Friday, October 24, 2014

Being Politically Correct on Diwali

I wonder how many mothers yelled themselves hoarse this Diwali regarding crackers and related environmental hazards. Especially mothers of little boys like mine.

Legend has it that years ago, at the onset of Diwali, when crackers were sighted within range, I would scramble up the stairs and vanish, my hands covering my ears. (I am sure the legend is a lie, cooked up by my family to disgrace me). Anyway, soon after, I learned to not startle too much at every burst of crackers (and to hide my cowardice behind a silly grin). I also learned, in growing up years, to keep up appearances and say politically correct things like 'I love Diwali' and 'I so want to burst crackers'. But those days, pollution was the least of our concerns.

In my late teens, I noticed how my old grandparents were disconcerted at the incessant noise that kept them awake on Diwali night. It was probably the first time the idea of noise pollution crossed my mind. When my grandfather walked to and fro across his room, unable to sleep, I cursed the silly people who burst crackers throughout the night, unmindful of others.

Then there was a phase of indifference: our generation became too old to get excited over crackers or flower pots or sparklers, and more busy with college and work. Noise didn't matter, silence didn't either.

When my son was five or six months old (and it was not Diwali season), around half past ten one night, suddenly crackers began to go off in front of our apartment. The sleeping child began to startle and scowl in sleep. I waited for a while, and when it didn't stop, I went outside and asked the family (Dad, Mom and two children) if they could stop and continue a little earlier in the evening tomorrow. I think I put it politely.

Their response was not what I would call friendly. They were celebrating because they were back in India for a vacation, they said. My infant is sleeping, I said, and he is getting disturbed. These are only crackers, the teenager said, not bombs. The Dad took it up. These are only crackers, not bombs. I looked at the Mom. Her expression conveyed nothing. Maybe she thought I was being a spoilsport. I went back inside. After a while, the case was taken up by others from floors above who could not sleep, and a verbal battle ensued.

You got an idea about where this story is headed. Except that, it isn't exactly headed where it should be headed.

Last year, my son learned how to light sparklers and flower pots and even rockets. We stood a few feet away, watching, as he lit each of them and ran away to safety. It is not easy to dissuade him once he sets his mind on something. He is excited that he has mastered the art of lighting rockets and crackers and all those things that go bump in the night.

This year, he looked at the horizon when the rumble began at dusk, between rains, and said, 'Amme, there is a lot of smoke and sound pollution out there.' A beat later, he asked, 'When are we buying crackers?'

Anyone who has raised a child would know that to look at him and deny him that happiness (while the rest of his friends have fun outside) is not possible. Parents are torn between their love for nature and their love for their child; and you know which way the scales would tip. Anyone who hasn't raised a child would say that this is how parents spoil children. So I don't expect many mothers to raise hue and cry over pollution, even when we know what is right. (There is hope, however. My thirteen-year-old nephew has declared war against all Diwali stuff that pollute the air.)

Of the many hats that a mother has to wear, that of a confused hypocrite comes somewhere at the top.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kutners and others who are forced into suicide

Lawrence Kutner is dead. Long live Lawrence Kutner.

Though it happened over five years ago in the U.S, the news reached India only last week.

Kutner alias Kal Penn, despite being very popular, had to leave the show House M.D. and the character had to be terminated. This resulted in his inexplicable suicide.

There have been several instances of character terminations across history. Two decades ago, there was a show that caught the fancy of the TV viewing Malayali population. When it was time to end the show, if I remember right, the lead character was thrown off to the river and was presumed (or declared?) dead. No one actually predicted the kind of misery it plunged people into - one was reminded of Sherlock Holmes' assumed death a century ago and his eventual resurrection. When the second season of that series had to begin thanks to popular demand (though they were not called 'seasons' at the time), the original actor could not rejoin and was replaced, with some explanation given to the 'altered' looks. (If I remember right, the explanation was plastic surgery. The new face was due to the surgery that was needed following the near-drowning-and-escaping incident, get it?) If the title character has to leave the show, what else can the creators do?

Kutner was a delightful doctor. His exit had to be phenomenal and shocking. He was jovial and optimistic and friendly and intelligent and pleasant that when he committed suicide, no one could explain why, even Dr.House, who was led to suspect foul play. The mysterious and sudden exit leaves an ache. No one would have minded (or believed) if he had just 'quit and moved to another city.' This way, Kutner became more special in death than when he was alive.

In another recent show, a popular character died in a plane crash. An entire episode was dedicated to commemorate his life and death that by the end of it, drowned in hot tears, we had forgotten that the man wasn't real.

Unimportant characters sometimes have to endure uncharacteristic exits, as do people who are fired from the show. The more loved they are, the more sensational their exits must be. One man died trying to save a woman. Break-up-and-walk-away is a common exit reason. A woman was made to walk out on her on-screen perfect marriage citing flimsy reasons and was never seen again. Another man, at the altar for his wedding, walked out for no reason - all the while, we were expecting the bride to get cold feet and run away. Some characters get fired from work, which usually happens at the end of a season. (Sometimes, who got fired is not revealed until the next season begins.) Another person was shot dead in a major shooting incident at the climax of one season. Other minors have bid farewell to their shows thanks to road accidents or with the help of electrocution. There have been several unceremonious exits too, with the viewers as well as the actors themselves wondering why they were never seen again.

In another show this week, one of the lead characters was "offered a dream job overseas, which she accepted". Yes, it was time for her to leave the show. She got three or four episodes of build up to the final exit.

Think of the creators' predicament: the longer the show runs, the more variety of reasons they have to come up with for each inevitable exit.

Here's to Kutner and all others who, through preferences of their own or otherwise, are forced to die in crashes or driven to suicide or fired or compelled to accept jobs overseas. Here's to all of us who watch and endure the trauma as though it were happening to us.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life is one big... Rubik's Cube

Not exactly, of course. Life isn't cubical in shape or anything. Some would even compare it to a circle or a sphere.



Photo: R. Ramachandran

It's just that when Life, like the Cube, looks jumbled, it seems impossible to figure out, let alone solve. Once you learn how to solve, it seems to become easier. The learning is by no means easy, though. After a while, some of us forget how to solve it and struggle again to find our moves. Some of us get one colour right and find happiness and contentment from it; without any interest in getting all the six sides done. Some others would do anything it takes to learn the complete solution.

Some of us never even try to solve it - don't even pick it up from the table - perhaps out of lack of interest or out of fear of facing the unknown or because it seems too difficult and not worth the trouble. Some of us do not want to solve the six sides, but we like making colour designs on the sides, like a T or a square or an I or a plus. There are no rules, of course. Our Life and our Cube are our own.

Most of us say that it was perfect when we brought it from the shop, and then we ourselves had messed it up.

Some of us pull the Cube to pieces, then shove the blocks back to their right positions and tell others that we have won. Our friends are envious of our skill and talent, and they think we have everything we need in Life. In due course, their envy makes us imagine that we have actually attained the impossible. We choose to forget the cheating, or we tell ourselves that a little short-cut never hurts.

Sometimes, with a lot of difficulty, we solve a side or the complete Cube and then a friend comes along, jumbles it up merrily and leaves. We sit there fuming. At other occasions, when we are half way towards our goal, strangers, colleagues, the management or the government can mess up our delicate Cube. The new situation could help us or ruin us; it takes us a while to figure out which and get back on track.

Sometimes we get lost in the middle of the sequence and to find our way back, we have to start all over.

But the most interesting thing is that to solve each section and to reach the complete solution, we have to move the already solved pieces apart and then bring them together again. Then move some others apart and bring them together again. If we think 'I cannot break the blue side because half of the pieces are in their right position', we may never be able to bring the rest of the blues to it at all.

We have to break some of our already solved combinations to make everything right at the end.

Hence proven.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding the Joy

Nothing can match the joy of finishing a piece of writing: a story, a poem, a review, an article, a novel. It gives nothing in return, no compensation, no immediate results, no acknowledgement. No questions asked, no difference of opinion, no approval needed, no 'why didn't you do it this way?', no 'it could have been better with this change'. No reason, no explanation to anyone. Nothing but the profound, immense, tremendous, inexplicable satisfaction of completing a task to perfection set by my own standards. A word of appreciation doesn't hurt, of course, but the absence of it would do swell too. No matter if that creation never sees the light of day. It becomes all the more special when created on time squeezed out between the regular pressures of life. A secret, personal joy that I share with no one. Even the most frustrated writer would have several such moments. A feeling that was unfamiliar to me a few years ago, when all that mattered was acknowledgement, acceptance and encouragement. When everything else goes by someone else's definition, this becomes my private property for me to treat as I wish.

Each one of us has one passion. Sometimes visible; sometimes buried beneath years of piled-up junk, also so called 'priorities' of life. Someone told me recently that his passion is making money. He said that from his youth, he gravitated towards a profession that brought in more money, when his friends looked for meaningful careers. He had a creative talent that he considered nothing more than a hobby or pastime because it wasn't lucrative. His job brought him money and the money made him happy. This happiness made him work harder; he excelled at the job and made more money. (Some of us romantics would say that his real passion was what he referred to as his 'hobby', but he chooses to disagree.)

Life is meaningless if we do not search for our passion, find it (in a way that satisfies us) and give it the attention it deserves. Step back from the merry-go-round and it will spring to view.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Rumble in the Night

It's official: henceforth, until further notice, we are terrified of the rain.

In the chilling hours of the chilly night, everyone huddled together to discuss how "Mobile and TV signals had vanished a few minutes before it happened and we knew something huge was coming," and "we felt the building shake," and "we thought it was an earthquake," and "the ground just quivered," and "I was jolted out of my sleep," and "is this the kind of horror people in Kashmir must have experienced in their recent flood and rains" and "it's been raining and raining for hours" and "the last time such a downpour occurred in Bangalore was about ten years ago" and so forth.

It is interesting (in a not-so-exciting way) how the rain has progressed from our list of "fun" things to "mildly irritating" to "annoying" until, all of a sudden last night, it jumped to the top of our list of terrors, leaving the usual nightmares lingering far below.

Bangalore is known for its civilised rains (though with uncivilised consequences) - the kind that knows how to behave. Rain a little, clog those drains, jam the traffic, unhinge a few trees and leave within thirty minutes. But those of us from Kerala, otherwise known as Rain's Own Country, know how unruly and childish some rains can be. We have seen them bad-tempered, we've seen them mischievous, we've seen them kind, we've seen them helpful, and we've seen them hideous. We've seen all kinds. They don't scare us, no sir. They make us miserable, but we know what they are.

And when Bangalore rains misbehave as if they are just back from a vacation in Kerala, we are confused and anxious and lost.

This happened at half past ten last night:


Of course, in the wisdom and brightness of the morning, it does not look like much, but in the magnified lens of the night, it took on unimaginably frightening hues. Especially because people were dragged out of bed by a loud rumble as the wall collapsed and a whrrrrrr of water cascading down to the basement. Soon there was a mad rush to drive all the cars up from the fast-filling parking lot and out to the higher street. The anxiety centred around speculations on what would happen if the water level kept rising. The uncharacteristic rain, with the continuous blast and roar of thunder and lightning, continued for four or five hours (Where did all that water come from??). The panic died around midnight.

Rain took on new shades of meaning last night.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Merry-go-round

The merry-go-round lures us to ride,
Enchanted, intrigued, we climb astride.

Where we've come from, what we've seen,
Brace us for what tomorrow might bring.

We've been every place, worn every guise,
But what comes around takes us by surprise.

When the rug is whisked from underneath,
We discover new ways to rise to our feet.

Frustration, despair lead us to that place
Where we dare not venture otherwise.

Have no trust on the merry-go-round:
Any moment, it can fling us to the ground.

There's no right answer, no correct way
To keep to the track; it's easier to stray.

Order has shifted, the view is denied;
The goal of the past has vanished or died.

It's time to let go the merry-go-round,
The ride is over, it's time to look around.

A lifetime is not about how much we felt,
Or how we pounced on what we were dealt;

The journey is all about what we concealed;
Not of the wounds, but how best we healed.

Safe from the world, the truth is unseen,
No one to speak of where we've been.

Alas! in the mirror, glaring from within,
Is the one who knows what we're thinking.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Which one are you?

... are you the one who says the last word? Or the one who lets the other end the conversation?

... are you the one who walks away? Or the one who would watch the other leave?

... are you the one who hangs up the phone first? Or the one who waits to hear the click at the other end?

... are you the one who says goodbye first? Or the one who waits for the other to?

... are you the one who leaves first to escape the heartbreak? Or are you the one who stays till the end, till everyone has left?

... are you the one who wants to stay, no matter what? Or are you the one who would rather leave?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Keep complaining

A wise man once said to me: "Never stop complaining, for complaining means you care enough to want a change. As long as you care, you will be able to make a difference. Either you can change things yourself, or you'll be able to influence others to invoke a change. A person who doesn't complain is not necessarily happy with everything. Nor does being quiet mean everything is perfect - because nothing ever is. If you don't complain, it only means you no longer give a damn. And that's bad - no, terrible - for you, as well as for your organisation, your team, your family. So keep complaining!"

That was not the first time I had gone to him with my youthful enthusiasm, with a bag of complaints, suggestions, recommendations. I used to have so many of them! I would begin by apologising to him for always whining about some thing or other.

I knew what he said was true when one day, tired of complaining and getting no result, I gave up trying, and lost my interest altogether. I no longer dreamt of changing things, I no longer complained, I no longer cared.

Now everywhere I see defiant faces - stony and uncomplaining. Their responses are limited to a rigid "Yes/No". They don't blurt their frustration out. They don't say "I need help." They're quiet, undemanding, stressed and suffocating inside. An implosion waiting to happen.

He was so right. This is the world that feeds the crying baby, not knowing that it is the silent, starving one that needs to be supported the most...