Monday, May 23, 2016

Beyond the Point of No Return

When I turn to leave
The glimmer that rises and falls
In your eyes -

Make me wonder
If there is still hope;
If there is a door... at the end of the tunnel.

I go forward; every step
Making it difficult to
Ever turn back.

If we retrace our steps, far enough
We would encounter ourselves
Making the same mistakes

That would one day lead
to today, but nothing
would we change, nothing.

For what is destined,
has to happen, no matter
Which route is taken.

The vacuum grows, that
No voice will ever penetrate
No cry for help will ever be heard.

A growing chasm, like
An apology that has become
Impossible to make;

When I sped away
The light that rose and fell-
I know now - it was relief...

There is no answer.
There is no door.
It was all over long ago.

It is only human to pretend
That at the end of a dark road
There's a sunrise, waiting.

It is our strength, this hope;
Also our undoing; nonetheless
It exists; and so we do.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Purpose to Our Days

In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes about a woman who had been living independently for years and who in her old age, was forced to move to a nursing home. "The things she missed most, she told me, were her friendships, privacy, and a purpose to her days."

The reference to Being Mortal is by the way. Apart from the fact that it is a brilliantly written book that everyone should read, I have nothing to add. But Dr Gawande's phrase 'a purpose to her days' clung to me and refused to leave - as though it was the precise phrase I had been searching for, for a long time.

It is not only about the old woman in a nursing home counting her last days. We are all consciously or unconsciously seeking a purpose to our existence. When we are young and busy, this search is outside our view. Our mind is clouded by the daily routines, priorities and hurries. As we grow older, we let go of some of those activities, give more importance to the real priorities in life and then the road springs to view.

Where are we headed? Why are we headed that way? Which of my activities have some meaning to me? Which of those are my mere duties to others? Which of my life's purposes have I sacrificed? Why am I here?

What thought excites us when we wake up in the morning? What will happen if nothing I do comes to fruition? What if none of my dreams ever come true?

Why do I get up each morning and make sure my family is on their way to attain their priorities and happiness? Why do I sit before my work and strive to derive some satisfaction from it? Why do I dream about miracles that may never take place? Why do I look at the road less travelled and tell myself, 'No, I am not at liberty to pursue it today'? What if tomorrow when I am ready for it, I am not healthy enough? What if one day I find that I have nothing to wake up for?

What is the purpose of my days?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gazing at the Stars

We are all looking at the stars,
And some are content just with looking.

For it's easier to look than to dream
It's easier to dream than to act

It's easier to stop than to struggle
It's easier to flow than to resist

It's easier to drown than to survive.
But why should one settle for easy?

We are all but dreaming of the stars
A few are content just with dreaming-

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wasp behind the glass

There was a wasp at the kitchen window one day. (Not the usual golden kind of wasp, this was smaller and sort of greenish. Perhaps it wasn't a wasp, but it did remind me of one.) It was stuck at the mosquito net, unable to go out. Must have come in through one of the open doors. I wasn't particularly keen on electrocuting a wasp with a Hunter racquet (and paying the price) so I gently opened the corner of the mosquito net and tried to coax it outside. Wasps are more difficult to convince than say, mosquitoes or flies. The reason being the obvious bite factor  - the wasp may not quite understand that my intentions are honourable, and it may decide to take the offensive.

One pane of the kitchen window was open and the other closed. As luck would have it, the corner of the net that I had pulled aside was at the closed pane. In my defence, that was the closer corner to the wasp. Somehow I urged the wasp to make its way out of the gaping hole. You should have seen it. It was like a little child being dragged to school. It reluctantly, hesitantly made its way to the other side only to encounter the closed glass pane. It looked lost at the new obstacle.

Then it began to explore the new shiny, slithery surface. One could tell that it was by no means comfortable. It crawled up and down, left and right. The open window, the path to liberty, was a few inches to its left. I waited. There must have been a slight breeze blowing. I hoped it would take the hint and go looking for whence the wind blew. Escape was just an arm's length away. Minutes passed. The wasp kept searching. I began to panic. You're free, I thought, but you think you are still imprisoned. You think I sent you to a harsher jail whereas my intention was to set you free. You aren't seeing broadly enough. Your vision is limited. Look around, look around. The door is wide open. Can you not see the blue, blue sky and the trees and the miles and miles of open space?

It came close to the edge - I held my breath - and it went back. Did it not see the open window? Why did it go back to the slithery glass pane?

The truth (or my version of it) began to dawn on me. What if it doesn't want to go out? Maybe it's weary of the world around it. Maybe flying isn't all that it is cracked up to be. Maybe gliding up and down the glass was fun enough. Maybe it had decided to live in my house, spending its days exploring the mosquito net or the glass pane. Why should it go out and get caught in the wind, trapped by the leaves or lost in the vastness of the sky? What did a lifetime of trying give it, any way?

I went away, perplexed; unable to decide whether the wasp was so short-sighted as to not see freedom one step away, or if it deliberately chose to stay behind the glass despite everything. Much much later, I returned and found it gone.

But it is a fact that the next day, I found a wasp (absolutely no way of knowing if it is the same) behind the glass at the very same position, calmly gliding up and down. Did it get lost again, or had it returned to its retreat for a sniff of peace? I guess I would never know. I like to think it was the latter.

Because, sometimes - not always - I like that too. To peek at the world from behind the barrier through a pane of indifference; to admire the sky and the moving clouds, the rustling leaves, the cars and people, but not to wade in any of it. As though none of it belonged to me. Nor I to them. On those days, I would rather be safe behind the wall of glass than to expose myself to the fury of life. And when it is time to come out from hiding, to face reality, there would still be the memory of the glass pane to keep me from breaking to pieces.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vishu

There is a Santa Clausian presence to my memories related to Vishu. Most of our summer holidays long, long ago were spent with grandparents. We would be woken up at four or five in the morning, and we would be walked with our eyes closed to the hall.

When I open my eyes, I would see the hall transformed. I was supposed to be looking at the Gods and the kani, but in reality I would be wondering, where have all those framed family pictures gone, which used to hang from the wall? Where did these Gods come from? And all these vegetables and konnappoo and the assortment? Who did all this during the night? (If I had known about elves I would have given them the credit.) For a long time I thought there was some kind of magic behind this transformation until it began to sink in that the magician was my own grandfather. I suppose I believed that my parents and grandparents also woke up and found the Vishukkani ready.

So after the kani kaanal was over and we got our kaineettam (beginning at twenty paisa or twenty-five paisa) from the elders, we would quickly go back to where we came from - our beds. No point in wasting more sleep. The coins and notes would be scattered on the bed when we woke up. The next step was to pick them up and compare.

I used to see the same wonder in my son's eyes when he was still tiny enough to think that there was something quite miraculous behind the brightly-lit lamps and the pictures that made their appearance on Vishu morning. Now, at ten, he is a grown up. He asks me if he can help me arrange the kani. Then he thinks for a while and says, "Or maybe not. You arrange it. So it will be a surprise for me."

The transition from the world of magic to a world entirely without, and the clinging to the old memories of wonder.


Read: Vishu then and now

Friday, March 18, 2016

Bravery

I had not realised until recently that bravery is not an absolute truth. It is a perception.

I suppose we all figure it out in our own ways in our own time, but it never struck home to me in all its clarity until now. It is somewhat similar to physical beauty. Beauty is not absolute. A person is considered 'beautiful' when some basic guidelines and expectations are satisfied. The impression varies from person to person, and even changes with the viewer's developing mind. A picture you consider beautiful today may not appear so gorgeous five or ten years later.

Bravery is not a fact. It is not set in stone. It is an idea that comes out of a person's actions. It satisfies some predefined principles. A brave person does not go around the world calling himself brave. (Then he becomes something else!) It is his actions that make him appear brave to us. On the other hand, if he goes around the world repeating, "I am not afraid," then yes, the world does conclude that there is something to him.

Being afraid is not the opposite of being brave. Fear is a very human aspect. Everyone has it. Time and again, I have heard people say "He is not brave. He is afraid." The speaker even seems to gather some satisfaction from that statement. Of course 'he' will be afraid. Because it is human to be afraid. The only difference is how we go forward, despite being afraid. How others see us going forward with that fear. Bravery is just a label, like many other things.

Bravery is about how well you conceal your fear and display courage. You are quivering inside, but you put up a 'brave face'. (If your tell-tale fingers tremble, you are done for.) You keep the terror from appearing on your face, from your eyes. Everyone else calls you brave. If you confess that you are afraid, they call you weak. Afraid. Not brave. If you confess you are afraid, but smile and laugh when you say it, they call you courageous. But don't overdo it. The difference is subtle.

I said, "they call you". Because that is what bravery is. - How your actions are seen by the eyes of the world around you. God did not write on the wall that "this woman is brave" or "that man is a coward" for us to see. We made that up. From what we see. From what it appears to us.

A lady told me she was afraid of what was coming. Why did this happen to me? she repeated. Her face was drawn and tired. She was sad and miserable. She began to withdraw. Nevertheless she took each day as it came; some were rewarding, some were punishing. She cried, she smiled, she talked, she sighed, she got angry, she swung from this extreme to that. She didn't run away - but only because there was no way to run. There was only one path - forward. I do not know if she is brave or not. One day, someone told me in confidence that this lady "was afraid, she was not as brave as..." This judgement came just because she had admitted that she was terrified and she did not put up a show of defiance or bravery.

There was another person, who had a rather terrible fate. He chuckled even when speaking about his situation. I thought he was handling it rather well, considering that his life had just turned upside down. Days later, his son tells me, "Father is not as brave as he pretends to be." No one is! I wanted to say. It is the pretension that helped him get over every single minute of his never-ending misery. It was his way of telling himself and others that he wasn't beaten yet. Probably he just hated the show of sympathy from us. Is that courage, or is it a weakness? Anyone in that state would be horrified, because there was no revoking that fate. It had happened. Life, however unbearable it had become, had to go on. The best he could do, despite everything, was to appear cheerful in front of others. And he did. Was he brave? I do not know. People who saw him smile said he was. His son, who saw his lonely, gloomy interior, said he wasn't.

Think of a person you consider brave. What makes you think she is? Her actions? Her reaction to a situation? Is she "really" brave, or just good at handling her fear? What's the difference? Aren't they two sides of the same old coin? How do we define bravery then?

Everyone is brave. Everyone is afraid. Everyone does some or other act of cowardice, and some or other act of courage.

There is courage in putting up a bold face. There is courage in silence. There is courage in weeping. There is courage in losing control. But the only bravery we see and accept is the one that is well-contained.

Sadly, what is perceived is what lasts. You need not be brave. You only have to appear to be. And only if you care about what the world labels you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Women's Day message from history

I don't think any adult could have put it as well as this fifteen-year old did. From the Diary of Anne Frank, dated 13 June, 1944. (Please click on the images to enlarge)



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Limited Time

When you know you have limited time-
I am not saying
Your time is limited (which it always is)
But that you have limited time
(which is slightly different)-
You see each day as new...

Suddenly it begins to make sense;
Each full moon-
How many of those will we get to see here?
How many more monsoons?
How many more sunrises and sunsets?
How many more times
would we get to complain
Of the hardships and the struggles?

The conveniences, the comforts
Spring to view, brilliantly.
Today is not the end, but
The countdown has begun.
The ground we had been standing on
The once-firm, rock-still, earth
Is giving way beneath our feet.

Things may never get better
We might as well get used to the "new" normal.
Lest some miracle should happen.
But miracles are shy; they don't
easily come to us.
We must go looking for them,
Dig the ground and drag them out
Scour the skies and dive into the ocean.
Then we call them fruits of labour.