Be like water


Sarasvati. The name breaks down to saras meaning water and vati meaning, possessing. Beings that are 70% water, often forgetting to drink our daily 2 litres – some of those beings mark this one day to celebrate Sarasvati. Being like water – fluid and formless in the most important ways – is simultaneously easy and hard. The effort is to read into symbolism, and keep the lessons that help with that fluidity. I’m attempting just that today, with my actions and with this blog.

Some of us in this vast country spend the day making a temporary tower of books, cover it with finery, install “Sarasvati” (coconut covered in turmeric with features made of kumkumam and vibhooti when we were young, and now, a bust of Sarasvati that’s been with the family a good many years). The next day, the plan is to uninstall, say thanks to all the books and the knowledge, spend an hour reading some of those books, and going about our day, remembering the role of learning in our lives.

For me, this is an excellent day, when my dear books get the airtime they deserve. Those of us in the business of knowledge can consider these tools and therefore, if someone is keeping score, this is the equivalent of an ayudha pooja that I can relate to. I’ve re-invented some rituals to suit my needs. While I’ve logged out of organised religion, I am often happy to contradict myself, learn from and love various people I’ve met on those journeys, be it Krishna as the imaginary best friend, or Sarasvati as the muse for learning. And if those are to be called dichotomies, that’s fine, because why be linear when I can be she who accepts opposing forces, changed opinions and opposing ideas within me. It’s also important to remember that rituals are not cast in stone, owned and organised by an officiant, and are a set of processes, followed to the tee. That’s life in a big office. Personal rituals are about honouring your own truth, right?

When we were kids, my parents encouraged my brother and me to contribute not just books, Bharathanatyam ghungroos and Tabla and paintings from the year before into the Sarasvati installation, but also random leaves and flowers and twigs and garlands made of those little conical caps from Eucalyptus trees. They considered this part of our education of nature.

Today, I did the setup for my parents, with the usual suspects of beloved books. Our goal is to use the day to say thanks to those books, and all other books we’ve encountered that year. Here’s my line up:

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Each book tells a story. Tintin is a nod to childhood learning; there’s my brother’s school Atlas with his 11 year old handwriting. Of significance here is the Bharathi – while he gets his name from Subramanya the poet, Bharathi is another name of Sarasvati’s. I recall that an old friend of my dad’s, Dr. Prabhakara Rao, interpreted his name and said, “Sarasvati sitting on a lotus – my boy, I wish for you that you run along and spend your life in the pursuit of knowledge” unusually prescient wish, that; there’s my mum’s translation dictionary and the books she translated for NBT in the 1980s & her Carnatic music book; the late great DNA’s Salmon of Doubt is a repeat entrant for the last 10 years, the other DNA to mark my 42nd; the signed Ruskin Bond (Thanks to my friend Roopa Pai, whose Vedas & Upanishads is there because, hey Sarasvati is mother of Vedas). The Ruskin Bond book was originally a prize I won as a 20 something year old for an essay competition on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the boy Scouts handbook to both acknowledge my “Be Prepared” attitude and the work my family is doing – across all our endeavours, we are preparing young ones and grown ones to be prepared for aspects of life; the Sufi comics to signify the work where my brother met his wife and a nod to her heritage; the Leonard Cohen book of poems, as a note of thanks to the man who’s held my hand through tides and times when the cracks were there but no light got in, he who said “If you don’t become the ocean, you get seasick everyday”.

Next step: the set up.

From top to bottom: A kasavu garment, a parting gift from a lovely teammate, Reshna, as I left my last homely house, TFL, and thus made dear; a beautiful oak silk shawl from my friend Sunayana’s The Durga Project (the oak silk is made with fallen leaves of oak trees grown with the intent to restore forest lands in Uttarakhand); the Obvious State tote that transported my brother’s wedding garlands and still carries traces of the love we all put into it which carried all this material to the parents.

Typically, people put gold jewellery on the Sarasvati installation. I put that mug with my grandmum’s image, and since her name is Thangam (meaning, gold), that’s all the preciousness we needed. Adding symbolism are

  • A MOMA bookmark with a Celtic knot design, to signify just how connected we are to everyone and because I read somewhere that books leave their marks on us, as much as we leave bookmarks in them – and that was most meaningful.
  • A pocket watch to denote that if we have all the books in the world but no time to read them, we are indeed made poor by circumstances or choices.
  • A hot air balloon that to me means that the truth will set you free, and a suitable hat doff to the Mahatma.
  • A dandelion necklace for me ma from Alankaara, an anchor as a symbol of me da.
  • The hamsa, because its travelled a long way – Carthage, Mesopotamia, where not; and has been called lots of things – the hand of Venus, the hand of Miriam, the hand of Fatima… the hand of the all-goddess.
  • A book and the evenstar necklace for love, hope and to remind us that we are all, each one of us, the last glimmer of light for our race, before the night takes us all.
  • A couple of pens, including a 1911 Waterman.

All in an hour, so I tried my hand at repeating task with more beloveds at home, and voila! This gives!


And this one has a book shaped chair/ table that was a Kickstarter project I backed a long while back. The first book on there is the inspiration for Señor Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. I ran into it at Select and made my pal Pavan gift it to me, almost 10 years ago. Books ranging from meaningful to deep to personally of value, to current reads, and two books by women I admire: the amazing Roopa and the amazing mum of the Muthanna. One of my grandfather’s old notebooks found a home in each of the two bookstallations – at the parents and at my place. Mine got covered by a nice scarf with an ancient and fairly inaccurate world map that makes it seriously charming; and topped up with a book shaped lamp; and with more light shining from a lamp shaped (ha ha) lamp. Two amigurumi wolf friends stand guard and my new reading glass have position of pride.


A day spent appreciating knowledge via book installations. 🙂 A festival for geeks, then. Another round of sundals for everyone, on me!

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