Thursday, February 7, 2019

We are capable of magic

Why do we read stories?

For entertainment? For a distraction? For learning something new? For living a thousand lives without moving an inch from our seat?

All of the above, of course. And more.

But we also read to find answers. It's like opening an holy text when you're worried, and finding the answers you seek, on the random page you chose. Even in a depressing novel that ends in tragedy, you might find what you are seeking. A sliver of thought, a fragment of philosophy, a shred of an idea. A ray of hope.

Lately I have been finding answers everywhere, in every book I read. Every author has something new to show me. No, they don't solve my problems - if only they could! I've to do the solving all on my own. But they shine a new light on the darkness. They show me something I have forgotten or I have never known. They don't help me with my choice, but they stand by me when I make mine. They expand our horizons and remind us of possibilities.

But when we write, we cannot think of the lessons we ought to leave behind for the reader to find. The moment we do that, the purpose is defeated.

Which, for some reason, reminds me of the water beetle.

“The waterbeetle here shall teach 
A sermon far beyond your reach; 
He flabbergasts the Human race 
By gliding on the water's face 
With ease, celerity, and grace; 
But if he ever stopped to think 
Of how he did it, he would sink.”
- Hilaire Belloc


I come from a book crazy family. Everyone in my immediate circle could be found poring over a book or a magazine; always going to the library to discover something interesting; always talking of books, new and old. I never thought twice about it. I suppose I believed unconsciously that every family was like that. Much later, when I made friends with people who "never read much" I was stunned that such people did exist.

I leave you with a beautiful thought from the inimitable Carl Sagan: "Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."


(Photo: Sapna Book store, Elements Mall, Bengaluru)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Pinnacle

Sometimes life takes us to a pinnacle -
Just to show us the view:
How far we have come,
How far yet to go.

The treacherous climb we've undertaken
The barriers on our path we've broken

A rare glimpse before we walk on
Down and up the next hill
Of how our choices shaped our road;
How our lessons lead us on.

Thoughtless, impulsive decisions
Led to life changing situations...

Looking farther back; we'd see
The point where our life diverged;
We chose - yes, it was our own choice;
WE have shaped our future.

The lonesome, twisting trail did promise
The adventures we sought.

You break a twig, you make a way
You step on mud, You walk in rain;
You make your mark in history
Tiny, barely visible. Or gigantic.

Our choices have opened new doors
Our thoughts have led to actions

It's our eternal discontentment 
And our never-ending yearning
That fuel our search, push us on
They drive us up the hill...


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Stories

I wake up, over a hundred years ago, in a civil war, where I am digging the debris for the rest of my unit. We were blown off the face of the earth by the enemy who knew we had no choice but to march forward and be devastated by their canons... The handful of us who are alive are frantically searching, digging, without a shred of hope...

Sometimes I am on this side of the war, sometimes that. No one knows why they are fighting, but they are bound by duty and some by a misplaced sense of hatred. A few firmly believe the war is right. Most have no clue.

I am digging, and digging - I find a hand - torn from the rest of his body...

Now I stand at a critical moment in history, as an important declaration is made that would change the course of the world.

No. I am the one making the declaration - which is carried across the country and possibly the globe. Which is recorded and listened to, numerous times by the generations yet to come. "... and consequently, this country is now at war with Germany..."

Don't mingle with the natives, they say. A picnic at the Caves sounds like a terrible idea. East is East... "Make yourself at home, Aziz."

I am in the twenty first century. Looking out the window at a countryside I have never seen. Its beauty escapes me. Everything looks lifeless because I have lost everything. And everyone. The journey I have to undertake terrifies me and, in all likelihood, is bound to end in failure.

Slaves - I see them suffer. I suffer with them. I surrender before their eyes. I have no promise to give them but more suffering.

I've loved and lost. Go fight for it, says the dying old man.

I am travelling into space, far from the world I have known, searching for a new home. Searching for a man who had run away, a long time ago.

A country is born at midnight. I fling stones at my own brothers and sisters as I follow my people towards the border...

I've survived. Battered and bruised, but alive. Barely.

Bengaluru, 2019, and a Life I can barely understand. The hand I have dug out of the ground grasps my arm. I writhe and struggle and I declare: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny... " The slaves will be free. Tell them not to lose hope, it is only a matter of days. There is nothing to see in the Caves. Only darkness - and madness. My ship plunges into the stars looking for an ancient power to help us. "Make yourself at home, Aziz." "May I really, Mr Fielding?"

I am trapped - with mirrors all around me. I see a thousand versions of myself - but are they all me?

These stories... they consume me. They aren't stories, they are Life. They are Hope. They're Guidelines. They're Reminders.

I live and breathe in them.

When do I step out from there and step into this life - the one I call real?

Where ends reality and where begins the illusion?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Petrichor

Last night there was a drizzle:
A sudden, unexpected patter.
Many would not have noticed,
Many would not have known.

I ran out, opened the door
To see, to hear, to breathe
What they call petrichor
And chilly winter breeze.

Early today morning, I
Looked out for some sign
A cold, bleak day, dawning;
Did I dream up the rain?

Not a drop, no cold wind,
Not one whiff of petrichor
Was it the morning after rain?
Did I dream it up again?


Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Final Door

I had started packing at least two weeks before.

Packing, cleaning, removing all the garbage that had gathered over the years. So much - you have no idea. 'They had gathered' - I make it sound like they had all walked in of their own accord. 'I had collected' is more correct - I had brought them all. Invited them in and allowed them to stay.

Now it was time to send them away - out of my life. Overnight, they had lost meaning, they had lost purpose.

When the door is in sight, priorities shift. All the unnecessary stuff we had been holding on to, begin to fade. It's only a matter of time before we step across the threshold and close the door behind us. What do we want to do, in those final minutes? Leave some memories behind? Brace ourselves for the journey ahead? Say goodbyes? Take one last look?

It kept me busy, the clearing of my space. Kept my mind off things. Things that were thronging my head, jostling for attention. Secondly, it gave me a chance to stage my disappearance - slowly, without anyone noticing. Honestly, no one was interested anyway. They did not observe that every day I was wiping myself from their view. Erasing myself right before their eyes. Or did they not care?

Every day I walked out, taking stuff with me like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption emptying dirt out in the yard, little by little daily. Andy had all the time in the world. I had slightly lesser.

The door beckons, closing by inches. Too soon, too quick. Every minute it leaps closer. On the other side lies uncertainty. 

I didn't know what I was going to tell my friends. Yes I had a few. They didn't know what to tell me either. We kept safely away from the elephant in the room. I spoke about other things, for their sake. Their embarrassment and sympathy would only make me more miserable.

On the Last Day...

I was ready. A handful of people knew - none of them my friends. It just happened to be their duty to know. They would much rather have remained ignorant. This was awkward for them. Seeing me made them uncomfortable. Avoiding me was easier. Their forced smiles said as much. I wonder if they expected me to make a big hue and cry of the situation. Did they even bother? Or were they relieved when it was over, quietly, just like the end of another day?

I don't remember much of that Day. I have wiped it clean too, when I closed the door behind me. I must have walked around, bidding farewell in my mind. To things, to people. Touching the walls and the doors and the coffee machine for the last time. If I met any of my acquaintances, I must have said goodbye as usual. Some of them might have said, See you tomorrow. I must have smiled: I knew I won't see them tomorrow. They didn't have to know yet.

I turned my back on that part of life - with a vengeance. Pushed it out of my mind. Drowned it in my newfound independence.

Vanished. 

I heard them utter my name. Wondering, questioning,... finally comprehending. And then my name would fade from their lips too. The final stab.

Some memories are like quicksand. They just keep pulling you back in, no matter what you do. You remain still, and you tell yourself you're out, you're safe, but all the while you're right in the middle of it. If you move, you sink. But they don't take you in completely, they just leave enough for you, just enough to make you sigh over and over again, years later.

When it is time for you to leave, and if you're fortunate enough to get ample time to prepare, would you take the time to look around? To say goodbyes? To hand over unfinished work to someone you trust?

We are mortal. But our work can be immortal. 

The question remains. Did we matter?

Did I matter?


* Background vector created by Freepik

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Books to read

​Sometimes
I wither in panic
Remembering​​ the books I'm yet to read
The many titles I wish to re-read
And fear that
Life will take me away
Before I can savour them
To my heart's content.

Sometimes
I bloom in ecstasy
Remembering the books I'm yet to read
The many titles I wish to re-read
Because no matter how many years pass by
Or I live till eternity
I'll always have something new
To read.

There is no cage that can hold me
No prison that can contain me
No four walls can restrain me
Or take away my freedom
As long as I have a book
Within reach.
Take them away, and you've as good as
Taken my life away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Shadows of the Past - now in Justbooks library

That exciting moment when your book is listed by your favourite library:



Yes, "Shadows of the Past and other stories" is now available at a Justbooks CLC branch near you.

(Photo credit: Justbooks, Banshankari)


Saturday, November 3, 2018

When you left

​You​​ left without saying Goodbye.
I waited, hoping you'd return, remembering.
Because the last time we met,
Years ago, 
I was the first to leave, 
And I had remembered. I had waved. 
A special farewell, just for you. 

And all through the night
It kept me awake: 
Why did you not say Goodbye?
Why was it so difficult?
You knew you were leaving.
I didn't. 

The acknowledgement was casual.
The kind people exchange when 
They pass each other by.

I waited. 
The evening retreated,
The guests flowed in and out,
Until they flowed in no more.

Then it came home to me.
You had never seen me the way I saw you.
The frequency, the wavelength,
All those clichés I'd used 
T o describe us, albeit to myself,
None of it was real.

Looking back, our conversations
So interesting and engrossing, to me,
Seem so fragile, so thin 
Like smoke, 
Rising, spreading, dissipating,
Thin ice, cracking, breaking,
Non existent now. 
I'd read too much between the lines.
Which had been nothing but vacuum.

So ridiculous, such a mockery.
I must have made a fine spectacle.
The support I offered
The sympathetic ear, the shoulder...
A fine spectacle indeed
If all that had meant nothing.

Perhaps I should just laugh
At my own foolishness-
Jumping to conclusions that never existed.
Perhaps I should forget,
Because it had been clearly 
All in my own mind, and 
Perhaps it is time to
Return to my land of silence.