Those Endless Days

6 November, 2009


I am having one of those days. One of those days when you are just happy to be alive, and grateful for everything in this life. A day when the universe said “I’m looking after you honey”. The sun is shining, warm on my face it is a beautiful day. I glide effortlessly through a spectrum of autumnal colour. I drift off for a few moments of much needed rest, in warmth and comfort. Everything in here is still, everything out there is frantic. I am in the “Now” as Eckhart Tolle would say. Sami, the wonder kid, has arranged this day for me and I haven’t even thanked him. In fact I was on irritation autopilot as I left the house. But now, on reflection, there are so many people I have to be grateful to, because without them I wouldn’t have appreciated these peaceful moments so much. I am having a day off and it is exactly what I need on the first Monday of half term. So, without further delay, I would like to say “thank you” to a few of the supporting cast that made this possible.

The very first “thank you”  must go to Mr. Ex. for refusing to have the kids one hour earlier than normal,  so that I could make it to the theatre in London. I should also thank him for his three phone calls at 1.30am as he tried to clarify this with me – sorry I didn’t pick up, but it wasn’t a great time for me. I did find an unsuspecting grandmother in London to have the kids (borrowed her from a friend).  It was very good of her, especially as she didn’t know we were coming.  The theatre was wonderful, Bellydance Superstars at the Bloomsbury.  The kids have loved our weekend away – although ironically, my idea had been a break from them, rather than with them. Anyway, we got out and about and managed to do both the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum on the same day – we got there really early.

Which leads nicely into my second “thank you”. This goes to Mr. George Hudson, an entomologist (bug collector) living in New Zealand who died in 1946. Hudson It was Mr. Hudson’s brilliant idea to change the clocks twice a year. This was so that he could have more time to collect bugs in daylight.  Strangely, I can think of a much simpler solutions to this problem.  That Mr Hudson could have got up just a bit earlier and stay out just a little bit later doing his bug-thang. But somehow, changing the time in half the world made far better sense to him. He also thought it was a shame how much daylight was wasted by people sleeping. Well, Mr. Hudson, I really hope that reincarnation exists and that you were one of the parents queuing with me, outside the Natural History Museum last Sunday morning.  All of us wishing we had stayed in bed that extra hour, instead of lining up outside a closed door. Or perhaps Mr. Hudson,  you might be one of the circus performers we saw last Spring – wondering why we trooped in so rudely, halfway through your show.  Anyway, it’s not Hudson’s fault.  I think if the clocks are going to change twice a year, then we should be properly informed.  They should announce it from loudspeakers on the top of a car.  There should be government texts sent out to us all.  One thing is for sure, we should never find ourselves on a tube train at 8.30am with four young children, when we could be in bed.

My third “thank you” goes to the wonderful AA man who opened my car for me, in a record 30 seconds, when we got back that night. The record is strictly for AA/RAC men who open my cars, not joy riders etc. Just in case you’re interested, the worst attempt was an RAC man who took 35 minutes to open a Volvo that had my keys in the ignition. How dumb was he? The year I had Asha, I used all of my available RAC call-outs on locking my keys, or baby, in the car. Then I had to leave and join the AA. Anyway, Mr AA Man, it was just a tiny bit, well, patronising of you to show me how to lock it, without the keys, by pressing the button. Shame then, that I hadn’t got my stuff out of the car and you had to open it up again. Even though it took you 20 minutes the second time, I’m still going to count your first attempt as my current record. Thanks AA man.

A very special “thank you” to Sami, my first born. Top marks for your brilliant attempt to keep my car keys safe in your hoodie as we crossed London. I had absolutely no idea that you would attempt something so resourceful. Yes, your failure (and I specifically choose that word) was disappointing for both of us. But hopefully I will be able to find the spares when I get back to Oxfordshire.   I know they are in the house somewhere, I think I saw them about six months ago.

Thanks now to our wonderful railway network, which can get me back near home in less than an hour. Also for the innovations in online ticket purchasing. I discovered you can even buy tickets for trains which are canceled.  In fact, I have one in my purse right now.  Amazing, I bet you couldn’t do that in the olden days.

Lastly, my sincere thanks to the wonderful Oxford Tube coach service. Next time I will definitely buy the ticket which was £7 cheaper than the one you sold me. Thanks for telling me about it as you passed me my change. And lastly a massive thank you to the mechanic who is working on the engine right now at the back of the coach on the side of the M40.

But the truth of the matter is, that this wonderful day-off is a choice.  It is a choice whether to focus on the pain and disharmony of life – it’s always going to be there.  Or whether to take a different view of what’s happneing to us.  Which lens we look through, the short sighted one, or the one that gives us a bigger picture.  The warmth and silence that this opportunity has provided me with, is exactly what I needed today.  I need a rest before half term takes a hold of my time and energy.  I’m going to make the most of the beautiful scenery and the chance to catch a nap in a comfy seat. Right here, right now, nothing is wrong and I can choose to find everything perfectly right with life, if I want to.  And just for today, I do.


“Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me”

HimalayasThe goddes Parvati, living the life as an “ordinary” princess, the daughter of the King of Himaylas and Queen Mena, was to marry Lord Siva.  Siva who lived as an aesthetic in the remote area of Mount Kailash was the god of destruction.   It was a love match rather than an arrangement of their parents – partly because Parvati, who was a pretty headstrong girl at times, would have no one else.  And also because Siva didn’t have any parents – well Visnu the god of maintenance and goodness could be called his “parent”, but no one would suggest that within earshot of Siva.  Brahma, the god of creation, was also there to offer a helping hand.  But he was not in the same spiritual standing as the other two, he was mortal.  Brahma, a demigod, created everything within this universe, but he began with the universe and his life would end when the universe ended.

This is the story of Siva’s arrival at his wedding siva images adapted from the Siva Purana.  Siva has made his way to the Himalaya Palace with his wedding entourage.  Being a god, his entourage was slightly more grand than the traditional  – groom on white horse with brass band at his side.   For now they were camped outside the city walls, the residents of the kingdom were eagerly anticipating his arrival into the city.

Mena’s Big Day

“Oh Siva, I am just a meek and humble queen,” prayed Mena, “It is only for your pleasure that I have arranged this lavish wedding with so many wonderful things to impress the guests. And only for your pleasure have I invited everyone of significance, whether I know them or not. My very meek and humble request is that you remove any slight trace of pride that might possibly dwell deeply hidden in the furthest recess of my heart.”

The humility of her prayer brought tears to her eyes. Taking care to dab them dry them without spoiling her make-up, Queen Mena walked, visibly full of emotion, across the garden, towards the main terrace which overlooked the city.

the_marriage_procession_of_shiva__parvati_pe60Siva and his extensive wedding party were camped outside the city and just about to set off, when Mena’s prayer arrived. Smiling to himself, Siva called Visnu and Brahma over.

“There’s been a slight change of plan. I want to make a big impact for Queen Mena, so instead of us entering the city like a normal wedding party, would you get the gods to line up in a procession, one by one with their followers behind them and then I’ll come in last. Sort of build up a bit of suspense, then I make a grand entrance.”
“Is there something wrong with your eye?” replied Visnu
“No, nothing” replied Siva smiling and winking.
“There definitely is.” Brahma said, “I saw it just then. It keeps twitching. You want to get that seen to before the wedding. You don’t want to frighten her off.” Visnu and Brahma started laughing together.
“There’s nothing wrong with my eye.” replied Siva with a slight edge in his voice.
“Once I had a twitch in my eye, all sorts of stuff came out of it. There were planets, strange creatures, you wouldn’t believe it, even I was surprised.” Brahma continued.
“Look there is nothing wrong with any of my eyes, they are all fine.” said Siva, interrupting Brahma’s flow. “Can you please get the wedding procession sorted out like I asked? I wouldn’t bother you, but you are supposed to be my best men”.
“So sorry,” said Visnu with no apology in his voice, “I’ve never organised a carnival before, but I’ll do my best.”

Visnu turned and shouted instructions to the assembled masses. There began a tremendous shuffling and the hum of thousands of people making unnecessary small talk filled the valley. This went on for a lot longer than Siva or Visnu thought necessary, but they had learnt to be patient with their entourages. They had also learnt to be patient with the entourages of the lesser gods, who seemed to mysteriously show up at a lot of events, uninvited. After a few short hours, everyone was in position. The noise quietened and everyone waited expectantly. Visnu nodded at the front of the line and it rumbled forward, in through the city gates, everyone trying as hard as possible to be ‘carnival like’.

Narada was waiting for Mena on the wide terrace overlooking the city. Bougainvillea grew on the terrace and provided a generous amount of natural shade from the Indian summer sun. He was strumming his Vina and quietly chanting some Siva mantras, pondering how the day might unfold. It was purely coincidence that many of the events he attended became ‘eventful’. As a travelling priest, he never took sides when there were disagreements. Instead, he preferred to keep the communication going as long as possible between argumentative parties. His style of mediation was transparent, he simply relayed exactly what each party had said about the other. He stayed neutral as much as possible, and only as a last resort he might occasionally add a personal opinion to sabotage an impending reconciliation.

Mena greeted Narada with a slight bow of her head, her palms folded in respect, Narada did the same. The conches sounded, heralding the arrival of the groom’s party. She looked up expectantly towards the city gates.

Mena was elated, after so many months of preparation, finally her big day had come. Her daughter was getting married and she was the hostess. She was going to show everyone what a classy event really looked like. She had waited a long time for this, especially during Parvati’s ‘difficult years’. But today was going to make up for all that, this would be the wedding of all weddings, her friends would be talking about it for years to come. There was no expense spared – new altars, new clothes for everyone in the kingdom, ice sculptures, horses, dancers, fire walkers, acrobats, musicians, life sized statues of all the guests – well, ‘near’ to real-life size. Some had been given slight enhancements, a few benefited from a flattering nip and tuck. There had never been a wedding like this one in the history of the Himalaya kingdom. Obviously, as she had explained to her ladies in waiting, it was not done to show off – unlike some of the recent flashy weddings she’d been invited to. Neither, she had emphasised, was it important who had the biggest, grandest wedding. It was just natural that, as the royal family, they would have the biggest and the best. And if that made some of the previously so-called ‘big weddings’ look a bit, well, cheap, it was purely accidental. The only reason Mena was hosting such a grand event, was her genuine, pure hearted desire to show how happy she and the King were with the marriage. Parvati had said that a simple wedding, with wild flowers from the mountain and a picnic by the river would be lovely. But it would not have conveyed the great joy of her parents in the same way. Mena knew best, and she knew that all girls wanted their big day to be very special. So she had taken care of it all. Thousands of guests, elaborate silverware, crystal everywhere, garlands, an expansive wedding list and of course, tiny pieces of designer food on very large plates.

It hadn’t all been palaces and nice clothes for Parvati though. Mena remembered how sad she had felt when Parvati had begged to leave the palace and live in the forest. What public shame it had brought Mena when Parvati had given up her wealth and comforts. Mena sighed as she remembered the hardship – a queen shouldn’t have to endure such terrible things. Then there had been all the women in the court asking with their supercilious smiles, “How is Parvati coping in the forest?” and “Parvati is like a great sage” and the worst of all, “You must be so proud of her”. It was just so humiliating and so unnecessary.

It was the King who had agreed to Parvati’s madness. “Don’t worry Mena”, he’d said, trying to calm her. “It’s just a phase she’s going through. If we allow it, she’ll come back to us quicker than if we fight it.”

The King was right of course, Parvati had eventually come back, and Mena had put the shame and sadness behind her, mostly. Now on Parvati’s wedding day, all Mena’s dreams were being fulfilled and it would be the best day of her life. She remembered how excited she had been as a young woman marrying into the Royal Family. She had cried tears of joy when her mother had chosen her beautiful wedding sari. What tears of pain Mena had cried over Parvati in the past. But she had prayed sincerely and deeply and finally those prayers were being answered. Today she was the most blessed woman alive, no one could feel happier and prouder than her. No one was going to get a better husband that Parvati and everyone had been invited to see it. Realizing how the gods had favoured her, more than anyone else she could think of, she waited expectantly with Narada for Siva’s wedding party to enter the city.

From the terrace they could see the arrival of the front of the wedding party. She clasped her hands like an excited child “Oh there he is, there he is!” she said, it came out a little louder and more rushed than expected, “It is the most wonderful wedding procession. It reminds me a bit of the carnivals I watched as a child.” The guests entered in their hundreds, all beautifully dressed, music played, dancers danced and the city crowds clapped and cheered them with welcome.

“No, no, your majesty, forgive me for mentioning it, but you are mistaken.” said Narada. “This is not Siva, these are merely his attendants. It is like comparing mere stones to the glimmering stars of a night’s sky.”

“Oh yes, of course.” she replied regaining her composure. But she wondered just how opulent Siva must be. As the first group passed the terrace, the second one entered the gates.
“Here he is, now. Just look at that. Dancers, musicians, armies, banners and flags!” she said with a smile of deep satisfaction, clapping with regal enthusiasm – small soft claps which made no sound.
“No, no, your majesty. This is not Siva, these are merely more of his attendants. Compared to him they are but shadows on the moon.” said Narada.
As the next party entered the gates she cried out with joy, “Finally, he is here! You are right, Narada, he is like the moon surrounded by stars, a shining beacon in the darkness of ignorance, a swan amongst ugly ducklings. How could I have mistaken he who shines with the brilliance of a jewel in a crown of peuter.”
“Er, no, that’s not him, ma’am.” replied Narada, slightly taken aback with her simlilies. “It’s more of his followers. To compare them to Siva is like comparing candles in the wind to a raging forest fire.”
“I see.” replied Mena.

The procession moved past the terrace and another came into view.
“Oh there he is, there he is!” this time she knew she was right. “Such opulence, to dress his closest attendents in pure gold threaded clothes is pure extravagance. I am deeply flattered that he has made such an enormous effort to impress the King and I!”.
“Actually, your majesty. This is not Siva, these are merely his attendants, compared to him they are but dark spots on a brilliant sun.” replied Narada. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Mena straighten her heavy brocade sari with its gold edging and adjust her jewelled tiara. She looked again at the dancers in the parade below them and muttered “He certainly spends a lot on his staff”.

So the morning passed, and with the arrival of each procession Mena enquired and the response was the same.
“Is this him?”
“No. It is not him your majesty. They are merely attendants, like comparing rabbits to a noble mountain lion”.
“What about this one, is this him?”
“No, your highness. It is like comparing the water in a puddle to the wide oceans.”
“No ma’am, it is like comparing..”
“Thank you great sage, I think I get the point.”
“Yes, your majesty.” Narada looked a little crestfallen.

It went on (and on) until late in the day.

Eventually, most of the entourages had gone ahead and it was time for Brahma to enter the city. Seated on his processional elephant, he beamed proudly at the cheering crowds. With both his arms raised above his head, he shook his fists in excitement. As he passed the terrace he waved excitedly up at Mena and Narada. Mena responded with a fixed regal wave towards Brahma and a raised eyebrow questioning Narada.
“No, ma’am, not him.” Narada replied.
“Thank god.” Mena muttered under her breath.
Then it was Visnu’s turn. He was incredibly beautiful and very relaxed about the gigantic entourage performing around him. She blushed as he passed.
“Are you alright?” asked Narada, “you look a bit red.”
There was a pause, then queen Mena said, “Sorry? Oh, me, yes fine thank you. So that’s Siva?” she smiled and watched the procession pass.
“You’re not going to believe this” said Narada, “but, no it’s not. This is Visnu the best man. But Siva will be next, I guarantee it.”

At this point she realised that Siva’s wealth and beauty were indeed beyond her realization. She had always thought the folklore about him was exaggerated, she knew now it was not. He was coming and she stood, her eyes shining trancelike, as she contemplated the great blessing that had been bestowed on her family. Narada made a grand announcement and Siva, entered the city gates.

Mena gazed lovingly at the approaching party. Narada gave them a double take. He opened his mouth to speak to Mena, but no words came out. Instead he watched her. She focussed on the mass advancing noisily through the city. She blinked and blinked again. Very slowly, her face began to change. Her expectant eyes seemed to focus, then they widened, her jaw dropped open and she sank lifelessly to the ground in a delicate royal faint.
“Not a great start.” thought Narada as Mena’s servants rushed her lifeless frame onto cushions. With them fanning and fussing over her, she slowly regained consciousness. She blinked a couple of times and sat up with her hand on her forehead.

“Great Sage Narada, please forgive me.” She smiled weakly, “I have been in the sun for too long, I feel overwhelmed. I had the most frightening hallucination.” She laughed delicately, “Instead of seeing the finery of the wedding party, I thought I saw thousands of devils and ghosts, drinking from bottles and passing urine in the streets of the city. They were fighting like drunks, shouting and singing. Such a strange nightmare.   As if that were not bad enough, in their midst, where I should have found my son-in-law, there was an ugly, five faced demon.  I thought I saw his body smeared in grey ashes as if he had come from a funeral pyre. And then,” she shuddered remembering, “He smiled right at me. I could contain my horror no longer.”

Narada’s eyes darted anxiously towards the procession outside, then back to Mena, still he didn’t say a word. Slowly, she rose to her feet and supported by her maidservants she looked over the balcony again. This time she stood still for a moment, then she emitted a shrill crescendo scream. Not pausing for an intake of breath, she expelled all the air in her lungs. Then she passed out.

The crowds below had erupted into a frenzy. In the epicentre stood Visnu, Siva and Brahma. Horses reared at the sight of the gouls, startled elephants rushed madly through the bazaars and trampled the foodstalls. Women ran ungracefully in their high heels away from the city square. The doors of houses were slammed shut and bolted from the inside. Children were whisked into the protective embrace of parents, their little faces straining to see the action.
“Interesting entourage you’ve chosen.” Visnu chatted casually as if everything were perfectly normal around them.
“Thanks, great idea wasn’t it? Special treat for the mother-in-law.” replied Siva.
“When you said ‘grand entrance’ I certainly didn’t expect this” said Brahma. “Why didn’t you just say you were having second thoughts about marriage. Everyone thought it was a bad idea anyway. My advice is next time just send a messenger and some flowers.”
“I think he’s sent a very clear message” replied Visnu smiling.
“What? I just did this for Mena, she wanted her pride taken away.” Said Siva.
“Success is certainly yours.” said Visnu with feigned respect. “Well, now you’ve taken care of Mena’s pride, who is going to marry her daughter?”
“She’s not going to call it off over this, she specifically asked me to do it!” said Siva with some scorn.
“Funny, because I can’t see her waving gratefully from the balcony at you.” said Visnu.
Siva wrinkled his forehead in confused thought and looking at Brahma he said “What do you mean, everyone thinks the marriage is a bad idea? Parvati is a really nice girl you know.”

Upstairs, Mena had come round and was explaining her misgivings about the wedding to the King and Parvati. It was along the lines of her main mistake being that she had conceived Parvati with the King. To resolve the problems they were now faced with, she would kill Parvati, Siva and anyone else she held responsible for her public humiliation. Then she would kill herself. This was all relayed at maximum volume with exaggerated body movements and facial expressions. The palace guards, flanking the King, shuffled uncomfortably. They didn’t know how to tackle women like this, it wasn’t in their training. In fact, many of the members of the armed forces had specifically joined up to escape hysterical women.

Mena threw herself dramatically on the floor and wept inconsolably. Narada had discretely edged his way towards the door, carefully avoiding eye contact with anyone. He was just about to edge sideways through it when his escape route was blocked by Brahma entering. “She’s basically lost the plot” Narada whispered, “there’s no talking to her.”
“Bit upset is she?” Brahma asked, casually looking round the room.
Narada sighed.
“She’s just misunderstood Siva’s form.” said Brahma smiling confidently, “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to her and help her see sense. I’m really good with women, I understand them, it’s an intuitive thing. You’ve either got it or you haven’t, and I assure you, I have got ‘it’ when it comes to dealing with women.”

Narada tilted his head sceptically, but he considered it a win-win situation no matter what happened. If Brahma appeased Mena then it would be great for everyone. But if, on the other hand, if by some strange quirk of fate Brahma didn’t appease her, well, he wouldn’t miss watching that for the world. “Good that you came.” said Narada encouragingly, “Maybe you’d better have a word with her”.

He watched Brahma approached Mena. She was still sobbing hysterically, her faced buried in an ornate chaise-longue. She’d found that alternating between screaming and weeping was her best strategy. The weeping gave her time to think up the next barrage of insults but it also ensured she didn’t strain her voice by screaming for too long at any one time. By pacing herself in this way, she could maintain the crisis atmosphere for much longer than normal. Brahma stood over her. With a kind voice, similar to the sort used on a toddler having a tantrum, he began to explain, how she had misunderstood the entire situation, how foolish it was to think of Siva as an ordinary human and that understanding beauty of his form was a question of one’s realisation. Mena slowly raised her head to look up at Brahma. There was no crying now. Brahma carried on, pleased that he was having such a good response. Like a cobra about to strike she tilted her head back and she took a deep inhalation. Narada winced, shut his eyes tightly and waited for her to explode. He waited, and then slowly, he opened one eye and then the other to find everyone looking in his direction, and he stared back at them. Then he someone clear their throat just to his right. Visnu was standing dramatically in the open doorway.

“I seek Queen Mena.” Visnu announced. Mena was wide eyed, she remembered him from the parade.
“I’m Queen Mena.” she said in a squeaky voice.
“Queen Mena, it is my pleasure to finally meet you. I have heard so much about your glories, I offer you my deepest respects.” he sank smoothly onto one knee with his head bowed.
Narada watched in disbelief, when it came to smooth, Visnu was top god. Looking up, first at Mena, then at the King, Visnu said, “Great King, enough of your teasing. I can see that this is one of the goddesses invited as a wedding guest, why she isn’t old enough to be Parvati’s famous mother. Your joking is most inappropriate on this occasion. Please at once introduce me to Mena, the greatest queen of the Himalayan dynasty.”
“I am Queen Mena” said Mena eagerly. “But surely, I am not the greatest queen. You are too kind flattering me like this”.
“Flattery is for fools.” said Visnu firmly. “You are a great leader of women and visionary. I know that you understand the eternal nature of Siva and his unequalled position in the heavens. It is generous of you to take on the role of the ignorant by pretending to be upset with your son in law and set and example for your subjects.’
‘Is it?’ asked Mena,
“Very generous,” Visnu continued. “If Siva were any normal man of course there would be outrage for such a filthy rogue to allowed to marry into such a dynasty as yours. I admire your foresight and kindness showing a path for lesser women to follow so that they can protect their families.”
“Oh, it was nothing”, replied Mena, slightly confused by Visnu’s approach. “Wise Mena, you know as well as I that Siva is the source of everything in this universe. He is unlimited and so are his many forms. He is my greatest friend and companion. I would not have come as his best man if I could not vouch for his good character.”
“Well, you have got a point there, I suppose.” Mena began to soften at the pleasing words of Visnu. “I was just so upset to see him looking so, er, ordinary. You would have thought he could have dressed up for the wedding? I mean what will people think?”
“He is a law unto himself sometimes.” Visnu empathised.
“All I wanted was a nice wedding for my daughter and all the guests” Mena continued, “Not a bunch of hooligans running through the city. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it is. He’s ruined the whole day with that bunch of idiots he brought with him.”
“I understand completely. Let me take word to Siva and explain to him the importance of a good beginning with the mother of the bride? What can I request him to do to appease the situation and show his great respect for you? Please, great queen, let me act as your humble servant.”
“If only there was something I could think of?” suddenly Mena had an idea, “If only he’d been as handsome as the poets describe him. Then everyone would have been so much happier.”
“Narada will take word to him immediately.” said Visnu. “Tell Siva to prepare for the wedding – only one head this time.” Visnu said in Narada’s direction. All eyes turned to Narada. He was half way through the door, attempting an exit. “Yes” said Narada, “I’ll, tell Siva right now. Bye.”

Narada almost ran out of the room, and down the stairs. He stopped at the bottom to catch his thoughts. Then he heard a familiar panting behind him.
“Narada, wait. I’ll come with you!” it was Brahma trying to catch him up.
“I can’t believe Visnu stepped in like that, can you?” said Brahma still panting, “I had her totally memorised. Eating out my palm she was. Then he comes in and just takes over, as if he’s god or something.” He lent on a nearby statue to catch his breath. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you talk to Siva about all this.”
Narada stared blankly at him for a few seconds, then he softened and said,
“Thanks, that sounds like a great idea. Do you really think you can explain to him where he’s gone wrong?”
Placing his hand on Brahma’s shoulder, Narada led him chatting happily out into the city to find Siva.