpose. To be reunited with Lord Krishna by humble submission, by asking questions, and by service; service to the Lord and to all of his creation.

Time Travels with Tagore

      Today one might think of the Royal Bengal Tiger as the single most recognizable Bengali icon, symbolic of everything Bengalis represent. For now, let us leave the tiger to freely roam his home in the Sunderbans. Lets us travel back to May 7, 1861, Jorasanko, Kolkata; to the mansion of Debendranath Tagore and Sarada Devi. On this day was born to them the youngest of their thirteen surviving children, their son Robi. Liking Time Travel with Tagore. Spin ahead in time to November 1913. Robi is now recognized worldwide as Rabindranath Tagore. He becomes the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Rabindranath, also known affectionately as “Gurudev”, single handedly reshaped Bengali literature, music and art. The “Bard of Bengal”, Tagore, known mostly for his poetry, wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. In 2011, Harvard University Press collaborated with Visva-Bharati University, which Tagore founded in Santiniketan, West Bengal, to mark the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth by publishing “The Essential Tagore,” the largest anthology of Tagore’s works available in English.

    My own life is intertwined with love and admiration for Gurudev. Especially his Rabindra Sangeet.  Henceforth I will refer to Tagore as Gurudev as we do in most Bengali households. Too much time travel mighty make you giddy. Bear with me as we traverse my life, and those of my family and friends who continue to keep Gurudev close to their hearts and lives every living day. My first challenge in writing this article was to narrow my great love for Rabindra Sangeet to my Top Ten. A monumental task considering Gurudev composed over 2000 songs. Why Top Ten? Top Ten seems to be a popular trend – top ten songs, top ten movies, top ten restaurants, top ten universities. The Top Ten of Everything. The Top Ten (my list, of course) of Rabindra Sangeet. The concept came to me when I wished for a way to immerse my children in Bengali culture. We are all busy. They especially. Who has time for a bard who wrote over 2000 songs 100 years ago? So I devised I would leave them a legacy of emails, with an abundant sprinkle of my favorite Rabindra Sangeets; how each tells the story of my life, my family and friends. In Gurudev’s own words from his song “কুসুমে কুসুমে চরণচিহ্ন দিয়ে যাও, kusume kusume choronochinno diye ja,” Geetabitan, Prokriti, # 2 – leave traces of our lives as Bengalis for them to follow in our footsteps. Come along on this journey!

    Rabindra Sangeet falls into three major categories, although some of them overlap. “পূজা, Puja” – worship, prayers; “প্রেম, Prem” – love; “প্রকৃতি, Prokriti” – nature. My life as a Bengali is interlaced with worship and prayer, love for self, family and friends, mankind and God, and nature. My favorite Top Ten Rabindra Sangeets overlap several categories. Each song has a special place in my life, from early childhood to present day. Each song has many memories attached to them. Each song, with its glorious tune, and magnificent lyrics reveals new meaning everyday. This space is too small to trace all the Top Tens as they mingle with my life – past, present and future. So I will allow songs, tunes, lyrics to awaken my sentiments. Something else will play an important part in our time travel. Some songs find a place in my Top Ten because of the artist who performs them. Not all. Just some. As a matter of fact every Bengali has their favorite artist for a favorite song. Its is one of the many reasons Bengali, Bengalis and Rabindra Sangeet prosper. The value the songs have are close to my roots, sustaining new life, increasing in fondness and significance.

    First, I will dwell on all my all time favorite – “গোধূলীগগনে মেঘে ঠেকেছিল তারা, godhuligogone meghe dhekechhilo tara.” A love song exquisitely rendered by the artist Debabrata Biswas. Popular folk lore was an inspiration for Gurudev. I first heard of a connection between Krishna, Radha, and Kongsho and this beautiful love song from my cousin sister while visiting her in Japan last April. On the eve of Krishna’s departure for the battle with his uncle, Kongsho, Krishna seeks leave of Radha. Radha is too heartbroken to even lift her eyes to look at Krishna, her eyes raining down tears – “ঝরো ঝরো বারিধারা, jhoro jhoro baridhara.” Krishna must take his leave without fully comforting her. He misses the opportunity of his life to profess his love for her. Mythology has it that  he never returns from the battle as it is followed by the Mahabharata where all Kashtriyas perish Never shall such an evening come again and everything is lost for ever – “জনমের মতো হায় হয়ে গেল হারা, jonomer moto hay hole gala hara.” I do some writing. I am not a poet. But like a poet I have fallen in love often. Not with a person, but with the concept of love. Needless to say I have spent many an evening  pining for love, playing this song over and over again in my head, till there are no more tears or words left. Spent.

    Music has a special place in my life and Rabindra Sangeet occupies a major part of it. When I rose to the challenge of selecting my Top Ten I listened to my favorite songs over and over again. Loving them, reliving them, reminiscing. I take them along on my daily walks morning walks. Watering the gardens. I like to begin the day listening to “হে মোর দেবতা, ভরিয়া এ দেহ প্রান, hay moro debota, bhoria ay deyho pran,” Geetabitan, Puja, #85. The song also appears in Gurudev’s Gitanjali, song number LXV. Gurudev translated the Gitanjali himself. It was first published in November 1912 by the India Society of London and became very popular. It earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. The English poet William Butler Yates wrote the introduction to the first edition of the Gitanjali. In 1923 Yates himself won the Nobel Prize for Literature. My love for Gurudev and Rabindra Sangeet is also an expression of my spirituality. Growing up in a Bengali Hindu home I am steeped in my Bengali Hindu culture. However, my outlook in life is very accepting and respectful of all cultures and all religious beliefs. I must own up that being a Bengali has made me a better citizen of the world. “অমৃত, Amrita,” is the nectar of immortality. Some call it elixir. I am the vessel in which God pours Himself so He may drink the elixir. I write and sing to celebrate His creation. To love all men and women. Love the world that He sees through my eyes. On my walking route when I face east the rising sun fills me with renewed energy. Gurudev inspires love of God, celebrates nature and binds together all mankind. Perhaps that is why his Jana Gana Mana was selected as the national anthem of India. That his Amar Sonar Bangla is the national anthem of Bangladesh.

   Often heard in Bengali households, family and community gatherings is the very popular song – “আগুনের পরশমনি ছোঁয়াও প্রাণে, aguner parasmoni choao prane,” Geetabitan, Puja, #212. It has an easy and catchy tune. It celebrates the bonds between men and God represented here by fire. My elementary schooling occurred in a Catholic Boarding School run by the members of the Society of Jesus. I was fortunate to attend St. Xavier’s School, Sahibganj, and afterwards St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. At my school we attended prayer service on Sundays. It was non-denominational. Something along the lines of the worship at Bahai Temple, Wilmette, Illinois. I studied Bengali. However, students at St. Xavier’s School, Sahibganj came from all over India. They all learnt to sing and appreciate this song of prayer and let the light of God shine in their lives and around them. I don’t have a favorite artist for this song. Often it is sung by a chorus.

    Space in Shaarodiya Samaj Sangbad is premium, costlier than prime real estate. It should be so. Bengalis love to read, write, sing, dance, draw. We share and celebrate it with everybody. I will wrap our journey with a very near and dear family account. My younger daughter is musically talented. Excellent ear, tuneful voice and a hard worker at piano, violin and orchestra. When she was a fifth grader her school held an International Night meet. She learnt to sing – “ফূলে ফূলে ঢলে ঢলে, phule phule dhole dhole,” Geetabitan, Dance Drama, #6. She accompanied herself on the harmonium. That one evening gave her the inspiration to stay committed to music through high school, college and adult life.

    Go on your own Bengali Discovery Journey. It does not have to be with Gurudev. He is of course my personal favorite writer, songwriter, play wright, singer and artist of all times. I do hope your journey of immersion in everything Bengali is with music. Our parampara lives and breathes music. And Bengali theater, Bengali cinema, Bengali cuisine, and great Bengali communities like our very own BAGC.

My Top Ten Rabindra Sangeet List

  1.  (arranged by my preferred listening order)
  2. Aguner Parasmoni, আগুনের পরশমনী ছোঁয়াও প্রাণে, Puja, #212
  3. Hey Moro Debata, হে মোর দেবতা, Puja #85
  4. Phule Phule Dhole Dhole, ফুলে ফুলে ঢলে ঢলে, Dance Drama, KalMrigaya, #6
  5. Godhuli Gaganey, গোধূলিগগনে মেঘে, Prem, #109
  6. Ami Tomari Sangey, আমি তোমার সঙ্গে, Prem, #222
  7. Shey Din Dujoney, সে দিন দূজনে, Prem, #189
  8. Kusume Kusume, কুসুমে কুসুমে, Prokriti, #2
  9. E Ki Labanye Purna Praney, একি লাবণ্যের পূর্ণ প্রাণে, Puja, #539
  10. Chapalo Tobo Ankhi Duti, চপল তব নবীন আখীঁ দূটি, Prem, #77
  11. Sundaro Bote Tobo, সুন্দর বটে তব, Puja, #517

A Sister’s Pride

I had a rough time learning academic Bengali in elementary and high school. Perhaps my interests were elsewhere. Like dreaming about becoming an astronaut or traveling across the world as a Peace Corps volunteer. My school subscribed to the Span magazine and I fought my friends to be the first to read it cover to cover. Then in July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and really fired up my imagination. Now to compound all of my good intent to at least get a passing mark in Bengali, my school required students to speak, read, write English all the time, even in our dreams. My school was a boarding school. I came home only when school was out. My performance in Bengali deteriorated all year and my frustration increased. By the end of the school year, I feared being held back in my grade. I squirreled away time from math and science, history and geography, and made an extraordinary effort to learn my Bengali spelling. If the reader is familiar with Bengali they will appreciate when I say I don’t remember any rules that clearly showed me when to choose between a “স, শ, ষ” all somewhat acceptable forms of “s”. How was I to chose between a “র, ড়” the soft and hard sounds of “r? During the long written examination I noticed the proctor hovering over my shoulders, shaking his head in dismay. “Susim is not going to have a pleasant winter recess,” I could hear him say. I would go home for winter recess and unlike every kid my age, write Bengali spelling words over and over again. The rest of my friends were playing cricket, visiting the chimpanzees in the zoo, queuing up for a glimpse of Louis Armstrong’s moon rock.

I compensated my shakey Bengali spelling by memorising and reciting Bengali poetry and prose. After all I did win the English elocution contest. I would make a compact with my eighth grade Bengali teacher who really wanted our class to win that year’s Bengali elocution. I gave up my rightful place at the podium for English elocution and made a dramatic impact on the audience and judges reciting several small selections from Sukumar Roy’s “Abal Tabol.” It worked like a charm. I moved onto ninth grade where I could start a new school year studying the sciences, physics, chemistry and biology. The moon seemed within my grasp.

All throughout my childhood and youth Rabindranath Tagore held a revered place in my life, especially his Rabindra Sangeet. Now that I am retired I have a lot of time to listen, study, understand and appreciate Rabindra Sangeet. And write about it. No more Bengali exams. But I wish to spell correctly. So I turn to my female cousin who lives in Japan. First cousins grow up like brothers and sisters in India. My sister in Japan, Arati, a homemaker, had been a teacher for a long time. We use technology to text messages in Bengali. My Bengali is getting better in leaps and bounds. She is also a beautiful singer of Rabindra Sangeet. We both have exactly the same favorite Rabindra Sangeet. She always sings it masterfully and evokes the right emotions and sentiments. The song is “গোধুলিগগনে মেঘে ঠেকেছিল তারা”, “godhuligogone meghe dhekechhilo tara.” No rules of spelling for her. Like a great teacher she plods at it every day, sending text messages back and forth several times a day, till I have it right. Recently she taught me how to write the “Gita Pranam Mantra” in Bengali. First I sent a picture of it written in Sanskrit. Then she sent it back to me written in Bengali.

Japan and the US are at two ends of the world. I like to take Rabindranath with me on my morning walks. Arati, who I address as“Fuldi,” and I video chat and sing and recite the same verses. We observe my garden bloom everyday. Arati says she can smell the roses too. I believe she does it all from A Sister’s Pride!

An Uncle and Aunty to the World

St. Xavier’s School, Sahibganj, Jharkand, INDIA

Posting from Facebook, January 22, 2017 – Dear Dad and Mom, Mr. Munshi alias Uncle, Mrs. Munshi alias Aunty, Namaste! What an out pouring of love and affection for you here at St. Xavier’s School, Sahibganj where we just celebrated the school’s Diamond Jubilee on January 21. Nanda and I came to Sahibganj on January 20. Our first trip back to Sahibganj after Dad passed away May 2003 in Kolkata. Then in October 2004 Mom passed away in Skokie, Il, USA. We greeted and met with Jesuit Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Teachers and students. We clasped hands and said Namaste and gave them your love. We acted as your emmisaries. They came to see us because we are your son and bahu. They came for your blessings. We are all blessed to be your children, friends, colleagues. They remember you as their Uncle and Aunty, their parents away from home. Fr. Gatt and Fr. Saliba remembered you as the best example of a gentleman and lady. They admired your dedication and service. You gave and never looked back. Uncle with love from the heart and head. Aunty with love from the heart and hand. I said, You Aunty loved them with a “whip”, that is you were firm as you prepared them for the future. I told them the story of how I was only five and a half when I joined the same boarding school. At three feet tall I could drape a six foot tall quilt with a protective cover while standing on my bed. You taught me that. And Dad, Uncle, you taught to think with a level head but listen to my heart. Let love show you the way when everything else fails. Uncle inspired us with his always fresh and crisp look, words of wisdom, cricket score updates, clippings from newspapers, quotation of the day. Auntie showed us how to be properly groomed and attired, wash, dry, fold, polish shoes, accept life with a smile and helping hands. Mom and Dad you raised me the same way. Push open the doors of life. Put a smile on every face. Lead and live with wisdom. Water the seeds of love, compassion and generosity. Thank you Xaverians for the most wonderful tributes to your Uncle and Aunty, my parents.

Regards,

Susim

 

Modern Pop Songs

 

Kitchen Garden – Picasso Lilly
Zen-Feng Shui Garden

For sometime I have been wondering whatever happened to listening to newer and current Bengali hits. My subscription to the Saavn music app allows me to listen to a variety of Indian, Bengali, Hindi Music. Saavn editors post their own playlists. The Bengali Chartbusters has 115 titles. I took them along for my garden watering in the morning. I have adjusted my morning rituals to adapt to the hot days of summer. That’s real, Chicago does get several 90deg days. It hasn’t rained either. The flowers are really thirsty after a hot night. Drench them in the morning. They love us back with fresh blossoms regularly. The Zen Feng Shui garden which replaced the aging bushes is coming along beautifully. A carpet rose anchors the garden. There are bright pink cone flowers, orange lily, yellow coreopsis. A black Buddha in his traditional lotus pose brings “chi” into the garden. An ornamental bird bath is the Zen Feng Shui gardens’ water feature. We have repurposed the Kitchen Garden. No more vegetables. It’s bathed in sunshine. Now it’s home to prospering Picasso calla lilies, hardy purple Salvia now in their second year. The Picasso’s grow to be 3ft tall and have a white bloom with a purple center. In Picasso’s 1932 painting of “Woman with a Flower”, he chose to use a calla lily to represent her face.

Into that serenity it is hard to depart from my favorite Rabindra Sangeet and tune my ears to newer, modern Bengali pop music. In the list is an arousing rendition of Bengali lyricist Jeet Ganguli’s “Mon Majhi Re” by the very famous Bengali singer Arijit Singh. Arijit is a Bollywood Tollywood icon with many famous title tracks to his name. Arijit charges Rs. 1.5 crore for a concert. That’s around US $220,000. When Arijit records a track for a Bollywood or Hollywood movie, he charges around Rs. 15 lakhs. That’s US $22,000. And some change. “Mon Majhi Re” is the title track from the 2013 Tollywood hit Bengali movie “Boss”. “Boss” grossed Rs. 6.5 crore, US $1 million in the first week it was released. An unparalleled achievement by Tollywood standards which lags behind Bollywood. You can listen to the song and read the lyrics at this link. It will give you a taste of pop culture in Kolkata. The best songs are love songs! Love whose cup is always half full. Love is maddening. Love casts such a gloom. Love dooms. But fall in love, I shall!

Getting Past a Writer’s Block

Sunday July 15, 2pm, Banga Bhavan, Glendale Heights, IL. A gathering of some fifty and change Bengali literary enthusiasts wait for poet, lyricist, novelist Srijato to take center stage. Ranjeeta welcomes the rising figure of Bengali literary scene abroad and in West Bengal, India. The audience applauds for whole two minutes. Srijato asks for bright stage lights to be dimmed and the thermostat to be raised. He is cold. Of course,he hails from Kolkata, presently in the grips of an oppressive summer. Pinaki and Swarvanu begin the interview from a list of pre-prepared questions. They touch upon a wide variety of topics – presence on Facebook, poetry versus song writing versus fictional works. Srijato is still feeling cold. Ananda walks over and drapes his own bright and beautiful shawl over Srijato. What a fitting touch to our honored guest. The best part of his response to the interview questions are his anecdotes and the numerous reference to his works, from which he reads appropriately. The audience rocks and rolls with him. Does he gave a preference for cinema work? The reply is best read in Bengali – “ কই ডাক্তারাতো বলেনা আমরা ডাক্তারিতে নেমেছি। সিনেমার আর্টিস্টরা বলে সিনেমায় নেমেছে। আসলে সিনেমাই আমাদের নামিয়ে দিয়েছে.” Doctor’s don’t say they played a doctor. Movie artists say they played in a movie. Actually cinemas are down playing us. Laughter and applause. Then Srijato spends close to an hour reciting from his poetry, reading from his novels, each time with more anecdotes from his travels and experiences. He answers the question of what is poetry with the captivating story of a New York metra experience. It’s late evening. Srijato and friends are waiting for their train. They begin reciting poems in their native languages – French, German, Bengali. A young white, blond haired female is the only other soul present. The poets approach her and request her to recite a poem. They won’t take no for an answer. The young girl places her backpack on the platform and performs a short ballet dance. “That’s my poem,” she says. Srijato and his friends board their train in silence. Awed! Devipriya anchors the Q&A with the audience. I have my first and only difference of opinion with Srijato. In response to a question regarding How he deals with writer’s block, Srijato stated he did not have a scripted solution. He clarified that poetry writing was not like toiling at a wheat press or churning butter. Because you kept longer at it, the masterpiece will not happen until the muse inspires you. The many books and articles I have read about dealing with writer’s block differs. They advice aspiring writers to keep doggedly at it. Writing everyday with discipline, preferably at an appointed hour. Everyday churning out five hundred words. On every topic under the sun. Personally I will write about my sentiments evoked by a Rabindra Sangeet. Full of nostalgia and oozing with emotions. Or I will critique a Satayajit Ray or Mrinal Sen classic. Perhaps highlight the dramatic moments of a Star Wars movie. A Hitchcock. Or Ta-Nehisi Coates, “We Were in Power Eight Years.” After all Vincent van Gogh must have scraped many canvases before his masterpiece “The Starry Night.” Yes, all literary enthusiasts, KEEP WRITING.

The Zen of Gardening

The Zen of Gardening
by Nanda Munshi

It started with a citation from Village of Skokie regarding overgrown hedges on the alley side of the house obstructing line of sight for drivers exiting the alley. We have been Skokie residents over thirty years and were never cited. My husband Susim took it was an insult – a Trump kind of insult; many of our neighbors have bushes which look like jungles. He took the matter into his own hands, determined to fight not a Trump but a Bush Battle! After retiring we do our own landscaping and yard work. I was at my wits end. What might happen if he suffered major health set back? I tried to reasoning with him – the heat is outrageous, we do not have the equipment, importantly, if the job takes too long, we may end up getting a second citation. My daughters, our good neighbor Mark, tried to dissuade Susim. My nephew called from Kolkata, “Mesho, no, don’t do it. You are a Bengali Babu. This kind of work is not in your DNA.” None could stop him going down the disastrous path.

Susim started sawing and cutting down the hedges with fury and rage. I was the silent bystander, observing everyday how the vegetation standing between the yard and the alley turning uglier each day. In the process of this humungous job we acquired a battery powered chain saw, a lopper, bigger shears, a Little Giant ladder, sustained scratches, numerous cuts, a couple of minor falls, and a twisted ankle which had to be iced and nursed for a couple days. Time is precious even for retirees. Should we have hired a professional landscaper? To make a long story short, after a week an a half, the hedges were gone, the ground leveled, a 360 degree clear line of sight. Susim stood there with an ear to ear grin like a victorious Samurai. He claimed he is an undaunted, high spirited Bengali who never gives up a battle. Somehow I admire my Bengal Tiger!

Even as he was successful, his struggles reminded me of an ordeal from the time when the children were very young and Susim installed a swing play set in our back yard. To stand upright the swing set required its six legs to be grounded into six deep holes in the ground. In the end, after endless restarts we stood looking at sixteen gaping holes in the ground instead of the required six. We were all disturbed. The girls were in tears. Susim a little dismayed. A ruined backyard with no play area and a lop sided swing. But that was a long time ago……

This time around, we we were left with a strip of barren land which needed skillful beautifying. We both dreamed of a Zen garden. Our recent trip to Japan highlighted visiting gardens in Tokyo, Nara, Kyoto, and Kobe; our senses were still alive and verdant, preoccupied with the simplicity in Nature yet its abundance.Since we both love gardening so much we relocate to the outdoors the minute the weather turns warm. A strip of land, not very large where a Zen garden would spring was among my prayers. By this time working together on other projects, we have learned to work cooperatively, exchanging and accepting different ideas, no stepping on each other’s toes, better frustration management techniques. We listed some goals that we needed to be accomplished before plunging into the Zen concept. Susim was fretful from the beginning. He couldn’t quite put together his brilliant burst of ideas in a cohesive pattern. My major consideration was low budget, high impact.
We are both visual learners so each one of us sketched out our dream illustration of our Zen garden. Whereas I pay little attention to measurements, Susim works like an architect.Whereas I pretend to be a pseudo artist, the flora, objects, accessories, and other items of his garden had to be labeled for me to recognize them! To see the light at the end of the tunnel like this one project undertaking is important, but we have endless time on our hands- the luxury and joy of retirement. However, we did want to be able to enjoy our Zen garden while we’re still fit and active, and set a timeline. All debris was bagged and garbaged. Susim was ready to construct a 3ft high retaining wall. A perfectionist; each brick was placed precisely, checked with a level, reinforced with a mallet, and then firmly glued on to each other. Two days later, when I went to inspect the site I said, “You have something amazing here”. “Hmm,” he replied, “that is an overstatement but I surely worked my sweat out.”

We evaluated the handiwork and decided that planting selected shrubs and flowers , using stones and rocks will certainly bring about the Zen look in the small and narrow space. At close proximity, it will be easier to enjoy and evoke the true sense Feng Shui. Feng Shui is the art of maintaining a beneficial flow of life giving energy or “chi”. No matter how rudimentary in nature our Zen garden may be, we will try to give it harmony and balance, the watch words of Feng Shui. For the next few days we stopped working concentrating more on creating an intimate realm in the public sphere. As a team, we are not so bad together, after all.

The next step was selecting the plants for the Zen strip. I wanted to pick quick growing plants to satisfy my self-gratification needs. Susim, more patient, sets far reaching goals. We went out plant shopping and visited a couple of nurseries in the vicinity. Before venturing out we each made a list of our favorite species and compared notes. I was pretty shocked when I found out that Susim had selected only one specimen. Juniper shrub, juniper shrub, and flowering juniper shrub!! I have no idea what the flowering juniper shrub was? I said, “How can we maintain balance with this one selection, with the rest of the Zen scape? It’s going to look pathetic!” After heated argument and debates, he finally compromised. We agreed on a carpet rose bush of pink and fuchsia colors. Japanese gardens use a lot of roses, lilies, and irises. Irises were past their season this year. We planted a row of pink cone flowers, a native of Illinois, their long colorful stems as exclamation points. Yellow coreopsis for brightness, small green shrubs as a winding border. The overall look traditionally Zen, contemplative in nature, informal, cost saving yet appealing. Exchanging high fives upon reaching this landmark, we were ready to move on to actual implementation.

From hereafter everything went relatively smooth. Adding Zen tidbits – rocks, stones, water feature, a sculpture. Susim raised a red flag regarding the addition of a water feature because there were no accesses to electric outlets in the area and installing one would be an expensive affair. Instead, we decided, we would emphasize on more rocks and stones. According to Feng Shui, rocks symbolize mountains connecting spiritualism and nature. We are both big on spiritualism and feel delighted when surrounded by this uplifting feeling. Rocks also add strong positive “yang” in contrast to the softer “yin” energy. Several bags of river rocks were brought in , white, in color to juxtapose against the black dirt. We also used big white rocks which we already had from a left over landscaping project. A winding pattern along the bed of plants was created by the larger rocks to bring in a sense of illusion to convey that the path is longer than it really is! The marriage of materials of stone and bricks, also enhanced Feng Shui’s mixing of elements for continuous harmony.

Only a water feature was missing! This is a major flaw in my opinion of the concept of a Zen garden. The sight and sound of clean naturally flowing water is both relaxing and soothing. Suddenly an idea popped up in my head. Why not a bird bath? No electrical connection would be necessary. A deep basin holding clean water would still serve the purpose of placing a water feature and having the essential calming effect. Of course there will be no ripples, no sound of gurgling water but the bird bath will bring the cardinals, finches, sparrows, robins in numbers. Their tweets, chirps, and melodious songs would be a good mix of “yin” and “yang” energies. Whoever thought about that? For a little indulgence, we illuminated our Zen garden with lights that are specially designed for outdoors. For statues and sculptures, we used a ceramic Buddha statue and a couple of hanging Japanese lanterns. I made a composition of rounded rocks heaped on top of each other.

From concept to completion, our Zen garden stood there in all its glory! We all want recognition from others but we are not supposed to say that. When passers by, neighbors stand casually to view the garden for a few moments with admiration in their eyes, I tear up! Some have openly come up to us to pay compliments about our handiwork. Physical labor, hard outdoor work are not the kinds of things I like. I always wanted to work less and relax more. I want to be fit but never want to exercise. However, in the pursuit of happiness, I managed to bring it all together. It is our joint effort and hopefully we have been able to achieve the harmony and balance that we were looking for. I think we provided movement, color, shape, texture, and lots of sweet love. It is a garden in progress for we have to provide a shaded seating area somewhere; all tired legs need rest. I feel a strong sense of freedom and serenity now, when I look at our Zen strip. Finally, the Zen garden, with all the flowers, green vegetation, rocks and stones, the Buddha and bird bath, reminds me of my favorite Haiku ever:

“The temple bell stops
But the sound keeps coming
Out of the flowers.”
– Japanese Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho

Zen & Feng Shui elements – Buddha statue, bird bath, plants, rocks and stones.

 

Construction of the Zen Garden

When First I Loved You

“Prem” (প্রেম) is such a loaded word in Bengali. While literally it means love, the connotations are numerous. Perhaps, amorous, as love should be. I find Tagore’s love songs closely mirror my own experiences with love. Its March 1939, Falgun in Bengali. The season is Basanta, Spring. The poet is 77 years old. He composes this beautiful love song oozing with pain. In the Gitabitan its found in the category Prem, #222. Song title -“আমি তোমার সঙ্গে বেঁধেছি আমার প্রাণ সুরের বাঁধনে.” Here is a link to the lyrics in Bengali – http://www.gitabitan.net/top.asp?songid=931# You will also notice an English translation, but its author is listed as anonymous. There are links to several artists rendering the song. You may wish to listen to several artists to discover their intepretation and personalization. Some will sing it as a love song every word tugging at your heart. Others will sing it to celebrate the celestial love between Radha and Krishna. However, you can still hear the pining and the heart aches. Lovers always feel their glass is half full!

My most memorable encounter with this song happened when my Boro Mama – eldest maternal uncle – got marrief to my Boro Mamima – eldest maternal aunt. The summer of 1969. A marriage arranged by my mother, your Thamma. Mamima’s family were tenants in our Uttarpara house forever. She learnt to sing early and had the most soulful voice I have ever heard. We heard her sing everyday. Morning, afternoon and evening! Her songs wafted across the big square courtyard that separates the family residences from the tenants. Thama as you know is an enthusiast for “গান বাজনা”, song and music. On a whim she walked over to Mamima’s apartment and asked Mamima’s father for her hand in marriage to her brother, my Boro Mama. The rest is history. After the wedding at Uttarpara, Mamima accompanied us back to Galsi, my mamarbari. On her first evening in Galsi we had an open air recital by Mamima on the terrace. The program opened with some songs by my cousins. And then Mamima. She had met her husband once, at her wedding night while in the company of hundreds of family, friends and wedding guests. Yet she sang as if she had known Boro Mama forever. They were Radha and Krishna. Incidentally my Boro Mama was tall, dark and handsome with a complexion kissed by the sun as he worked outdoors erecting and stringing high powered electric cables brining the magic of electricity to the villages of Madhya Pradesh, India. Song after song poured out of her melodious soul. Every time we met after the wedding, Maima was invariably asked to sing. I hoped she picked #222. She did. And every time her Radha’s heart loved and longed for her Krishna’s love in return, which Boro Mama endowed immensely upon her.

Then in 1978 I fell in love with your beautiful and charming mother. In late summer I visited Dadu and Thamma in Sahibganj. We went for a moon light picnic to our back waters island with the St. Xavier’s community. Took turns to ride a rubber dinghy boat across the narrow but deep and fast flowing strip of back water separating the island from the mainland. Found our favorite beachhead and settled down for a late evening into the night moon lit picnic. I walked along the beach and as the waves lapped my feet I hummed #222. Then I picked up a large drift stick and traced your mother’s name in the sands. Even before I had finished tracing the last letter in her name, the waves washed away the first few. The song stayed with me and my Radha forever.