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Part 7 - Life Lessons

 
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Bapu!”

“Oh my little Rajinda, yes, Bapu’s home my sweet,” the man virtually cooed to his pre-adolescent namesake.

“Maataa, Maataa, Bapu’s home!” the young girl called as she dragged her father along by the sleeve of his suit towards the kitchen where her mother had been busy preparing the evening’s meal.

“Raj, I didn’t expect you so early.”

Indeed, he had returned home earlier than planned, but after the turn of the day’s events, he was excited at the prospect of getting home as quickly as possible; nothing would suit him more than to be in a simpler place and time and home life always afforded him that much welcomed possibility.

“You look worn out, my love… difficult day?”

Shikha smoothed her husband’s hair and helped him to ease his suit jacket from his shoulders. Once she had been satisfied that he was comfortably seated in the nearby easy chair, she retrieved his slippers from its usual storing place, brought forth a basin with water and a towel and proceeded to bare, wash and massage her husband’s feet. He relaxed into the warm spicy scent of the armchair, ran his hand gently over his wife’s wavy hair, and let the worries of the day dissipate without struggle into the evening air; moments such as these always seemed to provoke such a response in him as well as his eternal gratitude.

“Usual day at the office.”

Shikha looked up at her husband and smiled. He had always made it a habit to leave work at work and she had always considered that a wise decision on his part; she was certain that having home so separate from work was the key to their longstanding happiness and satisfying home life. Hungry for more warmth, he pulled her up towards him into a sensual embrace and made no effort to restrain his desire to ravish the soft painted lips that dared to brush against his. Rajinder rolled her eyes at the scene that had presented itself before her each and every time that her Bapu and Maataa would meet; ‘soppy but sweet’ were the words that now came to her preadolescent mind, ‘soppy but sweet’. Her parents’ seemingly unbridled affection for each other was always a source of pride even when her friends would make fun of their untraditional public displays. Watching them together filled Rajinder with a sense of security which was only equaled by the joy she felt in knowing that daily she would be showered by their love and care.

“Oh Bapu,” she gently chided. “Maataa, there is a child in the room.”

“And I think this child just wants a hug too!” Raj proposed opening his arms to beckon her in. “Group hug!”

“Oh you are so silly,” Rajinder muttered, but she did not waste a moment in rushing over to join in on the open show of affection.

And so was the state of harmony in the Sharma household. Mother and father had met when they were in their early 20’s at university. Their romance was chemical, the planning for a life together organized, and their devotion to family and peace clearly communicated one to the other right from the very start. The outcome: years filled with nothing but good things and the raising of a cheerful and extroverted daughter. In fact, Rajinder and Shikha always made it a daily habit to count their blessings, and as they settled down to bed that night, Shikha nestled into her husband’s arms (just as she had done on every other night of their married life) and whispered, “Life is good.”

“Life is good,” Raj contently whispered back just moments before the telephone rang disturbing their customary reverie.

Shikha raised her head and looked up at her husband.

“I wonder who that could be.”

Raj looked over at the phone; it was a call that he had to receive. He kissed his wife tenderly on her forehead in a last bid to make the moment go on forever, and reached over to retrieve the phone.

“Yes, Mr. Brandman.”

~ Aria
 

 

 

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Long video documentary, but excellent, in my humble opinion. Also, note that items written in white were taken either directly (or paraphrased to fit the dialogue) from this  Source



“Excuse me my pretties, I have to make a quick phone call.”

Maude stopped stroking the young girl’s hair - hair that seemed to continually change hue and luster, coming alive with the changing scenes on the large screen television monitor - long enough to give her husband a smile and a hand salute. Bette looked up briefly and acknowledged him with a slight nod, but Peaches had been so engrossed in the documentary that they had been watching about Angkor Wat that it was clear that she hadn’t even heard her father’s announcement.

“Apasaras? Where have I heard that before?”

Peaches suddenly looked off into the distance with a puzzled look on her face. The narrator of the film had just mentioned this word, apsaras

“Well, Apsara are hmmm… how can I say? They are a kind of ‘celestrial nymph’. Yes, that’s it,” her Aunt Bette tried to offer an answer. “Ok, the narrator in the film just told us the story of the Ocean of Milk…”

“Yes, what was that all about?” Peaches was suddenly all ears. She had seen the relief figures of women dancing in carvings that were on the walls just about everywhere in the compound where they were staying, and had not had an opportunity to find out more about them. Someone had told her they were Apsara and here was the narrator saying the very same thing about the figures that adorn the famous Angkor Wat. So what were they really?

“Darling, shall we pause the film for a moment. I am curious too,” Maude chimed in.

“Sure thing, Mother.”

Maude’s heart skipped a beat as her ear warmed to sound of ‘mother’ being aimed in her direction, and she smiled broadly.

“I can’t believe I remember this,” Bette sputtered in amazement, her face aglow with excitement, “something I once read long ago about Apsara.” She now laughed openly. “I found them fascinating too and spent a lot of time trying to find out more. They seem so whimsical and fanciful but it turns out they have a certain power and charm.”

“Oh yes, oooh do tell us more Aunt Bette. There, it’s on pause now.”

“Ok, here’s the bit I remember.”

Unlike Peaches, who had long accepted that she would experience lapses in memory, Bette seemed to be a veritable video recorder; she was renown for her photographic memory and as she recited almost word for word a passage that she had read many years ago, her performance held true to that very reputation.

“Ok, hmm…
‘The depiction of dancing in the decoration of walls and pillars is a recurring feature of Angkorian temple art. The myriads on the grand mural at Angkor Wat showing their emergence from the Ocean of Milk, depict the Apsaras as always being light, graceful, supple, and wholly engrossed in the task of dancing.’

“Yes, I’ve noticed that, and it is so amazing that they have carved so many. They must have played a major role in Khmer history. It is Khmer history, right Bette? Wait, the Ocean of Milk story, that’s the one where the two sides were playing tug of war with the serpent, yes?” Maude found that she couldn’t help it, but her own fascination was beginning to show.

“Yes, that’s the very one, but would you believe that although it is Khmer architecture and a big part of Khmer history, that Apsaras are really of Hindu origin.”

“Oh really, Aunt Bette?! In the middle of this country? Wow! Do you know the story of the Ocean of Milk?”

“Actually,” Bette chuckled, “As it turns out, I actually do. [laughter] Ok, so here goes, another withdrawal from my little ol' memory bank.”

“Oh Bette, go on with you!” Maude chortled as she flicked her wrist at the other woman to show her amusement then brought her hand back to finger comb locks of her burnt auburn hair in an attempt to corral them back behind her ear.

Bette smiled back at her. It had been a simply glorious evening, now topped off by this rather amazing documentary film and an unexpected opportunity for story-telling. She was always secretly pleased by Peaches’ curiosity which offered her many such occasions to share the vast store of information that she had securely stored in her head, and now here was Maude – Maude of all people – wanting to learn more from her too!

“Alright.
Once upon a time, the Devas – that’s the Hindu word for gods - were still in search of immortality. They knew that an elixir capable of conferring immortality upon those who drank from it lay hidden somewhere in the depths of the Ocean of Milk. Eager to be rid of the mortal coil, the Devas decided to dredge up the elixir. Their plan was to seize Vasuki, the ruler of the Nagas (serpents) and to coil Vasuki's body around a mountain that jutted out from the Ocean. One team would grab the serpent's head, and the other team would grab the tail. First one team would pull, and then the other, and so acting in unison they would cause the mountain to spin in the ocean. The spinning of the mountain, in turn, would churn up the ocean's depths and bring the elixir to the surface. Since the Devas did not have enough hands to accomplish the churning themselves, they asked their perennial rivals, the Asuras (a morally ambigous group that may be characterized either as as an association of powerful demons or as a second set of gods) to help them. The Devas grabbed Vasuki's tail and the Asuras grabbed Vasuki's head. As they pulled back and forth, the Ocean of Milk disgorged many wondrous beings, including the celestial nymphs. The Ramayana describes the event in a manner recalling the origin of the Greek goddess Aphrodite: ‘Then as the waters foamed and boiled, as churning still the immortals toiled, of winning face and lovely frame, forth sixty million fair ones came. Born of foam and water, these were named the Apsaras.’

“Wow, so that’s that huge picture they keep showing us on the side of the Angkor Wat with people on either side pulling on the snake?”

“The very same one.”

“So that’s also why the ap- apasaras are always dancing. But, why so many of them? And, what do they actually do?”

The Apsaras had implanted themselves in Peaches’ very fertile imagination much as they have done to many observers over the ages.

“Well...
Following their legendary birth from the Ocean of Milk, the Apsaras settled down to a lengthy mythological stint as celestial entertainers at the court of the gods. When not entertaining gods and their guests in the heavenly palaces, they frequently entered the realm of mortals with the purpose of seducing or distracting prominent sages and heroes. The Mahabharata is full of stories about the exploits of Apsaras, whom it depicts as having power over men, mortal and immortal, on account of their unmatched grace and beauty.

“The Mahabharata you say?” Maude interrupted.

“Yes, the Indian epic that chronicles the creation of life,” Bette responded, but carried on, “
In general, the epic portrays the Apsaras as dutiful and obedient agents of the gods, but occasionally they are seen as self-willed and independent-minded. The Mahabharata focuses greatly on the many encounters between an alluring Apsara and a powerful ascetic dedicated to the pursuit of an abstemious and celibate lifestyle.

“An ascetic, what’s that?” Peaches interjected before Maude could get a word in to elaborate upon her experience of the Mahabharata.

“You know, honey. People who give up the worldy pleasures to live a simple life dedicated to a religious ideal. Like monks or nuns or people like that,” Maude did manage to field the question in Bette’s stead.

“Oh, I see. Thanks, Mother. Do go on Aunt Bette.”

“Well, there’s not more that I can add, just that
human apsara dancers entered history as entertainers at the courts of the medieval Khmer monarchs.

“Now I know where I’ve seen that pose before. You know, the way they showed the Apsah-ras on the walls, the way they position their hands and feet. It looks just like the dancers we saw at the airport, that little troupe over in the corner in traditional dress. And remember when we went to Jakarta that time, Aunt Bette? And come to think of it, it looks just like that group we watched in Bali.”

“Well,
it was during the Angkorian period that these Asian dancers developed and refined their characteristic way of dancing. They say, and I don’t know how true it is, that all Asian dancing has its roots in this style of dancing, and that’s why they all seem to have the same poses as the Apsaras. Apparently when the Thai people sacked the Khmer capital in 1431, and brought the Angkorian period to an abrupt end, they carried off the dancers and started a derivative style. And then again when war was waged in this country and the Khmer rouge made an effort to wipe out history, they destroyed a lot of dancers and documents, but happily, I understand that today, modern apsara dancers have returned to Cambodian society as elegant practitioners of an indigenous art-form. They call it Khmer classical dance. Nice huh?”

“Brilliant!” The young girl’s eyes beamed at all the new discoveries. Aunt Bette seemed to be a veritable store of all sorts of obscure bits of information, but Peaches found that she never tired of being her aunt’s story-telling audience of one, but now she seemed to remember something else.

“Mother, didn’t you say the Vidouchaka marionette you gave me was from Mah-ba-mah…quesbubble.gif

“From the Mahabharata, my sweet,” Maude interceded as Peaches struggled to find the correct name. “Yes. Seems that puppetry had a root in India where it was used to pantomime roles found in mythic epics such as the Mahabharata.”

Maude was secretly thrilled to find an area where she could express her expertise. She was never very good at being second best, and that was exactly how she was beginning to feel, and coupled with the insecurities that always seemed to weigh on her about her relationship with her long-estranged daughter, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. As Bette had gone on regaling the trio with her knowledge of Khmer history, Maude had found that, like it or not, for her, the evening had been on the verge of losing its charm, but now things were looking up again.

“You know, I didn’t have an opportunity to tell you before,” Maude continued as she twirled one of her daughter’s ringlets around her fingers, “but the idea for the doll was given to me by a little girl I met in India. She was so cute and full of energy. Very friendly and when she found out I was going to see my own little girl, she said she knew the very best gift to bring, Vidouchaka, the jester.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” Maude continued with a smile. “Rajinder, Rajinder Sharma, that was her name. Cute, yes?”

“Yes!” Peaches and Bette chorused.

“I believe her father is a friend of your dad’s. I ran into her and her mother when I was out shopping for a gift for you. That little one seemed so in tune with what I was feeling and she came over and introduced herself. Can you imagine?” Maude paused a moment to chuckle at the endearing memory. “She said, ‘Hi, my name is Rajinder Sharma and you look like you need some help!”

“Honest?” Peaches blurted out in the midst of peals of laughter.

“Well done.” Bette acknowledged though her own laughter, "she sounds like someone you don't get to meet everyday." [laughter]

“Honest, my sweet…," Maude first directed her response to young Peaches then to Bette, "and indeed!"

She raised a strand of Peaches hair up to the light, admiring it's unique colour and glow.

"That little one is something special, just like you my Peach.”

Mother and daughter exchanged warm smiles as Bette looked on contentedly.

“Yes, little Rajinder Sharma seems to know the way to a happy heart and I followed. Do you like Vidouchaka, doll?”

“Do I? It’s the best gift I’ve ever received, ever… ok, well there is you and Father coming to see me and then there is this trip and my amazing room… and…”

As Peaches rambled on leaving all three in stitches, Bette’s memory was jogged once again.

“Sharma, where did I hear that name before?” she thought to herself. “Oh well, it is a popular name in India, but R, Ra-jinder Sharma? No, no, Raj. Yes, Raj Sharma sounds so familiar. I’ve heard Raj Sharma before, but where and why has it stuck in my mind?”

~Aria

 

“Oh my goodness! Can’t believe I didn’t check to see if Vidou had arrived safe and sound!”

“Vidooo?”

“Vidouchaka, Maude,” Bette clarified as she stifled a laugh. She always found it so endearing the way Peaches would in an instant give everything a pet name, even their homes had borne such spontaneous labels, but she also knew of the intensity of the feelings the young one bore towards that particular object; it was not just an Indian puppet, a mere jester, it was more importantly, a gift from her long-absent mother.

“Vidou!” Maude exclaimed smiling brightly.

“Yes, Mother. He looks so much more like a Vidou than a Vidouchaka. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes, my love. I have to say that I do,” Maude confirmed with both her words and a gentle pat on the young girl’s shoulder.

“Shall I go fetch him? Since everything was so nicely unpacked and there was so much to see when I woke up in that fabulous room, I had completely forgotten about Vidou. I brought him along,” Peaches added unashamedly, though she didn’t care to confess just in that moment that since she had been given the doll it hadn’t spent much time out of her presence.

Truth be told, the young girl found that she quite enjoyed the musty, cumin scent that emanated from the multi-colored costume, and she would often bury her face in its folds and breathe in deeply to gain the full experience of it. At night, it had become as her pillow, a sleep essential that brought with it adventuresome dreams filled with images of a life lived with her new-found mother in distant, exotic Asian lands. Bette, who had been Peaches’ lifelong guardian quickly made note of this close bond between marionette and human. She also had had her experience of “Vidou” much earlier on back in Scotland when she too had wondered, “Vidou?” Peaches had explained then to her aunt, a woman who had been her closest companion for a lifetime and a trusted confidante, about the significance of that gift: about how it made her feel; about how just holding it and smelling it made her feel a closeness with her mother that she had not experienced in all the years past; about how the doll had brought her dreams of a time to come, “of a life full of adventure in a foreign land with Mother.”

“Of course, my love, and then I will tell you one of the stories from the Mahabharata that I think you might enjoy.”

With a hop and a skip, Peaches made her way from the small maroon trimmed theatre where they had been watching the film and went quickly to her bedroom to retrieve the beloved Vidou.

“I had no idea.”

“Oh yes, seems your daughter is quite taken with Monsieur Vidou,” Bette smiled jovially at the red-headed woman who was looking over at her with such an innocent look of amazement on her face that she couldn’t help but enjoy the pleasantries of the moment.

“You mean Shri Vidou!”

“What was that?”

“Just a title of respect that they use for men in Hindi.”

“Oh, you do say! Of, course, of course, Shri Vidou it must be!” Bette responded with an elaborate kowtow to the absent but honored marionette, a gesture which immediately left both women speechless and bent over holding their tummies, lost to the release to be found in curative fits of laughter.

It was an incredible moment of bonding for the two, women who had known each other for years who, nonetheless, had never seemed to manage to let their hair down one in front of the other. For all that time of knowing, Maude, in Bette’s eyes, had remained the beautiful, treasured but delicate, aloof and demanding “ice Madame” while Maude’s barely submerged jealousies about Bette’s knowledge, organizational and mothering skills had continuously alienated her from the possibility of ever truly calling the other woman friend.

“Did I miss something? Mother, Aunt Bette?” Peaches enquired, excitement and curiosity brimming in her eyes, as she returned to the room shortly thereafter with the prized Vidou lovingly held to her breast.

“Oh nothing, doll,” Maude answered as she worked to calm her laughter, wiping the glee-filled tears from her eyes with one hand while beckoning the teen over with the other.

And so their night continued: Maude regaling her two companions with exciting stories from the Mahabharata using the honorable “Shri Vidou” in her elaborate demonstrations; Peaches seated by her side taking everything in, wide-eyed, contented and full of wonder; and Maude using that opportunity to fully revel in the pleasures of time spent in togetherness. On the other hand, in the two remaining hours of the trio’s stay in the theatre – though bent on merry-making they had not noticed in the least – Bertie, the patriarch of that happy clan, had remained strangely absent.
 

~ Aria

 
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