Monday, December 21, 2015

December panic

I don't know if I am the only person in the world with this weird illness. But so it appears. I call it the December panic - scientific name: Year End panic - and when it hits me, I begin panicking about everything as though time is running out. Well, time is indeed running out (and how), but there is no clear evidence it is running faster than it usually is, so I myself don't know what is the cause for the agitation.

As you can see, I can be very reasonable and logical about things, but as you can also see, it does no good.

This thing - this illness - makes its appearance around the 15th of December and you find me at the corner of my room waving my hands up and down in sheer terror.
Of What, you ask. Of the End of the year, I say.

This happens every December. (I had analysed it a few years ago. Read Caught Unawares Again.)

I don't know whence it came and wherefore it exists, but so it is. It progresses quickly. There is no sign or symptom when December is born and the rest of the world prepares for "the holidays".

(Read here about another weird illness of mine: ATM Phobia. Yes, I am a sick, old woman.)

This year also it started around the 15th - but I had been too terrified to actually blog about it.

It is as though the deadline (for whatever) is on the 31st December. I suppose after a lifetime of facing deadlines - from homework to exams to bedtimes to playtime to dinner time to reading time to TV time to life-and-death matters like software delivery - this is to be expected.

The strange thing is that (and I assume it is very 'human') when I have more work to do, the more I am interested in doing something else, so that I can panic and panic to my heart's content. (If I finish all the work, the panic will go, right? I love to panic. It's complicated.)

For instance, right now I have about ten emails with red-stars waiting for me (oh, I flag them with red stars just to make sure I begin the day with a panic attack) and instead of attending to them, here I am adding finishing touches to this blog. Now if you will please excuse me, I need to go to my corner of the room and panic in peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Life, as it sometimes is.

Stuck in the cogwheel
That's forgotten to spin.
"Without" a life,
That's why I'm upset.

Everyone just whooshes past.
I'm filled with dread
About the time that's flying by

The minutes and hours
The days and weeks
That are lost to me
While I am just...here, waiting.

Waiting for what?
That's the strangest thing.
Change.

But I tremble 
At the possibilities...
I tremble, lest my desires
Bring forth a deluge.

And why should I fear?
For desires never harmed anyone,
Ever. Only actions do.

And actions are as alien to me
As is now life itself.

Friday, December 4, 2015

നിങ്ങളെന്നെ മലയാളിയാക്കി

സ്കൂളില്‍ പഠിക്കുന്ന കാലത്ത് കേരളമെന്നു കേട്ടാല്‍ അഭിമാനം കൊണ്ടു ഞെളിപിരി കൊള്ളുകയോ മലയാളമെന്നു കേട്ടാല്‍ രക്തം തിളച്ചുമറിയുകയോ ഒന്നും ചെയ്തിട്ടുള്ളതായി ഓര്‍ക്കുന്നില്ല. മലയാളം പഠിക്കുന്നതും കേള്‍ക്കുന്നതും വായിക്കുന്നതും പറയുന്നതും ഒരു വശത്തു കൂടി കടന്നു പോയി എന്നേയുള്ളൂ.

കേരളത്തില്‍ നിന്നു പുറത്തു വന്നില്ലായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ അങ്ങനെ ഒരു വികാരവും എനിക്കുണ്ടാവാന്‍ സാധ്യതയുണ്ടെന്നും തോന്നുന്നില്ല. കേരളത്തില്‍ എന്‍റെ കൂടെ പഠിച്ചിരുന്ന വടക്കേ ഇന്ത്യക്കാര്‍ മര്യാദയ്ക്ക് മലയാളം വാക്കുകള്‍ രണ്ടു-മൂന്നെണ്ണം പഠിച്ചു സന്തോഷമായി ജീവിച്ചു. അല്ലാതെ ഞങ്ങളെ ചൊറിയാനൊന്നും വന്നിട്ടില്ല.

ആദ്യമായി "മല്ലു" കഥകള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കുന്നത് ജോലിക്കു കയറിയതിനു ശേഷമാണെന്നു തോന്നുന്നു. ഒരു കൂട്ടുകാരി തന്‍റെ കൂടെയുള്ള വടക്കന്‍റെ കഥ പറഞ്ഞു. മലയാളികളെ കളിയാക്കാനുള്ള തന്ത്രവുമായി ഇറങ്ങിയതാണത്രേ ആ ചേട്ടന്‍. മലയാളത്തില്‍ 'z' ശബ്ദം ഇല്ലാത്തതു കൊണ്ട് മലയാളികള്‍ 'zoo'-നു 'soo' എന്നാണ് പറയുന്നത് എന്നായിരുന്നു അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്‍റെ കണ്ടുപിടുത്തം. അതു തെളിയിക്കാന്‍ ഒരു മലയാളിയോട് ആ വാക്ക് പറയാന്‍ അദ്ദേഹം പറഞ്ഞു. മിടുക്കിയായ ആ മലയാളി 'ജൂ' എന്നു പറഞ്ഞു. ഹിന്ദിക്കാര്‍ sabzi-ക്കു സബ്ജി, zindagi യ്ക്കു ജിന്ദഗി എന്നൊക്കെ പറയുന്ന കാര്യം നമുക്കറിയാമല്ലോ. വടക്കന്‍ ചൂളിപ്പോയി എന്നാണ് കഥ.

ബാംഗ്ലൂറില്‍ വച്ച്, ഒരിക്കല്‍ എന്‍റെ കൂടെ ജോലി ചെയ്തിരുന്ന ഒരു വടക്കേ ഇന്ത്യന്‍ മലയാളി (എന്നു വച്ചാല്‍ നോര്‍ത്തില്‍ ജനിച്ചു വളര്‍ന്ന മലയാളി) യുടെ മുന്നില്‍ വച്ച് ഞാന്‍ ഹിന്ദി പറയാനിടയായി. ഏതോ മറുഭാഷക്കാരനോടായിരുന്നു സംഭാഷണം. ലാലേട്ടന്‍റെ ഹൂം ഹൈ ഹോ പ്രശ്നങ്ങള്‍ എന്നെയും സ്ഥിരമായി അലട്ടാറുണ്ട്. മലയാളികള്‍ ഹിന്ദി പറയുമ്പോള്‍ സൗത്ത് ഇന്ത്യന്‍ ആക്സന്‍റ് ആണെന്ന് ആ മലയാളി സഹപ്രവര്‍ത്തകന്‍ അല്പം പുച്ഛത്തോടെ പ്രസ്താവിച്ചു. മലയാളിയായ എന്‍റെ ഹിന്ദിക്ക് അല്പം ആക്സന്‍റ് ആയതു സ്വാഭാവികം, മലയാളിയായ നിന്‍റെ മലയാളത്തിന് എന്തിനാണ് ഇത്രയും ഹിന്ദി ആക്സന്‍റ് എന്നു ഞാന്‍ തിരിച്ചു ചോദിച്ചു.

വടക്കേ ഇന്ത്യക്കാരെക്കാളും മലയാളികള്‍ തന്നെയാണ് നമ്മുടെ ആക്സന്‍റും മറ്റു കാര്യങ്ങളും കളിയാക്കാന്‍ വരാറ് എന്നു പിന്നീട് മനസ്സിലായി. അത്യാവശ്യം കാര്യം മനസ്സിലാക്കാനും ജീവിച്ചു പോകാനും മാത്രമല്ലേ പൊതുവേ അന്യഭാഷയുടെ ആവശ്യം. ഓരോ പ്രാവശ്യവും 'മല്ലു ആക്സന്‍റ്' എന്നു മലയാളികള്‍ തന്നെ കളിയാക്കുമ്പോള്‍, "അതിപ്പോ ഞാന്‍ മലയാളിയല്ലേ, എനിക്കു ഹിന്ദിക്കാരന്‍റെ ആക്സന്‍റ് വരുമോ? ഹിന്ദിക്കാരന് മലയാളം മലയാളിയെപ്പോലെ പറയാന്‍ പറ്റുമോ? പോട്ടെ, മലയാളിയായ നിങ്ങളെന്താ മലയാളം ഹിന്ദിയില്‍ പറയുന്നത്?" എന്നൊക്കെ തിരിച്ചു ചോദിക്കാനാണ് സന്തോഷം.

അങ്ങനെ, സുഹൃത്തുക്കളെ, നിങ്ങളെന്നെ മലയാളി എന്നു വിളിച്ചു കളിയാക്കുകയും "അപമാനി"ക്കുകയും ചെയ്തില്ലായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ ഞാനിന്ന് ഒരു യഥാര്‍ത്ഥ മലയാളി ആകുകയില്ലായിരുന്നു.

(Disclaimer: ലോകത്തില്‍ പലതരം മലയാളികളും ഹിന്ദിക്കാരും മറ്റു ഭാഷക്കാരും  ഉണ്ടെന്നും ഇതവരുടെയെല്ലാം കാര്യം അല്ലെന്നും എന്‍റെയും ഞാന്‍ കണ്ടിട്ടുള്ള ചിലരുടെയും മാത്രം കാര്യമാണെന്നും ഈയവസരത്തില്‍ വ്യക്തമാക്കാന്‍ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നു. )

(Disclaimer 2: ബാംഗ്ലൂരില്‍ വളര്‍ന്നു വരുന്ന എന്‍റെ പുത്രന്‍ അത്യാവശ്യം ആക്സെന്‍റോടെയാണ് മലയാളം പറയുന്നതെന്നും, കുറച്ചു നാള്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞ് ആരും കാണാതെ ഈ ബ്ലോഗ്‌ ഡിലീറ്റ് ചെയ്യേണ്ടി വരുമെന്നും ഞാന്‍ മനസ്സിലാക്കുന്നു.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The art of falling in love with a writer

 *Replace 'he' with 'she' as required

It’s his first book. You pick it up only because it was recommended. You read the back cover. Writing is not his first love.  You’re sceptical of first time writers, especially ones who haven’t been killing themselves to perfect the art of writing. You look at the name of the publisher. Not a bad one. So he has been able to convince them. Interesting. You read the foreword. He has been promoted by big names. He had connections. People who could put in a good word for him here or there. Your scepticism only increases.

The author’s bio details his professional life. A few bare facts listed without emotion.

Page 1. You aren’t greatly impressed. You could almost sense the author’s hands shake as he wrote the first line. There is a jitter, an uncertainty. Can I really do this?-type. You smirk and continue.

It is a memoir. You let out a chuckle on page 2. He is funny. Sort of. At least he knows how to laugh at himself.

You don’t realise you have crossed twenty pages. That was smooth and engrossing. Not a writer, huh? Some writer must have polished it for him, naturally. But who cares? Why do you try to justify the good writing? Of course someone would have edited it. Every good writer needs a great editor. This is a good read. Period. Don't let your writer-reader head work more than necessary.

Flipping more and more pages. It is a small-ish book. And it is funny. In some places, uncontrollably so. A little spiced up, perhaps. But again, who cares, as long as it is not over-done. You go back to the author’s bio. Who is he?

He calls himself lucky. I was there at the right place at the right time. I was the only one who got the chance. This repeats, and your innate intolerance lifts its hairy head. Surely he was not the only one, there were others? You remember the time when you overheard someone say, “No one could calm the screaming infant for hours. Then I came, gently touched his arm and he quieted down within seconds.” Yeah, right.

But this one? He is sincere and modest. He really believes it. You’re curious again; you go back to the bio. What are you looking for? Something between the lines. There’s nothing.

He is kind to the other characters in the memoir. Even when they misbehave, he stops short of abusing them. Is it real? Or a writer’s need to appear politically correct? You sense a gap. There is a slight rounding of the edges.

You close the book. The journey's over. But you're still there, out on the road. And you're smiling.

You’ve been there. Not exactly, but somewhere nearby. You've been hearing his thoughts. You're seeing the world through his eyes. You're inside. Yes, you know who he is. You have been reading between the lines, from the moment you picked up the book.

And you wonder, you wonder…

Saturday, November 7, 2015

An exercise in Murphy's Law

First it was the rain.

Come to think of it, there is almost always a root cause that sets the whole Murphy's Law mechanism in motion.

I booked a cab as usual. The last time I had booked one, we had reached fifteen minutes early. You know Ola, they always have a car two minutes away from my place. Always. But not this time. The rain, as I said. And the cabs began to vanish right before my eyes, from the app. Finally, I find one fourteen minutes away. Fourteen minutes. We'll be late by a couple of minutes, but that's okay, I thought.

After ten minutes, I can still see the cab driver ten minutes away on the app. I call him up. "Rain, Madam!" he says. "Traffic! Rain! I'm coming."

My son is becoming restless. He will be late for his football coaching. We watch the car progress inch by inch through the highway (through the tracking option in the app). Finally he is here. Ten minutes for the coaching to start. "We're going to be very late," I said to my son. I have an inkling that we're going to be very very late. He wriggled his hands and made a complaining face.

The distance to the destination - eight-ish kilometres - can be covered in fifteen minutes, on a clear and sunny day with no chance of meatballs. Apart from a fair amount of traffic, there is a railway gate and a handful of traffic signals on the way. On normal days, one of these will delay us by five minutes. One of these, mind you. You now know which way the story is headed.

The rain is quite intense as we get into the car. We begin to crawl forward. There are vehicles everywhere. One wonders whether they all fell from the sky with the rain. The first traffic signal is red. Of course.

The railway gate is closed. Naturally.

When the gate is opened, there is the usual mad rush to beat everyone to the other side. One decent truck driver has placed himself diagonally across the gate. He came from the perpendicular road and had to make a 90 degree to enter the railway gate, but got stuck at 45. With cars on all sides, a BMTC bus's nose almost touching his butt, a scooter scampering through the gaps, there is no way he can. No one can move unless this guy evaporates into thin air.

My son and I watch this deadlock in exasperation. The coaching must have begun now. He has tears in his eyes. He hates being late. He looks at me as if I am to blame.

The truck driver and the car facing him engage in a dance. We're right behind this car. The car dude finally gives in and reverses. He takes himself to one side, out of the way. Did I tell you we were stranded right on top of the railway tracks, between the two gates, all this time? A train or an engine that decided to take an evening stroll through the tracks would have really added colour to the scene.

There is a gap where the car was. The truck inches forward, and other vehicles squeeze in. Everyone ignores the car which had given way. He is stuck by the side and would not be able to move until the madness is over.

Finally all is well and the truck makes its turn, the car dude swears never to drive again on a rainy day (among other things), and we continue on our paths.

The rain gets heavier and the road is flooded. We reach the next traffic junction. I see green light from a distance. When we approach, it turns to red. The countdown begins at 120. We stare at it in disbelief. "Sometimes, everything that can go wrong, will," I said wisely to my son. He did not seem very impressed or comforted.

The longest two minutes passed. I expected a traffic light malfunction or something else that would delay us another ten minutes. Wonder why that didn't happen.

We crawl (wade?) in the rain and reach twenty minutes past the time. By then we both have attained a Zen level of calm. My son is just relieved that we made it before the coaching is over.

As I pay the driver and get out, I look up at the sky. It promises another episode one hour later, when it is time to return home.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An ode to futile dreams

They come in, unbidden
Like advices, unsolicited,

Making the impossible
Appear real...

At nights they
work their magic

Weaving hope
Into our secret desires

Painting the daybreak
With promising colours

Splashing some shades
into our fantasies

Those cruel, false,
impractical dreams...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Never

Never
Is the harshest word
In my dictionary.
Never use it...

Why not say Tomorrow-
It gives me Hope.
Or try, Sometimes, and
I'll assume It's possible.

Tell me Maybe,
I think It'll happen.
Let's see assures me
It's not over.

You say Probably,
I hear Fifty-Fifty.
It May or May not.
I like to go with May.

When it's Au revoir
I hear only the promise
Till we meet again-
It's Not a Goodbye.

Even in Unlikely
I sense an Optimism
I tell myself I will wait
It might be, Some Day.

But, Never...
That's another thing.
Never is the door, shut
On my face.

Never is the brick wall
I can't bring down.
Never shoves a knife
Right into the heart.

Don't say Never
Even if you mean it.
There's no harm or danger
In my unbridled Optimism.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Leading or Misleading?

There are these characters we see all the time in movies - they aren't the protagonists, nor the second-level characters. They don't have more than ten or fifteen minutes of screen time, max.

A doctor who gives some important advice to the hero. "You know that is not how it works."
The old friend whom he bumps into, who says something that changes the course of the movie. "Remember the time when we..."
The girl in the shop who said something quite ordinary that reminded someone of something. "If I am sad, I would go to my most favourite place."

An important turning point in the story delivered by an insignificant character.

We know those people so well. I saw him in that movie too. The tough doctor. The smiling angel. The crazy friend. The girl who is sipping juice by the roadside. But I don't know her name. I remember her name in that movie, but not her real name.

Kate Winslet says in The Holiday, "You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!"

But are we?

Some of us are. We see them, we know it. Where do we fit in? Are we the heros, or are we the friends, or are we those nameless, insignificant characters who pave the way for the leading characters' successes?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Behold, the world's changing

Behold, my son, the world's changing;
And you're so young and fresh.
You can run and learn new ways
But I am too old to catch up.

I was young in my time, (sigh)
And a long way have I come...
I did my share of running, too-
A good learner in my day.

I know how you see me
In the sunset of my life;
In your eyes I'm frail and old
A woman with no past.

My journey has been long
There's been many a sacrifice;
Can I teach you my lessons
To save you from that pain?

When I speak and judge you
It comes from experience
And not from ignorance
I now know that's what mothers do.

I also know I'm wrong
You can't learn from my mistakes
You have to make your own
And so it would go on and on.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Just Because.

Click here to read a very similar story in English.

രാവിലെ പത്തുമണിയായപ്പോള്‍ വിശന്നു. അപ്പോഴാണ് ഒന്നും കഴിച്ചില്ല എന്നോര്‍ത്തത്. ദോശയുണ്ടാക്കാമെന്നു കരുതി അടുക്കളയില്‍ കയറിയപ്പോള്‍ വേസ്റ്റ് പുറത്ത് വെച്ചില്ലല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍ത്തു. അതും എടുത്തു വെളിയിലോട്ട്‌ പോകുമ്പോഴാണ് ചെടിക്ക് വെള്ളം ഒഴിച്ചില്ല എന്നോര്‍മ്മ വന്നത്. വെള്ളം ഒഴിക്കാന്‍ പോയപ്പോള്‍ നല്ല വെയില്. തുണി വാഷിംഗ്‌ മെഷീനില്‍ വേഗം ഇട്ടാല്‍ വെയില്‍ കളയാതെ ഉണക്കാം. തുണിയെടുക്കാന്‍ പോയപ്പോഴാണ് കളര്‍ ഇളകുന്ന രണ്ടു ഡ്രസ്സ്‌ സോപ്പില്‍ ഇട്ടു വച്ച കാര്യം ഓര്‍ത്തത്. അതിപ്പോത്തന്നെ കഴുകിയിടാമല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍ത്തു ബാത്രൂം ലക്ഷ്യമാക്കി നീങ്ങുമ്പോള്‍ മോന്‍ സ്കൂളില്‍ പോയ വഴിക്ക് ഊരിയിട്ട ഷര്‍ട്ട്‌ നടുവഴിയില്‍. അതെടുത്ത് അവന്‍റെ മുറിയിലെത്തിയപ്പോള്‍ മെത്ത അലങ്കോലമായി കിടക്കുന്നു. അതു വിരിച്ചുകൊണ്ടിരിക്കുമ്പോഴാണ് സഹപ്രവര്‍ത്തകയുടെ കോള്‍. "ഇപ്പൊ ശരിയാക്കിത്തരാമെന്നു പറഞ്ഞു പോയിട്ട് മണിക്കൂര്‍ രണ്ടായല്ലോ."
വേഗം പോയി കമ്പ്യൂട്ടറിന്‍റെ മുന്നില്‍ സീറ്റ്‌ പിടിച്ചു. ജോലി തുടങ്ങിയപ്പോഴാണ് ഡോര്‍ ബെല്‍ അടിച്ചത്. ഭാരത് ഗ്യാസ്. തന്നിട്ട് പോയ ആളോട് പത്തു രൂപയുടെ കണക്ക് പറഞ്ഞു വഴക്കു കൂടിയപ്പോള്‍ കറന്‍റ്ബില്‍ അടക്കേണ്ട അവസാന തീയതിയാണല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍മ്മ വന്നു. വേഗം ഓണ്‍ലൈനില്‍ അടയ്ക്കാന്‍ പോയി. അപ്പോഴാണ്‌ ഫോണ്‍ ബില്‍, തുടങ്ങി ഒരുപാടു മറ്റു ബില്ലുകള്‍ അടയ്ക്കാനുണ്ടെന്ന് ഓര്‍മ്മ വന്നത്. തുക കണ്ടുപിടിക്കാനായി ബില്ല് തപ്പിപോയ വഴിക്ക് മേശയിലെ പൊടി കണ്ടു, തുടയ്ക്കാനായി തുണി എടുക്കാന്‍ പോയി. കുറെ നേരം അവിടെയും ഇവിടെയും നോക്കി കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ എന്തെടുക്കാനാണ് വന്നതെന്ന് മറന്നു പിന്നെയും കമ്പ്യൂട്ടറിന്‍റെ അടുത്തെത്തി.
തുടര്‍ന്നു വായിക്കുക

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"If you were to have one super power, which would you choose?"

"The Green Lantern's watch," replied my son without a moment's hesitation. Little children. They know exactly what they want. (Read this old story - Twitter of the Linkedin.) As they grow, somehow this certainty fades and they learn to stray between this and that and in between.



Apparently, using the watch, the Green Lantern can do pretty much anything. Which is really cool because the super heroes I used to know had certain definite types of skills - like flying, super-strength to bash up the bad guys or to stop trains, thought-reading, crawling up walls, swinging from spider webs, manoeuvring a flying car, and so on. These days a watch is enough for all this and more.

Anyway, a few years ago when I was asked this question (in a public forum, no less), I said, "I guess I would like to be invisible." Clearly an answer that was delivered with no thought behind it. I assumed that if I gave some answer then they will move on. They didn't. "Everyone wants to be invisible," they said. And within a few minutes, my "dream" super power was reduced to a creepy idea that I wanted to be invisible so as to overhear what others are saying, see what they are doing and so forth.

Actually the answer is (then as well as today) that I don't want any super power. Think about it. I am a Mom who loves her tea and writing and books and movies, and who needs to hug her son and listen to his tales and yell at him everyday. I don't want to be out in the sun with my very own super strength to bash up bad guys. (Though, I must admit, a little Taekwondo training for self-defense is a good idea these days; just in case.) No crawling up the walls, no flying cars, and I definitely don't want to be overwhelmed with everyone else's thoughts in my head, à la Superman.

I would like to vanish into thin air only when I have royally embarrassed myself in front of someone.

I would also like to erase some memories from some people's heads while I am at it.

I certainly don't fancy flying over Bengaluru with my hands outstretched and my cape flying behind me, just because I am stuck in the traffic jam and there is somewhere I need to be. Or swinging from one building to another over the heads of people. (I won't mention the outrageous costumes here.)

I suppose it would be politically correct to say that if I had some super power (i) I would try to bring all the criminals in the world to justice and (ii) I will fight for global peace and (iii) I will try to reduce global warming and close the ozone hole with my very own fingers, and (iv) I will put an end to poverty and suffering and illnesses, but if we really think about it, even the known superheroes have been able to do nothing much about poverty or illness. (Most of them haven't even seen real poverty or suffering, as far as I can tell; they being generally confined to the other side of the globe.) Besides, if all the human evil in the world was eliminated, what would organizations like Human Rights Watch do? Heck, what would the superheroes themselves do? See the massive lay-off looming in the horizon that will bring in more problems, more unemployment, more poverty, more starvation? (Oh, how in the world can a poor superhero rest in peace!)


Putting all those powers (and jokes) aside, let us look at what we dream of every day. Yes, there are certain things that we all wish would happen to us. Put a thought in someone's mind (someone who is influential enough) to show us a bit of kindness. Push our file / email to the top of some important person's inbox at the right time. Allow a critical someone to accidentally see our work. And if we are less talented, make them think highly of us for no reason. Ever heard of Bruce Almighty?

We might like to call it a miracle - such a coincidence! - that we were noticed by The Someone. We would narrate it to everyone - she saw it just by accident! I was so surprised when he called! I had no idea my work was this brilliant! Oh, I am so darn lucky.

But deep inside, we would know. It's called cheating. Maybe it will be smooth sailing for a while. But then we would need more such miracles if we are to keep up the show. Do we really want that? Think Bruce Almighty again.


Mothers are usually known for juggling too many things and trying to be SuperMoms, and for feeling guilty despite everything. We would certainly appreciate it if Superman could go get the groceries or look after the baby or do the chores while we rest our backs, but I'm afraid he might consider those tasks beneath him. We merely need some human support (sometimes as little as a kind word!). Or some magic wand that erases the misplaced feeling of guilt.


So the answer is that there is no real super power that can really help me the way I want to be helped. When a person is given a superpower, he is not expected to use it on himself (think Bruce) but to help others. How selfish of me to think only of myself.

But, wait.

Maybe this can't be called 'super', but I would really like to have a power that helps me with my son's studies. I mean, it was one thing to pass my own exams, but now half a lifetime later to be confronted with the same old questions? I could really use some super-human help to keep me from going insane, as I struggle to first understand the stuff myself and then explain to him.

What? That kind of super power is not in the market these days? That's a pity. A real pity.

I guess I will have to tackle life as it is, then.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Fly

It was the Fly.
I knew for a certainty. I knew it when I saw the gigantic, black, gleaming eyes at my window – and their cold, unblinking stare.
I knew it when I heard its shriek from across the years. And somehow deep inside, I had always known it would come looking for me.
When I opened my eyes – or maybe my eyes were already open, how can I tell? – it was gone. There was nothing at the window. Merely the night, and the lights from the streets. But I knew it was there, biding its time, watching me, waiting.
The worst of it was knowing that it was not my mistake – it was not a mistake at all, it was intentional.
I had left it to die, and when it screeched, I had poured water over it.
My Mother always said that we’re allowed to kill only one being in this world. Well, she said we shouldn’t kill any living thing, of course, but I pestered her with questions: What about the cockroach? What about the mosquito? What about the fly?
Scare off the cockroach, she said. We can’t kill it anyway. It is built to survive nuclear bombs. Our poisons would only send it into a trance. Let the housefly out, she said. You can’t kill all of them – they have this employment exchange where when one is killed, the other gets the job. Just let it out.
But isn’t it unhygienic? Aren’t flies the ones spreading diseases, and so on? I didn’t want to let those creatures free.
Yes – for that we need to keep our surroundings clean, my wise Mom said. Give no chance for the flies to come. That’s how we solve that issue, not by killing one at a time.
What about the mosquito? I said.
Well, I think that’s the only creature we are allowed to lay our hands on. She didn’t explain any further.
So we killed mosquitoes every evening, in large numbers. The mosquito army swarmed in as soon as the sun set. We would wave the electric hunter bat, and hear the click-click-click of mosquitoes getting electrocuted. We were fascinated first and then infatuated with the operation. We fought for the possession of the bat. We took turns – every one got five minutes with the bat – and we would compare numbers, who was the best mosquito hunter? There would be a pile of dead bodies at the corner of the house every day, and a smoky smell of burnt life. When the day’s assault was over, one of us would jump over the pile to ensure that any half dead ones were finished.
Never before or since had I found such joy from massacre.
The fly came in one day through an open window. By mistake, evidently. It must have lost its way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

existence

you are vanishing
into oblivion, just

the same way as
went others before

soon will you fade
from vision, a shadow

that days have 
forgotten to shine on.

a memory in a few
hearts; to be recycled,

diluted by the 
years - to nothingness.

you were but a
bleep in the universe

the tiniest drop 
in the surging tide.

a stone tossed 
into the enormous lake-

sinking to the bottom 
with a quiet ripple.

essential, immaterial,
one among many.

you were here-
and now you're not.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Longing for nightmares

When I dream of you at night
I call it a nightmare...
For, though it does sound sweet,
It brings nothing but pain.

Yet when the sun goes down
I yearn for those dreams;
In a life that promises nothing,
Even pain is a godsend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My story

These are not my stories - the books I read,
The movies I watch,

Don't misunderstand me-
I like these stories I read; I like those movies I watch.
I can connect with some of them, and those I cannot, I still can enjoy.

But it is not me; their story is not mine. There are characters in those stories who are a little like me, but their choices are not mine, their paths deviate from mine.

Because my story is different; because it is not told.
Because my life matters, and my struggles are real.
Because I cannot go on pretending they do not exist.

And what is my story? I barely know.
That is why I write - I try to find it in that place where I exist. Most of me, anyway.

Every story I write has something of me in it.
And yet even I cannot piece it together and make the whole.

My story is not merry, it isn't enchanting. But it is important and it has to be told.
When I write, I search. I am trying to find and recreate - myself.

I know who I am - and it is a only feeling.
It is not words that I can articulate and you can understand. Not yet.

I try.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Life is full of dilemmas:

To ask or not to.
To beg or not to.
To announce or not to.
To suppress or not to.

To struggle or not to.
To live or not to.
To smile or not to.
To pay or not to.

To laugh or not to.
To play or not to.
To cry or not to.
To yell or not to.

To knock or not to.
To enjoy or not to.
To walk or not to.
To wait or not to.

To let go or not to.
To fight or not to.
To relax or not to.
To restrain or not to.

To rebel or not to.
To love or not to.
To explain or not to.
To obey or not to.

To command or not to.
To suffer or not to.
To endure or not to.
To die or not to.

The chains that the poet spoke of...
That binds us through life...

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Medal from Once Upon a Time

“Until a few years ago, I worked as a mother.”
I raised my eyebrows and she chuckled. “Worked? you ask, incredulously,” she said. “Worked? As a mother? Worked – did you say?” More chuckles, more mirth, and more deliberation.

I waited. Surely there was more where that was coming from.

“But of course, I agree with you. How can one ‘work’ as a mother – when there is no payment in return? Moreover, how can I be a mother ‘until a few years ago’? A mother is a mother forever from the moment a certain someone makes her one.

“I know what I am saying; and I know why I say so. You may not see it the way I do; of course, you do not live the life I lived. You would argue that the payment is the little moments of joy, the little bouts of love that you receive now and then, and all that crap the world deceives you with. Only a mother gets those, you say. Dads hate to hear it, but it is the truth!

“I would not debate, for I would rather not ruin your belief in the existence of good in the world. After all, if all mothers begin to think of all the ingratitude they have had to face, the rejection, the indifference and even the insults they receive – from their children as well as the others around them – the unkind references to her parenting skills, sneaky and direct; if all the mothers of the world decide that they cannot take it anymore and just abandon their motherhood and leave, human race would be headed straight down the drain and into the ocean. What will happen to the ‘reproduce and survive’ directive from the Darwinian God? So it is an evolutionary requirement that mothers convince themselves they are the backbone of humanity, that they need to be selfless, that their child’s ill-behaviour is a reflection on their parenting skills, and that if they close their eyes for a second, homo sapiens could all fall apart. It is an evolutionary requirement that mothers kill themselves raising their kids.”

I was fascinated, to say the least. If educated is the very first adjective I use to describe this untidy street woman, it would be far from sufficient. But, listen to her talking as though she had some grudge against me, as though I were the one who worked the wheels of her fate! I could see clearly that her discontent was directed elsewhere, I just happened to be on its path.
Read More

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Into the darkness and around the drain

A depressed person is a very depressing person.

What do people do when they need to face a person who has been depressed for a long time - not for hours, but days, weeks, months or even years?

Quotes doing the rounds in the social media space advise you to stay away from 'negative people who make you miserable'. Most people would rather keep away than see how they can help. True that it is better for those who lead a joyous or pleasant life to run away than to delve into the chasm of another's misery and ruin their own days. It is indeed a lot to ask to go sit with them and chat with them for a while, because of the radiating gloom.

A depressed person could be a very depressed person.

It is their suffocation that comes out as negativity or accusation or explosion. They know what they are doing to others, but they can't help it. They're choking on it.

Some of them may be twirling in the darkness dangerously close to the drain, wondering what it would be like to let go. Perhaps they need help to not be washed away. Perhaps you could throw them a line and pull them out. Because their life matters, too.

Maybe no one can fix their problem, but knowing that someone cares or having someone to talk to may get them out of the darkest place. It may not happen in an hour or a day. Walking away definitely does not help. Waiting for them to ask for help doesn't either.

'You must find your own happiness' is probably not the best comment to make to them. Clearly, they are well past that stage. They believe they're beyond help.

When others keep away from them because the darkness is contagious, they are adding to the frustration.

The depressed person doesn't want to be depressed either. They want to be happy too. They may be afraid, miserable, coping with grief, angry or stuck in their past.

They may appear happy one day, or laughing out loud or looking quite normal. Don't assume that they are out of the woods. Maybe what you see is their flailing arms appearing above the surface for the last time.

And if they look gloomy again the next day, the silliest question to ask would be, "Now what happened?"

Don't mock them. Don't call them insane. Don't isolate them.

Throw a line.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Walking in the rain

How was I to know?
I'd been walking in the rain.
And after all that dancing,
I thought, a perfect end to the day.

How was I to know?
You must have been in pain.
Alone amidst strangers,
Confused, helpless, maybe a li'l afraid.

The cool breeze in my hair, the droplets on my face,
Why did they conceal your distress?
And all the while, strangely though,
My thoughts had been of you.

How was I to know?
Until hours and hours had passed;
When a certain stroke of chance
Unfolded your day before me.

How was I to know
At that time? But now I do.
And I wish, from this distance,
I could somehow ease it for you.

That I could kiss your wounds,
Caress your forehead, make you laugh,
Once again see your eyes smile
In that way I know so well.

In truth, there is nothing
That I can really do for you
Be we near, be we far;
I must shred my wishes and toss them aside.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Masterpiece

It came to me on its way to publication, a scanned copy of a handwritten poem. Just a matter of routine; an FYI.  I ran my eyes over it quickly, and then I read it carefully, again.

I did not know the poet - was she young? old? a teenager? a mother?

There was anguish and pain in the writing, and it touched somewhere deep inside. I wondered who she was; and then I closed it and went on with my business.

The subsequent day, I spoke to the lady who had forwarded the poem to me. In passing, I asked about this unknown poet. And in the next fifteen minutes, the young poet's sad life unravelled before my eyes.

I went back to the poem again and read it with new eyes. Those ten or so lines - that was her story. The story I had just listened to. How did I miss it when I read it the first time? Why was I not able to decipher it? Why did I not see her heart?

That's the beauty of poetry, I think. When we read it, knowing nothing of its origin, there is beauty, but it is veiled. We try to connect it with our life and give it a meaning, we appreciate something we perceive in it.

We don't really wonder why the poet wrote this, or how the philosophy occurred to her, or why her lines have the power to reduce us to tears, or what inner fire caused her words to blaze like this. We probably think it insignificant. Did it come to her one sunny morning while she was sipping tea? Or when she was relaxed and happy? What difference would it make to us, if she were angry or frustrated or vengeful or in the throes of grief?

It is from our deepest pain that the most beautiful works of art are born. I would not wish such pain on anyone, but if we're destined to endure some, I'd rather its direct consequence be a masterpiece.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Art of Living in an Apartment

One of my friends recently moved to another city. When they finalised the house to live in, my first question was, ‘Is it an apartment too?’ And yes, it was. For those of us who have lived in apartments for a long time, there are several advantages associated with those. First and foremost is the safety aspect. In comparison to single houses – especially considering the news we read every day – apartments offer more security. Or, at least they give the impression they do.

Another factor is the proximity of friendly neighbours. They are right in our own building; if we need a glass of milk or a spoon of sugar, we can walk across to them in our house wear, without worrying about opening our gate or crossing the road or encountering wild beasts on our path.

Nonetheless, there are other kinds of people who know nothing about the art of living in an apartment, and who, unfortunately make up a significant part of our neighbourhood.

None of us are blameless when it comes to apartment ethics. However, there are some dwellers who test the patience of the rest of us, when it comes to garbage disposal, bursting midnight crackers, running up and down the stairs to give others a heart attack (and I am not talking of kids), etc.

When I moved into our current apartment, there were some people who lived right above us. We did not hear any sound from them, and they could have been termed ideal except when I found that one of them had the habit of standing on the balcony smoking and dropping the ashes directly down. The cigarette ash fell on the washed clothes I had left to dry on my balcony. To be fair to them, they stopped doing it the moment I let them know my problem. The people who succeeded them to that house have been ‘harmless’ so far.

Meanwhile in another part of the apartment, we heard complaints (both veiled and open) about used sanitary napkins being found blocking the drains. No amount of notices and warnings were enough to coax these tenants to properly dispose of their waste. The world became a better place when they moved out. One second floor lady has the habit of performing pooja in the morning. She would pour water from a bowl right across the balcony, not caring whether there are people walking below. The wind would hit the waterfall and direct it to the houses below, watering their plants and wetting their clothes and giving the people a free shower. Considering that it is water meant for the gods, and that she is an old lady, one can possibly forgive her.

But the first prize – a trophy, certificate and cash award – is reserved for another resident, who lives two floors above my house. One Sunday morning, I woke up hearing the sound of falling water that sounded much like heavy rain. Realising quickly that it wasn’t and assuming that some tap was broken for so much water to overflow, I rushed to the window to find my husband standing there, staring out in disbelief. When I looked outside, I was dumbfounded, too. For, flowing all over the clothes and plants on my balcony from somewhere above, was dirty water mixed with soap. Half of the clothes I had washed the previous night and put out to dry (so as not to miss the early morning sun) were now wet and sloppy. The security guard of the apartment was somewhere in view, looking up in helplessness and bewilderment.

A quick inquiry cleared things up. The residents of the house had decided that morning that it was time to wash their carpet. So what did they do? They threw it across the railings of the balcony and began to pour water and soap over it and to give it a good scrubbing. There were two houses below. Either the carpet-washers were too dumb to know that gravity has this stupid habit of pulling water down; or they did not care that the grime was flowing all over our houses. Clearly the latter, because when we brought the fact to their notice, we were told that ‘it will be over in just five more minutes.’

There is no point in talking to such people. We put our clothes back into the washing machine and gave it another round of wash and rinse. The next time we hung it out to dry (and since then, every time we hung clothes to dry), we prayed that there would be no more carpets to wash or curtains to clean in the floors above for a long time to come.

If they do not master the art of living in an apartment, we need to learn to live in spite of them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Alas! The discord.

Is it that we are blind to our actions-
Or just refuse to see them in the right light?
Any explanation would fall on deaf ears,
Every other compromise reduce to a brawl...

The mask of tolerance that youth taught us to wear
Begins to shed, revealing the truth underneath;
Every attempt to appease tightens the noose
Every effort to break free pulls us back to earth.

That's why we cry when we listen to old songs,
They release old memories of promises, of hope,
Of a time when we entertained dreams, all vain,
Of a world we believed in that no longer is.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The million-dollar question of the day

“Auntie, why do Moms scold us all the time while Dads don’t scold us at all?”

This question – that has been asked by children since time immemorial – was recently asked of me by a sweet little eight-year-old. I am not facing it for the first time; I have myself wondered the same, and yet, when her innocent question hit me, I was rendered speechless. After a few seconds of ‘er…I think…you know…’ etc., I finally admitted to her that I did not have any insight on the problem. I wasn’t exactly relieved when her mother informed me later that some of the child’s astute queries often leave the universe itself fumbling for answers.

One morning, in the hustle and bustle of getting my son ready for school, he asked me, “Why does my Dad help me get dressed more quietly than you?” Yes, he used the word ‘quietly’. As opposed to his mother making all the noise – ‘get dressed!’ ‘fast!’ ‘your bus is coming!’ ‘my God, didn’t you eat anything yet?’ ‘you are going to be hungry and sick and under-nourished and ill all the time!’.

My reply wasn’t quite dignified, I’m afraid. I muttered under my breath something like ‘Okay, so get your dad to help you’ and walked away. In my defence, no mother in her right mind can bear a comparison like that, especially when she herself feels guilty for every single thing she does and doesn’t do, every single hour of every single day.

At a recent get-together with friends (all mothers), we, naturally, began talking of parenting (how do we always wind up in that topic?), and we had quite a laugh arguing between ourselves about who amongst us was the loudest when it comes to disciplining our children. Some of the comments went like this:

‘When I begin to shout, my neighbours escape to their hometowns. Did you ever wonder why the houses next to mine are always unoccupied?’

‘I suspect my parents-in-law returned to Kerala cutting their vacation short, because of my constant yelling at their grandchildren.’

‘Surely your voice is nothing compared to mine. When I help my son with his homework, the very foundation of this building trembles.’

‘Oh, was that the earthquake scare last week? As for me, I begin with, ‘Dear, please don’t drop your uniform on the floor, throw them in the laundry basket.’ After a few minutes I progress to ‘I told you to put your uniform in the laundry basket!’ and ‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ Half an hour later, I thunder, ‘For the last time! PUT YOUR FILTHY CLOTHES IN THE STUPID BASKET!’ and all the kids in the colony would have thrown their clothes into their baskets, without knowing what had actually hit them. I mean, we aren’t asking them to wash their darn clothes, are we?’

(Dads who firmly believe that their wives are the only mothers who yell at the kids should be allowed to secretly listen in on this conversation.)

Frankly, hearing from other mothers that we all fall into the same tribe of beasts is very, very comforting and does wonders to salvage our self-worth.

So this little eight-year-old’s mother assured me that she does ask point-blank questions all the time, and that there was nothing to worry about being at a loss to answer. I face it every day, she said. That didn’t console me one bit. She’s only an eight-year-old. She hasn’t begun to question Newton’s third law yet. I can handle eight-year-olds. I probably should have told her that mothers are more responsible for their children – to show them right from wrong, to guide them to be good men and women, to teach them to be kind and behave with courtesy and compassion, and to respect others. I should have told her that it was easy to say ‘teach your child good manners’ but it took constant monitoring and correcting. I should have told her that mothers felt guilty for the slightest lapse from their child, as though she alone were responsible. I should have told her that our society blames the mother for every wrong thing the child does, and that the mother agonises whether she’s spoiling the child with too much attention or ruining the child with too little. This constant pressure – added to anxieties from her own career and aspirations and finances and other daily tensions of life – stresses her out and, unfortunately and unconsciously, she takes it out on her child, even while knowing she shouldn't. It is a clichéd statement (but true, like all clichés) that mothers are never appreciated for what they do. Everything a mother does for her family is ‘after all, her job.’ No one even bothers to see what she is doing, how hard she is managing, how she is shuffling between her varied roles, and whether she is a little sad about the sacrifices she is making. No one realises how much she would love to be told, once in a while, that she is doing a good job. But why don’t Dads react the same way as Moms? Of course they are responsible for raising the child too. I do not know the answer. Maybe it is a Mommy hormone. Or maybe, Dads have Moms to fall back on, but Moms have no one to.

On second thoughts, probably it is good that I did not say all this to her. She would have understood nothing, and she would have thought, ‘Why in the world did I ask this question to Auntie?’ and she might have stopped asking questions.

But I rather hope that twenty or twenty-five years down the line, I will meet her somewhere and I would remind her of her question, and then we will have a good laugh about it – because by then, God willing, she would have found out the painful answer herself. (If the world hasn't changed all that much by then.) I hope, when that day comes, I can hold her hand and reassure her that we've all been there, and there is no need to feel guilty, because she is not the only mother who feels every day that she is a total failure.

Because she isn't. No mother ever is.

Read - Scenes from Mother's Day 2014

Monday, May 4, 2015

Judging

'Why did you do that?!'
'What a foolish decision!'
'You must do this now.'
'Don't you know it will become this-or-that?'
'I could have told you that would happen.'
'Did you do this? Did you do that? Did you do this after that, or did you do that after this? Why?'

The moment we talk about a decision in our lives, or an illness, or a casual daily affair, there are people who respond immediately with comments like the above. They believe that as a responsible citizen of this wonderful country, it is their duty to point out others' errors and to move mountains to fix those errors. They are also convinced that we know nothing about how this world works and it is upon them to teach us a few lessons based on their vast experience. They also like to gloat a wee bit later that 'I told her to fix it this way.'

We flinch, and ask ourselves why in the world we had to start talking about it. Our murmured replies cement their conviction that we are ignorant folks who only add to the woes of the planet.

Those who know us better - even when they may not know the exact circumstances that led to our situation - may give us the benefit of doubt. Their questions - delivered kindly - are at least based on the belief that we can also think like they do, and  that maybe we have considered all options, and that maybe we are intelligent enough to figure things out when the time comes. They take care to put their responses in a certain way so as to make sure that we are not plunging into a mistake out of ignorance. To be fair, if we like them, their queries are okay; if we don't, they aren't. In other words, we like them if they know how to respond kindly; we don't, if they don't.

Yes, everyone is well-meaning in this world, the only difference is how you make yourself appear in the light of a situation.

Why do we talk to those people who make us feel small? Sometimes it is duty. Sometimes we need advice - and those people are experts in their area. Sometimes we have to visit them for the sake of preserving social niceties and such, and one conversation leads to another. There could be many reasons.

Until a few years ago, it had been difficult to explain this feeling. You feel wretched after each dose you receive, but you could never reduce the entire episode into a single word. You could not quite decide whether your attitude and actions were wrong - or did they jump to conclusions?

Until.

Among the many things that the West has bestowed on us in the recent years is a small but significant word that had slipped past us unseen, unnoticed. A word that we hear in movies, shows, talks, everywhere and is increasingly entering our lives and falling out of our mouths. A word that just by its existence tells us that we are not the ones who are wrong; we are not the ones who should feel guilty.

And that word is - judging.
(Often followed by a flood of Unsolicited advice.)

She was judging me.
Why are you judging me?
Don't judge me!

It is a relief to know that that well-known feeling of wretchedness goes by a clear, definite name. In that single word, we can compress the entire episode, and the listener would know what we mean.

We all judge others - openly and secretly. It's in our flesh and blood. At one point in time, I am sure judging helped our species survive subarctic temperatures and such. But it is probably wiser to keep the art of judging to ourselves or to people closest to us. Today it might not quite help the cause of survival. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Monkey Business

A few days ago, while I was working in the afternoon, there was a movement at the window I was facing. I saw nothing when I looked up. Now, anyone with a ladder can reach my house from the basement level. A few fleeting thoughts about thieves and criminals (and I suspect, even terrorists) crossed my mind. In that fraction of a second I took to rise from my seat, I am sure my heart had reached its maximum pounding rate. I peeked through the window, saw nothing, so I decided to be bold for the sake of appearances, and opened the door. Imagine my surprise when I saw a monkey perching on the rails, looking back at me as though I were the intruder in his (her?) house.

What passed through my mind wasn’t exactly relief, but a close relative of it. It was not a human – that was a consolation, for I had no experience in handling thieves; but it was an animal – that was a worry, for what was it doing on my balcony and how do I get rid of it?

I tried to shoo it away – I was standing at a safe distance, and my foot was in the door so that I could escape at short notice (if the wild animal decided to turn wild). But my shooing clearly conveyed to it that I was one frightened being. It bared its teeth in offense and it was all I could do not to dart inside and slam the door. Then it decided that fun was over, and hopped to the neighbour’s balcony.

Later that evening, I heard of its many adventures from different parts of the apartment. The animal was spotted wandering, idling, searching, and in one place, it had managed to reach the kitchen, from where it was devouring freshly prepared beans fry when the owner of the fry surprised it.

There was an estate nearby, full of trees, and not long ago, we used to have frequent visits from monkeys on our balcony and surrounding areas. They used to soil the clothes on our cloth-line, and leave waste behind. Snakes were also occasionally seen, and many birds and butterflies frequented our neighbourhood. Then more buildings began to appear, and the trees in the estate were cut down – we heard that a posh apartment or a mall was coming up. We groaned, but we were partly thankful when the ‘animal menace’ seemed to reduce. So it was a surprise when a monkey was sighted again, and not just in the vicinity, but right on our doorstep, like in the good old times.

The next morning I found water dripping from my neighbour’s balcony and went to investigate. (The owners were away.) It was obvious that the monkey had left the tap open after taking a swig, the previous evening. It occurred to me for the first time that the animal was here for a purpose. Summer had begun overnight. Just a few days before, we were still in the throes of a severe winter and one fine morning we realised that summer, as dry and hot as you please, was here. No transition, no delay, no pause; no time to catch our breath.

When the maid came into clean my house that day, I told her about the visit, and reminded her to keep our door closed, so that monkeys don’t come in and sneak off our precious meal. She agreed with me that the afternoons are hot and that there is no water to be found for these beings. She lives in a one-room house with her family, at a nearby school. She informed me that they keep a little water outside during the day, for the animals. They see birds and small animals coming to drink, she said. I thought that was good, and I even considered for a moment keeping some water out for the birds. But of course, if the monkeys come to my balcony, I would not be happy – they sure do know how to leave a mess. My dilemma was resolved in a couple of days when the summer showers hit the city. I hoped that wherever they were, the animals and birds got some reprieve from the heat.

Where do these animals, stuck in the urban world, normally find their food and water? Do we even care? We’re just relieved that they aren’t encroaching our space, harming our children and stealing our food. We cannot ‘co-exist’ in the true sense of the word. When nature marches into our lives, we take desperate measures to keep her out. To live a civilised life as humans, we need to keep nature trimmed and well-behaved and on our terms. That isn’t co-existence. If you keep your distance, we may keep ours. If you are hungry, we don’t care. When it comes to us versus animals, we vote for us. Naturally.

The deadlock between man and nature continues.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lost & Found - and Lost

When I came out of the building, I had this familiar feeling that I had forgotten something. I looked at the items in my hand - a brochure, a leaflet someone had handed me on my way out, what did I miss? Of course. My mobile phone. I must have left it where I was sitting. 

I asked him to wait and went back. I did not expect to find it. No one can resist the sight of an abandoned phone and refrain from stealing it. At least, that has been my experience.

It was new, and it was mine. Everything that I could tell another soul and everything I could not - my phone knew it all. I could wink at it and it would know why. Losing it would be like losing a part of myself. As I walked in past the crowd thronging the building, I was certain it would not be there. I kicked myself for forgetting it.

There were so many staircases in that building - why was there so many of those, everywhere, going up and down, and every where? It was as though I was in a maize of staircases. Which one did I just use on my way out after the meeting?

One seemed familiar, and I went up. Yes, they were all there, the smiling adults and the playing children. The balloons, the toys, the noise. The phone was still there in my seat. It was not stolen! Of course, if you leave a mobile phone among children, it will not be lost. On the contrary, the children who find it would go out of their way to hand it back to you. Between childhood and adulthood springs the first inkling of dishonesty.

It was such a relief to find it again. It was not gone. Thank God. It would have been tragic. Wonder why emotions are so heightened in dreams. The immense fear of losing the phone, the overwhelming relief of finding it - but those were nothing compared to what was coming.

It was time to get out of the building, and the maize confronted me again. Which way had I come up? Are these staircases moving like those in Harry Potter stories? Why were there so many of them? Which way should I go? Why was I so confused? I don't usually lose my way. Today I feel so muddled.

I tried to remember the way I had come up. Those set of steps, then the turn - to the right or left? I had to choose one at random and trust my instincts. 

Wrong. I ended up on the other exit at the far side of the building. What was this - a mall? Vehicles were flowing out the gate. I looked back. I could see the numerous staircases all the way to the other side. I had to get there. He was waiting. That was where I should be. But I could not just go straight. I had to choose the steps.

I closed my eyes and tried to picture the location and the route. How did one get to the other exit? What did I have to do to go home? No one was paying any attention. Who can show me the way? Why were there no directions to the Exit? Why was I feeling so scared?

I was lost. I was LOST. It was just a damn building with infinite rows of staircases. And I was stuck in them. Helpless.

I opened my eyes. Daylight was streaming in. A faint sense of relief washed over me. I wasn't really lost. I was safe in my bed. But I was trembling. The magnitude of that fear remained in my mind for the most part of the morning...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two-way mirror

There is this school bus that shrieks to a halt in front of our apartment every morning. You could hear it groan as it approaches, as the driver gently steps on the brakes. Some days I would be outside when it arrives, watering my plants or putting out clothes to dry or consuming Vitamin-D from my east-facing balcony with my cup of tea. I see the faces at the window, of sleepy, dreamy or bored children, having who knows what kind of thoughts about school and what lies ahead. There is this girl I see - she wears glasses with a black frame. She is probably in high school. I noticed her because I caught her watching me, many times. Sometimes she doesn't. I don't know if she actually sees me, or if that is a blank, half-asleep morning stare. Her chin is raised when she looks this side, suggesting that she actually sees what she is looking at.

Children are the mirrors into our past. When we look at them, we see our own past staring back at us.

When I see that girl, I remember a window through which, one day every week, we used to observe a man washing clothes and putting them out to dry in the clothes line. We called him Uthaman - because he seemed like the ideal husband. Yes, a man who helps with the laundry was well within our definition of 'ideal'. That was not the pre-WW II era, of course, but those were still the days when men and chores were considered strangers. A husband helping with kitchen, washing, etc. was a rare enough sight (or, concept) for us to drool over.

I wonder what this girl in the shrieking school bus would be thinking, if at all she is conscious of the woman with the steaming cup of tea, leaning on her balcony rails, squinting against the sun, watching the hustle and bustle of morning school time. Does the girl think about what I am doing, and does she wonder about herself? Does she see me as a mirror into her own future? Does the sight excite her or cause her dread? Does she wish that her difficult school days would be over so that she can also lounge in some balcony and sip hot tea? Or does she fear that her days ahead consist of washing and drying clothes and hanging them out to dry, and watering plants and keeping the house?
Does she wonder, at all?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Time has passed

They may say there are no accidents
But there was something in the way we met.
It just happened, all seemed normal;
But looking back, I do wonder.

Was it meant to be? Was it a wise act of destiny?
We had discovered the highway, together,
Learning the ride, making mistakes,
And ultimately paying the price.

It wasn't all fun, of course; it never is.
But a co-traveller makes it worthwhile.
Through twists and turns, ups and downs,
The journey has been rough.

Now we travel at the ends of the street
Not holding hands, out of reach.
Wasn't it narrower when we started?
Time has passed, the roads have widened.

We're not who we were, we've grown;
Dragging ourselves like tramps, up and down,
Shoving forward, though exhausted, beaten;
With only one purpose: the end, the end.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once Replaced

It is not easy to get over the feeling that we had been discarded. 

Flowers will bloom and wither, leaves will fall, and many monsoons will come and go, but the memory would still sting.

As time passes, however, once we have learned to convincingly pretend that we have put the bad times behind us, it becomes easier to let our emotion roam without the fear of anyone connecting it to our past. That's very important - to not let our weakness show, to cloak it in indifference.

We may become old and frail, and have other achievements in the course of life, but this little pang would forever remind us that we were not perfect, we had fought hard battles and not always come out successful. The question 'what could I have done different?' would forever hang over us and torment us. 

Because none of us like to think that we have been replaced.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Road to Liberation: Why can't we?

Another Women's Day has come and gone. All the right words were tossed in the right places - liberation*, equality, feminism, empowerment and such glorious words that generate goosebumps all over the place. All the right questions were asked in the right forums -  including, Will women ever be really free? Wherefore art thou, Romeo? To be or not to be? and such pertinent ones. After the fun was over, everyone left: the people went to have dinner, the chickens went home to roost and the cows went home to probably catch up on their nap. Until the next women's day or the next time liberation is set on fire.

A few days ago, I read a tweet (unfortunately I lost its trace) which said that in Saudi, the laws that restrict women are typically upheld by older, traditional women themselves. Frankly, I don't find that surprising at all. It is not because the older women are jealous of the youngsters (or such rubbish). It is a very simple (and well-known) fact that if we grew up believing something, it is not easy to change it. Allow me to take a few detours.

One day, in the nineties, I was watching TV with a woman as old as my mother. Let's us just say that she had not quite caught up with the developments in the entertainment industry. After watching a song-and-dance sequence from a movie, she asked me if 'they were all really women, or if they were men dressed as women?' I replied that the dancers were really women. She didn't comment, but I believe she was wondering how women could actually wear such clothes and dance, in front of so many people. Today we have gotten used to the idea (and worse). The shock has since worn off. But on that day, I don't think the lady approved of what she saw. I don't think the notions of 'liberty' or 'equality' or 'empowerment' were at the top of her mind; she merely found the sight distasteful. Given a chance, she might have suggested that these dances be banned. Of course, I am speculating now. She had not said a word.

Another scene. There was a cultural program in our college. As the evening wore on and the latest hit songs were being played, boys began dancing in the auditorium and some of the excitement caught on to us girls, too. We don't need booze to get high, we just need the appropriate music and an incessant pounding in our ears. Some of us got up from our seats and began dancing. Needless to say, there were many eyes on us but we did not care. We had to dance. There would never be another chance. Naturally, some people thought we were doing it to attract attention. To their cramped minds, any other possibility does not exist.

The next day, we had an audience with the Principal -  a few of us who were 'responsible' for the rest of the ladies were summoned. He asked us about the previous night and informed us that it was very irresponsible behaviour. He did not know who the 'culprits' were, he said, as he looked at me pointedly. I did not blink. He wasn't harsh or anything (and I now wonder if his mind was completely in it), but warned us of the consequences, should it happen again. Yes, I apologised on behalf of the girls (though I was not one bit sorry for having a little fun), and of course, it never happened again. I wonder if he went and said the same things to the boys too. Maybe a general warning was issued, which, he knew, will never be followed. After all, boys will be boys.

Truth is, there never was another chance and there never will be. I don't think I ever had (or will have) the guts to get up and break into a dance, anywhere else. What would people think? I would rather squash all thoughts of 'having fun'.

Those who have watched The Namesake might not remember a fleeting scene in which Tabu peeks over the crowd to see the first ceremony (probably naming) of her infant son. Her son! And she, the most important person in the baby's life, is standing a few feet away, straining herself to catch what's going on. She does not look sad, she is happy for him, but anyone who could really see through the mother's eyes would know how much she would have liked to be right there, holding her son.

It seems strange that for a long time we never even thought about questioning anything, because that is how things have been. That was tradition. That was how it was done. We get used to the idea.

I grew up hearing that girls had better keep a low profile and dress properly and stay out of sight, for their own safety. And if anyone was a little too 'forward' (however exciting it appeared to me), I saw that she was frowned upon. No, I did not grow up in a 'repressed society' or anything. My generation will know what I am talking about.

Somewhere between then and now, the idea began to seep in: Why can't we? It's our right.

What? We have rights?
You mean, we can actually do what we like? Dress the way we like? Go to places we like, when we like? We can actually dance in an auditorium, without having to explain afterwards? 

It was new and it was huge. It was difficult to believe it; but once we wrapped our minds around it, it became like an addictive book - you can't put it down, and you are hungry for more. But not everyone can get adjusted to the idea. It goes against everything we have been taught and believed since we were born.

Cue, the tweet on Saudi. We blame the older women for wanting to 'uphold values'. But that's what they have been brought up on. It is not easy to suddenly shift from a lesson that has been etched in, for centuries, to a more 'liberal' view. Change is not easy for anybody. It is easier and simpler to cling to what we were taught for generations. We were brought up right; and we were safe. We hid behind the numerous constraints and we did not mind. Why can't you do the same? You make changes, and you are going to regret it.

It's not only about right and wrong. It is about trying to change mindsets that have become as hard as granite. I too find myself occasionally struggling to check the urge to say, "Be careful. Don't do anything that will get you into trouble."

Things will change, but we have to struggle through many more such layers of inertia and resistance, and many more phases of unlearning and re-learning. There are many battles to be endured and many damages to be borne and many barriers to be broken and many mindsets to be changed.

Things will change, for better or for worse, because they must. 

_____
* Is anyone else reminded of Nithya Menon in Kerala Café when they hear the word 'liberation', or is it just me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Temple of Time

In the days of Doordarshan and DD-2 (for those who remember the era), my sister and I watched a movie which left a huge impression on both our minds. It was an Australian film titled Picnic at Hanging Rock. About ten or twelve years old at the time, I knew precious little English and the accent was beyond us in many ways. My sister explained the story to me, as much as she could follow. The ending was too mysterious and intriguing. We spoke of (and in all likelihood, argued about) nothing else for weeks, perhaps months. We - at least, I - thought our limited grasp of the language was to blame for our confusion.

I never got a chance to see the movie afterwards.

But its impact on me was such that, over twenty years later, it led me to consider writing a short story titled "Temple of Time" where a couple of children vanish inside a mysterious temple in Kerala. Soon I realised that it was not a concept I could shrink into and contain within a short story. It dawned on me for the first time - I had a novel in my hands.




Temple of Time took two years to write. I had to pause writing as life took me through its ups and downs and shifting of priorities. Occasionally I had to give in when short-stories took precedence over the novel. Nevertheless, I came back to it every time, when the plot became much clearer and the characters developed themselves in my mind.

I finished writing Temple of Time in 2011, but it still had a long way to go. I punished a handful of people by making them read the first draft. Their feedback brought me to the unhappy conclusion that a major chunk of the plot had to be removed. Anyone who has rewritten their own work would know how gruelling a task it is.

Finally in 2013, it was ready (sort of). After a year and a half of futile attempts at finding a publisher for the book (as well as doing a million rounds of editing) and hopes rising moon-high several times only to dash back to the ground, I decided to put it up on Amazon and see how it fares.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the world my first novel, Temple of Time.

Abstract of Temple of Time
Abhijeet was ten years old when his elder brother was lost, believed dead, during a college tour in the hills of Northern Kerala. Twelve years later, Abhijeet is knocked out of his dull and mundane life by an eerie dream in which his brother calls out to him.

Soon afterwards, Abhijeet finds to his shock that his brother is still alive, but in a horrifying condition and on the verge of death, at the very same place he was last seen. Abhijeet is left with a curious last message that he tries to decipher, for he feels the answer to his brother's disappearance lies in it.

He embarks on a journey to the past, to piece together the events that led to the fateful day years ago, seeking to discover his brother's footprints and finding himself in the process.
Read Temple of Time.


I know many of us prefer print books (I do too), but as of now, it is beyond my capability to offer Temple of Time in print. I hope you will all download and read the book, and I hope some of you will like it, and I hope you will all let me know about it.

Click here to purchase Temple of Time from Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U54HX3I

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don't call me, sunshine...

Don't call me, sunshine,
I have chores to do;
We're near, though apart,
And my heart is with you.

Don't tempt me, bright day,
I can't come to you;
My days are hollow
But I've no time for you.

Don't prod me, rain clouds,
When I try to forget;
I can see you there,
And I'll catch you yet.

Don't seek me, cool wind,
I'm out of your reach;
I yearn your caress,
I long for your touch.

Don't lure me, blue sky,
I've no time for regret;
Your vastness, your freedom,
The colours you spread.

Don't smile at me, moon,
I know what you think;
You and I, we're destined
To live on the brink.

Don't miss me, my friends,
Our dreams seem futile;
Don't wait up for me,
It'll take me a while.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Washing machines have feelings too.

Did you know? I sure didn't. I wonder why I didn't notice it all these years. We completely miss the obvious things hanging right before our eyes, don't we?

From the machine point of view, the blog I posted on laundry was callous and insensitive and inhuman. For an appliance that has served faithfully for close to twelve years and was like a member of the family (despite being left out in the sun and rain all day and night), that must have been a little too much.

I must confess that I had not been kind to it all these years. Thankful for its services and even polite at times, but not exactly affectionate or kind.

The blog was the final straw. I was making an attempt at being a little funny and philosophical and introspective, but if we look at it through the machine's eyes, the laundry bag got all the credit; the machine got but a small mention. So thoughtless of me.

No wonder, one week later, it ground to a halt. Protest. Strike. Bandh. Inquilab-! No amount of cajoling could make it change its mind. I tried sweet talk, and I tried indifference, I tried anger, and I tried all tactics I normally reserve for my son. None worked.

The thing with these home appliances is that they have the customer care executives on their side. Yes, I don't know how many calls I had to make and beg and plead and threaten and frighten and everything to try to make the technician come to take a look at my problem. The technician, I understand, feels the machine's pain. In all its intensity. They are a team - like Krishna and Arjun, perhaps. One giving the other courage. For, today, ten days after I lodged a complaint, apart from two phone calls from two guys who expressed concern as though my laundry pile was keeping them awake at night, nothing has happened. (Their phone calls were not spontaneous, they were the result of my continuous nagging of the call centre people and their supervisor.)

My washing machine is headed towards its longest break ever. The tech guys, if I repent enough and apologize thoroughly enough, may come in sometime next week, and take the thingy to the hospital. (Who knows how many phone calls from my side it's going to take before they turn up at my door.) And then, they tell me, they may have to replace some part, and it is going to cost much.

Long, long days of pain ahead.

Between the words of the tech-guy-on-phone, I pretty much heard these: 'Lady, you asked for it! Now learn a lesson.'

Punishment enough for a blog, I hope. I repent! I repent!

Meanwhile, a couple of days ago, this person caught up with me on Twitter. What, has the entire country heard of my laundry troubles??


Don't say I didn't warn you. Make sure you take good care of your appliances and let them know you care. If washing machines have such feelings, who knows what pains your fridge might be harbouring? Or your iron box?
Or - God forbid! - your television?