Homomorphism-II, A Revelation


It has been a long time since I saw art that moved me so immensely. Homomorphism- II, is an art exhibition which showcases the work of 7 talented artists from the LGBT community. They have put together a marvellous collection of paintings, drawings, digital illustrations and photographs which reveal different facets of same-sex intimacy.
It was a revelation for me and I caught glimpses of an unfamiliar world which amazed me with its beauty and spirit. The paintings conveyed so many emotions – freedom, acceptance, beauty, sensuousness, fragility, fun and so much more.
A particular exhibit which caught my eye was a series of four photographs of a young man, neck upwards. The intense vulnerability in his eyes seared my mind.
An inconspicuous book of photographs sits in one corner of the room. Each photo features a chair/sofa in different settings. The condition of the chairs vary in each picture, whether it be by the seashore or in an urban backyard. The artist was able to draw an exquisite analogy between the isolation of the chairs and the situation of homosexuals in society. The chairs were by turn battered, bruised, broken and abandoned. Yet they all stood defiantly alone. These photographs leave a lasting impression of fortitude and strength.
I loved the aesthetically beautiful portrayal of same-sex intimacy. There was a tenderness and beauty in the art which was refreshing. The popular perception of homosexuals as effeminate caricatures was smashed to pieces by the 7 artists through their work. It was fascinating to see the beauty of the male form as seen through a man’s eyes.
It was a mind-blowing experience and I really look forward to seeing more from these artists. The event was organised by Queerala, an organisation that represents and supports the LGBTQ community in Kerala.
The artists featured are : Aishwaryan K, Arvin O, Santanu D, Pragya P, Mahesh M and Jijo Q

The Kindest Eyes

Those eyes. Mahua loved them. The love and strength reflecting in them were the only things that kept her going on some days. Her sister often teased her about her obsession with those eyes. Mahua knew that it wasn’t just love. It was something beyond that. She knew that he too had a special place in his heart for her.
Just one more day to Valentine’s Day. She hoped that he would have good news for her on that day. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head to clear all the muddled thoughts in there. Today promised to be a busy day; the Poetry Slam she was organizing in college was happening in the evening. There was a lot of work left. Mahua hurried out of her room, hugging her father and pinching her mother’s cheeks on the way out. They laughed at her zest for life, but there was a strain in those faces. They too knew the significance of Valentine’s Day.
Mahua zoomed out of the building on her dad’s Bullet. He strongly disapproved of her taking his bike to college, but some days she craved to be reckless. She wanted to feel the wind buffeting her face and sunshine warming her soul. She felt full of life, as if nothing could touch her.
The man with the kindest eyes was in his office. The eyes were weary. This room was the only place he could let down his guard and let all the worries sweep over him. No matter how grey his hair became or how many grooves appeared on his forehead, he couldn’t stay detached. He removed his glasses and gazed out of his window at the cat snoozing on a patch of sunshine. Just one more day to go. Mahua’s test reports were scheduled for February 14th. Some days, being a doctor felt like the heaviest burden on earth. But this time he was optimistic. This time he was sure that the Chemo had worked.

True Love

Yash was engrossed in his work, his overgrown hair falling over his face and obscuring his frown of concentration. He hated it but kept it long since it seemed to drive his father crazy. When would his dad treat him like the 14-year-old he was and not a snotty child like his younger brother Rishi. The insufferable shrimp was so well-behaved that it made Yash look like a surly adolescent. His amma was the only person who seemed to see him as he was. But she was busy with the business she was setting up with her friend. Yash was so proud of her, but he felt awkward showing it and so he stayed out of her way.

The attic was his refuge. Nobody came here and he was free to be himself. He loved to sit in the shabby space and draw. No one knew that he loved to draw. Yash’s classmates would have been mortified if they came to know of it. He could sit here for hours and sketch. “Amma would be shocked if she saw me now”, he thought. She wouldn’t recognize him with his hair tied back and a sketchbook in his hands.

Yash’s thoughts turned to Valentine’s day. It was just three days away and he had made plans with Rhea to meet after school. He hoped that she would agree to be his girlfriend. He had even bought a gift for her with his pocket-money, her favourite book. He just couldn’t understand her love of books, and he had never had the patience to read a book from start to finish. “What a lot of effort amma took to get me to read !” he thought ruefully. But all that had paid off with the shrimp. Rishi always had his head buried in a book.

Yash heard a car starting and he went to the tiny window to see who was leaving at this late hour. Amma stood at the gate looking at the departing taxi. Yash remembered that his father was going away for a month on work. She looked so lonely standing there. He placed his palm on the windowpane as though he could send her his love through the glass.

Next day morning saw the usual chaos at the breakfast table. Yash was teasing Rishi who was almost in tears, but Sunaina was unusually distracted. She was missing her husband. They had always spend Valentines day together. This year it would be just Rishi and her since Yash was sure to have made plans with his friends.

“Ma, do you have any plans for Valentines day?” asked Yash. Sunaina just shook her head mutely.

“I’ll be at home darling” she said. “ You just don’t stay out late since it’s a school night.” Yash couldn’t bear to see his amma so dejected and he made a decision.

“Ma, will you be my Valentine? “

 

 

The Wait

The sea breeze ruffled her hair and she inhaled the scent of damp seaweed and boiled peanuts. The flaming red sari fluttered about her ankles and she tightened her hold on his hand. This was all that she had ever wanted, Ravi’s hand clasped in hers and his presence by her side. Prabha and Ravi were the least romantic couple you could find, but February 9th was special. This was the day she had agreed to marry him, and he always insisted that they come to the beach. She insisted on wearing the red sari. Red was his favourite colour and not hers. The beach was her favourite place and not his. But on this day, both of them insisted on doing something that the other enjoyed.

Today was about all the things they loved to do together. The trip to the animal shelter, a visit to his best friend’s house, lunch at Annapoorna, a quiet hour at the library, a long drive with the voices of Lata and Rafi to keep them company, ending with time at the beach. The routine never varied but they didn’t want it to. It held the charm of familiarity that both of them craved.

Prabha woke up with a start. She was at home curled up in the armchair by the window. Wearily she got up and got ready for bed. In the bathroom mirror she noticed that the greys in her hair and the smudges under her eyes were more pronounced than ever. Today she just couldn’t look at the photograph on the wall. It had been keeping her company for ten years, ever since he left. She took out his shirt, which nestled among her saris. As she closed her eyes, willing the tears away, the heavy loneliness almost crushing her, she hugged his shirt closer. As always the scent of cuticura powder that still clung to it soothed her mind like nothing else could. Slowly she slid into sleep hoping to meet him in her dreams.

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(Love is strange. It appears in different forms. The most placid lives may hold the most turbulent passions. This series of stories is about Love as experienced by people like you and me who have so many stories within us, yet think of ourselves as ordinary.)

Beginnings

My desk has an empty space the size of a calendar. The old one resides in the bin, its edges sticking out, saying goodbye to its home. I clean my cluttered desk, a thin film of dust covering the books I hadn’t read and the tin containing broken bits of incense sticks I had received as a gift. The little orange Ganesha resting between two piles of books stares at me benevolently, wondering when I will explore the path that has been ordained for me. Why am I stubbornly resisting the course charted by the planets at the time of my birth ? The cocktail of genes residing in my body trying to redraw the blueprint of my life.

A new year has arrived and I have a compulsion to sweep all the detritus of the past year away. I throw away crumpled bills and stained receipts; creased pieces of paper holding records of kilograms of rice consumed and packets of detergent used. There’re sweat stained tokens from the library and even a yellowed packet of tissues hiding behind yet another teetering pile of notebooks.

I pause for a moment thinking of the memories of laughter, love, tears and regrets that I had accumulated over the year. What do I do with those? Shall I tuck them within the blank pages of my notebook, to be taken out on a rainy day when I’m in a nostalgic mood. In fact what better way to spend a rainy day – raindrops weaving sensuously down the window pane, the deep baritone of Gulzar’s voice in the air and an encounter with old memories. A chance to experience again the contentment of tasks accomplished and love fulfilled.Or shall I free them, so they can fly away on daring gusts of wind to faraway places, emptying my mind and forcing me to create new ones. Maybe I’ll store those reminiscences in my penholder where they will stay between the pens and brightly coloured pencils, inhaling the fragrance of lead and ink and sharing the space with unused words which have drifted away from my diary.

My desk is cleared. It’s dust free and neat. But it’s not me any more. Let me mess it up a bit, pile up unused notebooks and unopened envelopes; leave imprints of my fingers on the dust coating that tiny corner. Let me free the coils of my headphones from their cover and let them trail all over my pencils. Let me be who I am. Starting a new year with traces of the past swirling around me.

 

 

 

 

The Orchard of Possibilities

(I attended a Writers Retreat organised by Paper House, an organisation founded by two amazing people, Tara Khandelwal and Mahima Sood. The venue was Shilla Treks, an apple orchard in the hills. It was an unforgettable experience and I came back raring to write. I tried to pen a conventional post about my experiences there but the Words took over and wrote their own version)

 

There were eleven wordsmiths at the Orchard of Possibilities. They were like pebbles on a beach, seemingly alike but of different shapes, sizes and temperament. They arrived on a clear day, welcomed by a freshly washed blue sky and the soothing melody of silence. The cool mountain air brushed the weariness from minds and the warmth of the welcome loosened the bands constricting their hearts. The words loved these magicians who conjured up entire worlds and ecosystems out of thin air; who created glass palaces under aquamarine waters, gritty crime scenes with splattered blood and grime, dingy hallways redolent of the anguish of broken dreams and the smell of defeat, and delved into ordinary lives and extracted moments of exquisite beauty. The magicians used words like the most valuable gold dust.

The mountains were silent witnesses to these words that swirled around as pale wraiths of mist on a foggy morning. The words swarmed over blades of grass, weathered rooftops, pale brown cobblestones and apple trees until a confetti of deconstructed sentences festooned every available surface. They jumped over the valley and bathed in the colour diffused from rainbows. The words never got a moment’s rest; slipping and sliding over tongues and alighting on the curves of ears. Then off they went, perched jauntily on ideas that floated on dust motes. They tumbled madly around Sirius, the resident canine who was an expert at capturing hearts. Adjectives kissed his wet nose and sped away while commas and question marks got entangled in his furry coat. Endearments coyly settled around his neck while Sirius gambolled around in glee.

The words clamoured to be with the disparate creatures who bonded over literary discussions, cigarette smoke and countless cups of tea. Their bloodshot eyes spoke of conversations that ranged far into the night and the delight of finding solace from strangers who became friends for life. Poems were recited under starry skies, stories were read aloud. Thoughts and ideas, though hesitantly aired initially, were soon zinging around on wings of acceptance.

The cold evenings spent around golden flames of the bonfire saw the words battling with glowing embers, the dark velvet of night a silent witness. The embers died down but the words lived on forever.

Soon it was time to leave this idyllic haven and trudge back to reality. They left with heavy hearts, but their minds had found new worlds to explore and new paths to follow. The words left with them, snuggled cosily between the papers of their notebooks.

The Orchard hunkered down with a deep sigh. Soon a heavy blanket of snow would envelop it, refresh its weary soul and leave it fresh for a new batch of wordsmiths.

 

Why I Write

Pic Courtesy: Everwild; Flickr

I write to clear the cobwebs from my brain. I write to inhale the fragrance of half-baked thoughts that come alive on paper. I write to test the limits of sanity. I write to banish insanity. I write to see the loops and swirls that my pen makes on the pristine paper. I write to tell stories. I write to transport myself to distant places, of mango orchards and summer afternoons. I write to dip my hot dusty feet in the crystal clear waters of brooks, and to inhale the intoxicating scent of the blood red roses that grow wild on the hillside.

I write to recall the warmth hidden in those brown eyes.

I write to calm my muddled mind. I write to feel the pain from cramped fingers tightly gripping the pen. I write to form opinions. I write to scatter my thoughts in the wind. I write to laugh at the folly of life, and to weep at the sadness that curls itself around my slowly beating heart. I write to mock my thoughts that presume to a seriousness that aren’t their own. I write to quell the deep sigh that threatens to smother me in its depth. I write to stand on the highest mountain and swoop down on the wings of an eagle.

I write to draw breath.

I write to bring tales from the house with no windows. I write of dragons and sorcerers and the girl with broken spectacles. I write to imitate. I write to flatter. I write to procrastinate. I write to remember.

I write of fear and vengeance, to keep it out of my heart. I write of the innocent laughter of babies, and the hope residing deep in the folds of weather beaten faces, to keep them close to my heart.

I write to forget. I write to drown myself in the sea of aquamarine dreams and slate grey promises. I write to stir my senses like the worst thunderstorm.

I write………

Cauliflowers And Police Stations

I never dreamt that I would ever have to enter a police station in my life, but fate evidently was in a snarky mood when I had that thought, for it immediately decided that I would enter those hallowed premises, not once but thrice. Thankfully it was with regard to a missing document and not due to any overtly violent acts on my part.

Pic Courtesy : Robin Hutton; Flickr

Apparently, when certain types of documents go missing, a police complaint has to be filed. It sounds absurdly simple – just another friendly visit to meet the courageous men and women who keep our streets safe. Great thing to do provided the person does not have an intense fear of policemen. I never thought I was that kind of person. In my mind, I could see myself strolling into a police station, smiling serenely at the occupants, exchanging friendly banter regarding the weather or the law and order situation, getting my work done with a twinkly-eyed smiling officer of the law and walking out after warm goodbyes. When the decision was taken to file a complaint, I was ready for banter and bonhomie. After all there was no crime involved, so I would be in and out in a jiffy.

Note to self: Police personnel are never twinkly-eyed and their default expression is an unsmiling unblinking stare.

That is a good expression for a crocodile sunning itself on the banks of the Nile, but human beings should smile especially when the other person, viz myself, is coming there for the first time and that too with a lot of expectations of good cheer. I realized the absurdity of my expectations within a few nanoseconds of entering the police station. The policemen were scrupulously polite and helpful, but I was petrified beyond all reason. My gracious smile ended up as a cross between a smile and abject fear, which I’m sorry to say, must have been a terrible thing to behold. Thankfully I didn’t have to see my own face. I was also beset by an acute desire to use the washroom. And this seemed to play havoc with my sense of hearing. I’m sure that esteemed gentleman must have wistfully wished for an uncomplicated pickpocket or even a common variety thief, instead of the blithering blob of jelly he had to deal with.

The first two visits were quite short ones and I managed to escape without too much damage to myself or to the policemen on duty. But the third visit was to collect a certificate and when I went there I realized to my utter dismay that I would have to wait for some time. I was cordially ushered into a room and asked to sit. I don’t remember much of my journey from the door of the room to the chair, but an alcoholic octopus would have been steadier than me. Once again I was before an unsmiling policeman who fortunately was engaged in writing in a register. It was just me, the policeman and my completely insane attitude in that room. There were people walking in and out, each busy with their work.

When I’m nervous I either yawn or talk. Since the former was out of the question, I needed to talk. But I didn’t think nonsensical chatter would be well received by the company. Then I had this insane desire to confess all my sins starting from the time I was a toddler and had sent an idly flying from the dining table. That too would not have been welcomed by my uniformed companion. So I desperately tried to think of other things which would ease the constipated look on my face. I thought about books and stories, and that calmed me down a bit until a stray thought flitted into my mind. I had read somewhere that people who tell lies touch their ears while doing so. The policeman chose this moment to complete his writing assignment and engage in some friendly chatter. The utter horror ! I was determined that I wouldn’t touch my ears in case my answers were considered untruthful. It was crazy, but I could feel my ears. I hardly give a second thought to my ears unless somebody is shouting into them. But at that juncture I became aware of these two appendages on either side of my head. I felt them expanding and I just wanted to tweak them and bring them down to normal size. I had to sit on my hands to keep them from zooming in on my ears. After a while, I felt as if I had two cauliflowers hanging from my head.

Note to policemen: Please do not try to engage in casual chitchat when the person before you feels they have vegetables coming out of their heads.

Pic Courtesy: tutincommon; Flickr

Thankfully, within a short time the certificate was ready and I was informed of the same. Just as it was being handed over to me, I wanted to laugh. I could feel a huge guffaw building within, and that was not a good sign. Somehow I managed to ruthlessly suppress it and all that came out was a snort. While the policeman gave me a very bemused look I mumbled a few words of gratitude and shot out of there. The speed of my exit would have made any Olympic medalist envious.

Looking back, an exercise that I never intend to do again, I still can’t fathom what happened to my ears that day. But I cannot look at a cauliflower without thinking of policemen.

Fragrance of a Flower


It’s raining here in Kerala, my favourite time of the year. Yesterday, as I was waiting outside my apartment building, I spotted a flower on the wet ground. It had fallen from the Chembaka tree that stands guard outside our building. On a whim I picked up the flower and felt the waxy petals, soft and curling around the edges. I realized that I hadn’t touched a flower in a very long time. The tiny screen of my phone offers a plethora of images of glossy exotic flowers when required, but the actual sensation of running my fingers over a flower had eluded me. The joy of inhaling the scent of summer afternoons and wet rainy days that flowers hold within them had been missing from my life.

Pic Courtesy:Blake Danger Bentley; Flickr

I love plants and flowers. Unfortunately I’m a very unsuccessful gardener, what with my brown thumbs and propensity for killing houseplants. So I’ve been staying away from flora of any kind, satisfying my inner gardener by draping myself over the balcony railing and gazing down soulfully at my neighbor’s amazing garden. Recently I couldn’t control myself and brought home two hapless plants. I stay as far away from them as possible but still the leaves tremble when I pass by. The thought does pop up in my mind whether the reason is the playful wind or brown-thumbed me.

While my love-story with plants proceeds on its rocky path, my relationship with flowers has been more cordial. It might also be due to the memories associated with the fragrances of different flowers. As I caressed the petals of my fallen flower yesterday, I was overwhelmed by a mélange of precious memories which tumbled out from my room of memories and settled all around me. At that moment I couldn’t savour them as I had to leave. But I gathered them up and shook them out that night while I curled up in bed with the soothing murmur of raindrops keeping me company.

There’s a wealth of possibility in a flower. It’s capable of arousing the most varied emotions in a person, just by being. The scent of tuberoses takes me back to my wedding. I can’t help smiling when I think of my grandmother’s strict instructions not to be too talkative during the ceremony to the bridegroom who had been my best friend for the past two years. Or the part where my father, who was supposed to place my hand in Mr A’s hand, happily took the latter’s hand and placed it in mine. The memories give me a chance to see my father’s hearty smile and feel his presence once again.

The flowers also transport me back to my mother’s puja room where the slightly floral scent of incense together with the dim glow of the oil lamp combined to give an otherworldly feeling. It was the place where my mother communed with Gods who had benevolent eyes and Mona Lisa smiles. No matter the turmoil in my mind, this memory centers me and gives me peace.

Jasmine flowers are largely associated with love and longing, but to me they are symbols of the simplicity of my childhood. We had a jasmine plant at home that was diligently nurtured by our household help, a wonderful lady with the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, even though the plant grew lush and healthy, it did not yield many flowers. But every evening, she would collect a couple of those flowers, which made up for their sparse numbers by their intoxicating scent, place them in a small dish and keep it on our dining table. If the number of flowers increased even marginally, they would be placed in the puja room. Nostalgic memories of a seemingly uncomplicated life.

A fallen flower can also take me to my college days when windy rainy afternoons and overcast skies brought with it a feeling of anticipation and romance. Gusts of wind carrying the fragrance of life and the freshness of rain would sweep flowers off their perches on trees, some to be trampled, others to be blown away and some special ones to be given to dear ones.

These and many more thoughts associated with flowers flit through my mind like a silent film which only I can watch. As I lie in bed cozily wrapped in those warm memories I am lulled into sleep clutching that fallen chembaka flower in my hand.

Custodians of Stories

Pic Courtesy:Easa Shamih; Flickr

There are billions and billions of stories floating around in the world. Then there are those stories which are unique to every family – tales of love transcending time and distance, of sorrow that pervades even the dust motes, bitter enmity, secret loves, not so secret misunderstandings, childhood pranks and improbably hilarious moments involving the most serious members. Every member of the family finds a mention in such stories, from the most introverted to the most ebullient. In fact one of my father’s uncles, who apparently was extremely stern and somber, was the main protagonist in a hysterically funny story involving boats, benches and a displacement from the bench to the earth. Achan’s family abounds with the most fantastic storytellers and the older they are the more descriptive and interesting their stories. The most ear-splitting guffaws and roars of laughter marks any family gathering. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that most of us would win any laughter competition hands down, if it were judged solely on decibel levels. The protagonists of these tales were often the ones who laughed the loudest. This laughter was like miraculous glue which bound us together and celebrated the uniqueness of our family. It was also the scaffolding, which propped us up during innumerable instances of loss and bereavements.

On my mother’s side, the story telling sessions are not so loud but yet retains the magic of a bygone era when my mother and her siblings travelled the length and breadth of Kerala following the dictates of my grandfather’s profession. He was a judge and one of the most learned and benevolent person’s I’ve ever met. The backdrops of these stories were constantly changing, flitting from the vast rubber plantations of Pala to the narrow bylanes of Alappuzha. I’ve often wished to be a part of those uncomplicated times when the evening entertainment involved listening to the Tamil film songs wafting on the air from a nearby theatre. The characters inhabiting these tales were fewer but no less interesting. My mother, being the eldest, featured in most of the stories. One of my favourites has Amma in the lead role, and this happened when she was six or seven years old. Apparently the boundary wall of their house overlooked a steep drop, with the road lying far below. Amma and her sisters were strictly forbidden from climbing or peeping over the wall. One day when my grandfather was returning from work for his lunch, his blood ran cold on seeing the scene before him. My Amma was up on the wall, casually strolling up and down, with a smile on her lips and not a care in the world. He was paralysed with shock for a few moments since any slip on her part could be fatal. Suppressing his anxiety under a warm smile, he slowly approached her murmuring sweet endearments. He was afraid to raise his voice in case she took fright and lost her balance. Amma was quite happy to be the center of attention and she basked in the sweetness of her father’s words. As soon as he got next to her, he slowly reached up and brought her down to the ground. Once she was safe he let loose. There was thunder and lightning and copious tears from the little perpetrator of the crime. Amma still smiles very sheepishly when she recalls the dressing down she got from him. It was so bad that she has never disobeyed him after that.

Unsurprisingly, most of my favourite childhood memories are of family get-togethers. After a huge lunch, all of us would land up in my grandparents’ room. It was a cool spacious room with two big wooden beds set against the walls; wooden windows with pretty flowered curtains, a ‘chaaru kasera’ (reclining chair) and my ammumma’s wooden almirah added to the sublime charm of those sepia toned memories. While appuppan and ammumma relaxed on the beds, my younger uncle who is always the chief narrator sprawled on the cool floor. The aunts leaned back against the beds with their legs stretched out and we kids snuggled up in whatever space we could find. The conversation usually started with a discussion about the meal and what was good or bad about it. This part held no interest for me and I would wait eagerly for the stories to come tumbling out. Thankfully I wouldn’t have to wait long before ammavan gently started on a foray into their childhood. And out would come all the delightful exploits, peopled with endearingly colourful characters. I loved a particular grand-aunt whose sense of humour was fantastic and at the same time slightly weird. She revelled in frightening them with casual suggestions of the spirits of long dead ancestors dropping in for a chat and about the sounds of anklets she had heard one night. We’ve heard these tales countless times and yet each version is received with the same amount of fervor and interest. These anecdotal accounts would continue unabated until ammumma got up to make the evening tea. The aunts would follow her and the rest of us would stretch out, take up all the available space and fondly think about all that we had heard.

Another reason why I’m so attracted to such sessions is the opportunity to meet loved ones who have left us. So many who were such an integral part of my life and whom we lost appear in the stories narrated at family gatherings. The affection and intense love with which they are talked about is more touching than the grandest eulogy.

When I think about all these anecdotes which have been passed down through generations, I’m struck by the fact that not a single one of these instances were ever captured on film or recorded on a device; the sights, smells and the atmosphere of tales from the past were captured by the people who were wholeheartedly involved in those moments. Every single member was immersed in those parcels of time.

The question I keep asking myself today is “Aren’t we losing that essence when we let ourselves be captured by the demands of our phones and cameras ?” Today we are more interested in recording an event on camera rather than living that moment. These countless pictures are stored in yet another device, never to be seen again while we have no idea of whom we met or what we did at an event we attended. Our lives are not going to be blighted if we do not continuously take pictures of a wedding or a family event that we attend. If we step away from our devices, there’s a wonderful world out there waiting to be experienced, and so many opportunities to store beautiful memories in our minds, which can be taken out and relived countless times whenever we wish, and at whatever stage of life we may be at…..

 

Bread and Blyton

I grew up on descriptions of food by Enid Blyton. She mesmerized me with visions of scrumptious scones, huge chocolate cakes, sweet sticky lemonade, farm fresh golden butter and of course the crusty soft slices of beautiful white bread. Even a cold glass of frothy milk was elevated to the status of something heavenly in the pages of her books. I have mournfully worked my way through idly and dosa while reading about delicious marmalade, hard-boiled eggs and toast. Now I wonder whether I was crazy to ignore the delicious fluffy idlis and fragrant sambar and dream about toast. Just goes to show that my current level of madness was honed over many years 🙂

Pic courtesy:Rajesh_India; Flickr
Pic courtesy:Rajesh_India; Flickr

Anyway coming back to the saga of food, another favourite during my childhood was the sandwich. I had given it an aura of greatness partly because we rarely had it at home and partly because of the descriptions given by Enid Blyton (She does have a lot to answer for !) When I read of slices of pink ham placed between thick crusty slices of fresh bread, I was ready to run away from home and stow away on a steamer to London. All these delectable items were available in the country side of England and that was my target. An innate sense of laziness combined with a slight fear of the dark curbed my tendencies to explore the world. And also I was having a lot of fun with friends. The level of deception required to get away from home was totally beyond me. Those were the days when my mother would take one look at me and find out that I had not done my homework, in spite of my attempts at Oscar-award level histrionics. So the question of secretly running away was slightly far-fetched even for my imagination.

Another contributing factor to my love of sandwiches was the lunch brought to school by a classmate when I was in Class 2. She was a very dainty child who brought sandwiches for lunch. Even though I loved food, the top priority during lunch time was to gobble food in record speed and proceed to the playground for playing. As we were cramming food into our mouths, she would carefully open her lunch box and delicately take out a sandwich, which was then artfully consumed. Her sandwiches were always cut into squares and I remember that she had beautiful fingers, with which she elegantly transported the bread to her mouth.

Growing up involved a journey of realization of the actual taste of certain kinds of food. It was with a pang that  I faced up to the fact that hard-boiled eggs have only so much to them. A glass of milk is that and nothing more. Ham sandwiches were really not my cup of tea and don’t even get me started on scones. It was just differently shaped bread ! I apologise to the purists who will be ‘scornfully’ perusing my litany on scones.

However, my love for bread continues with the same intensity, though my favourite still remains the crusty loaves made by local bakeries. I love the rustic feel of the thick slabs of soft bread with a lovely aroma to it. Bread, butter and jam remains my favourite combination. With these kind of tastes, it’s particularly difficult for me when I go to eateries like Subway who insist on tormenting me with choices. I just want a normal sandwich, but nobody is willing to listen. I have to make so many decisions! And after the entire rigmarole of selecting umpteen things for a sandwich, I end up with something which I don’t particularly like !

So now I don’t venture into the realm of niche eateries, preferring to have my own decadent bread-butter-jam at home. Slathering the golden butter on to a soft slice of bread and sealing it with another slice with the barest minimum layer of jam, is my personal route to nirvana. No other flavour of jam is allowed to enter a sandwich than mixed-fruit. I love apple-cinnamon and various other stuff, but there’s nothing like mixed-fruit to enhance the flavor of the sandwich.

Nowadays it’s considered almost blasphemous to consume white bread, and there are a huge variety of artisan breads baked by extremely talented bakers. I too indulge in the different varieties, but my taste buds have been conquered by the mundane flavour of white bread.

I still indulge in a bit of Enid Blyton to catch up on childhood memories. The food descriptions do not affect me as much as it did earlier, but I do feel a bit hungry when there are midnight feasts at Mallory Towers and St Clairs, and the Famous Five tuck into picnic lunches packed lovingly by Aunt Fanny.

The Magic of Typewriters

Pic Courtesy: Dan Wiedbrauk ; Flickr
Pic Courtesy: Dan Wiedbrauk ; Flickr

I have this completely irrational love for typewriters. In spite of never having owned or used one, I’m overcome by the desire to possess one of these machines. I remember people from my parents’ generation lamenting on the kind of mess associated with the typewriter; ink-stains on fingers and clothes and the inability to erase more than a couple of words being just a few. But those very factors increased their attractiveness in my mind during those days. I secretly admired these quirky machines that could create such havoc in the lives of adults. They too had smudged fingers and clothes !

For a few years in my early childhood we stayed in an old house, with big rooms, a tiled roof and a mango tree in the compound. My father’s office was on the top floor and we resided on the ground floor. Not a very conducive environment from a child’s point of view because of the increased number of adults in the vicinity, which certainly was a dampener for pursuits of a mischievous nature. However my brother and I still managed to circumvent this obstacle. I have fond memories of my brother climbing onto the roof of the two-storey building and getting his foot trapped between tiles. Caused quite an uproar but it was well worth it for the absolutely high adventure quotient. I digress. Steering the story back to my typewriter-love, my father’s office was the first place I met this beautiful machine. We were expressly forbidden from going upstairs and causing havoc in that serious environment. Mostly we followed this rule.

However, there were rare occasions when tootling around in familiar environs got boring and I would sneak upstairs . As long as I stayed out of my father’s orbit it was fine. The uncles would spare indulgent glances for us before returning to their work. My favourite was the diminutive Gopi uncle who was the typist. He had twinkling eyes and the most welcoming smile. I remember gazing with rapt attention at his wizardry with the typewriter.

Staccato taps on the keys let loose an army of alphabets onto the paper. Gopi uncle was the brilliant commander who conquered vast swathes of pristine white paper with his alphabet soldiers. They huddled in groups big and small and a few brave soldiers stood alone. The font was so beautiful and each alphabet had a distinct character, with jovial O’s and straight-laced A’s giving each other company.

The entire process, starting with inserting glossy carbon paper between the crisp sheets of white paper, rolling it smartly into the typewriter with just the ends sticking out, the act of typing, the confident whack on the side of the machine to bring the paper back to the right side, all this combined to form a beautifully choreographed routine. He had a small cloth which he used to wipe his fingers from time to time. Those were the days when somebody would convert the head honcho’s words into squiggles of shorthand which was then typed out into language that could be deciphered by mere mortals. And that was another source of astonishment to me. Myriad patterns crammed into tiny pieces of paper was perused by Gopi uncle before he started firing away at the typewriter and churning out torrents of words. How could I not think that he was anything other than a magician !

I’m amazed when I look back now and realize that I never tried my hand at typing, even though Gopi uncle would surely have indulged me if I’d asked.This speaks volumes for the degree of reverence with which I viewed typewriters, since I was a very curious child and believed in poking my nose into everything.

My next tryst with a typewriter happened when my father gifted a Brother typewriter to my older sibling, who had just started out on a career in journalism. It was a very compact model with its own cover and looked quite sleek. But I had already given my heart to Gopi Uncle’s old machine and the new aspirant to that position was not stately enough to take its place. My brother still reminisces fondly about his typewriter.

Now I live in the hope of getting my hands on a working typewriter. I have wonderful plans of typing out my poems and posts on it and getting inducted in the secret society of typists, where ink-stained fingers are viewed as badges of honour. I feel that my words would be infused with the magic that resides in the keys of typewriters, which can be unlocked only by those who love it.

 

Nothing

Pic Courtesy : Gustav Klim
Pic Courtesy : Gustav Klim

Pain,

triumphantly surging

through.

riding the blood red waves

dallying with each nerve ending.

pushing. punishing.

The soft pulsing heart

vulnerable, unprotected

hacked to pieces.

Scythes of anger, neglect and despair

shredding it with deep cuts

that bled love.

The pain sped forward

up into the grey cells

vanquishing every frontier

leaving splashes of grisly matter

churning up memories

corroding the good ones

underscoring the rest.

The battle was lost

she awoke to a new day

with blank eyes and

a wounded mind.

Wiped clean of everything

that mattered

left with nothing

 

 

 

 

I Too Would Have Got A Medal

Pic Courtesy: J Aaron Farr
Pic Courtesy: J Aaron Farr

The number of people falling off their chairs due to excessive displays of hilarity on reading the heading would surely have increased, but I stick strongly to what I say – I too would have bagged an Olympic medal. Of course the next part has to contain an ‘If only’, and I will not disappoint you there. If only the Olympic Committee had decided to include the events in which I had any kind of talent, I would have been strutting around with a Gold medal (behold modesty of gargantuan proportions!)

I was a sporty child; in fact anything that didn’t entail studying was of great interest to me. I indulged in all kinds of sports, played in the unique style that any child from a middle class Indian family in the 70’s and 80’s would identify with. Badminton rackets were initially made of wood and were used more as accessories in a fight with siblings rather than for playing, and of course for vigorous sessions of air-guitar. But soon we graduated to the lighter rackets. Unfortunately the beautiful feathered shuttlecocks were replaced by plastic ones, which were hell to play with. However the nets remained the same, which invariably was the gate of somebody’s house. The only problem was if we got into an argument with the player whose house it happened to be, in which case the chances of losing the net was directly proportional to the intensity of the argument. However, we would not let this tiny technical difficulty affect us in any way and played without a net, but this meant that every second stroke was a smash. So this was used only as a last resort. Gradually I severed my connection with this sport and progressed to Table Tennis.

I remember being quite taken up with this game because of the tiny bats and the white ping-pong balls which reminded me of rasagullas. My older sibling was my coach, a situation very conducive to constant bickering. Our dining table became the TT table and a row of strategically balanced books stretching across the middle formed the net. The only drawback to this arrangement was that we spend more time under the table and in various other nooks and crannies retrieving the ball than in actually playing. But a combination of favourable factors, like rainy days and an enthusiastic brother who was thrilled to trounce me in every game, lead to an extended period of Table tennis. Eventually I got tired of never winning and spending most of the time under tables and other pieces of furniture. Thus my career in Table Tennis was not as magnificient as I envisaged.

But I must say that I participated quite enthusiastically in other games which unfortunately do not seem to have caught the attention of the Olympic Committee. There was this very interesting game called Seven Tiles (For a long time I used to call this Seventees). A rubber ball, seven small flat pieces of stone and two teams with at least 2 players in each one, were all that was required to play. I’ve played this both in school and with my neighbourhood friends and I’ve loved this game no matter the venue. The rules of the game are quite simple; players get grouped into two teams, one group tries to knock down the stack of seven stones by throwing a ball at it, and then try to stack it back and the other team tries to stop the stacking by hitting them with the ball. It does sound a bit violent, but believe me it was the greatest fun. My favourite part was running around in circles shouting manically. While playing with my neighbourhood friends, the noise level was amazing with older boys letting loose bloodcurdling yells. I can easily picture them in pre-historic times hunting down hapless dinosaurs. As for my skills in this particular game, I now realize that they were quite insignificant. Due to my superior aim, I would hit my own team members if I aimed at the opposing team. Even a shot at the stack of stones was fraught with danger – for the other players. Hence my role was largely restricted to running around wildly. And my efforts at evading the ball were also not very successful since I would be beset by deer-in-the-headlight syndrome when someone aimed at me. My brain would be telling me to jump like a swift-footed gazelle while my body decided to take the path of the slowest of sloths. So, on second thoughts I think its good that ‘Seven Tiles’ did not catch the eyes of the Olympic Committee.

But I’m sure that I was quite good at a game we used to play in school, which involved running around a circle of students. The name completely eludes me but I remember deriving an enormous amount of satisfaction from it. This wasn’t a team game; the entire class sat around in a circle and the Catcher had to walk around the circle and drop a handkerchief behind another student and then avoid being caught by the latter. This too had a lot of running around in circles ! I remember that all the students forming the circle had to sing a song which went- ‘I send a letter to my father, On the way I dropped it, Someone came and picked it up and put it in his pocket.’ The word ‘pocket’ was the cue for the Catcher to drop the handkerchief and hightail it. I loved the running part, especially since I could chat to friends in the circle while I was galloping around. I wonder if the Olympic Committee would consider including this highly entertaining game. I’m sure it would foster friendship and camaraderie among the nations of the world. One cannot remain unmoved when one sings of sending letters to family members ! There was yet another game involving handkerchiefs, titled ‘Dog and the Bone’. I’m not a big fan of this since it requires aggression and speed, both of which I lack. So I would definitely not be bringing this up when I meet Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Another favourite of mine was called Chain, and the name is self-explanatory. The Catcher ran around tagging people and each one would then link hands with the Catcher. This is totally my kind of game. It was great fun to be a part of a long meandering line of people holding hands and running. There would be some really competitive souls who made sure that the chain actually moved in the right direction. I remember trotting along contentedly, catching up on news with the girls on either side of me. This definitely has to be on the Olympic Committee’s list.

There were many more delightful games like Lock and Key, Crocodile crocodile can we cross the golden river, and Hopscotch, which I feel, should be actively considered for inclusion. I look forward to the day when my picture too shall be splashed across the front pages of National Dailies, holding hands with my Chain teammates and smiling victoriously. Until then, its back to mom-duties and book-dates 🙂

 

Udta Punjab – A Film Review

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The CBFC’s wrangle with the makers of Udta Punjab was the best thing and the worst thing that could have happened to it. The former because the controversy has built up interest in the movie like nothing else would have, and the latter because the expectations are now sky-high and unfortunately the movie is not able to meet it. I walked out of the theatre with a sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction unfurling within me. It was as if a favourite sports team, which reached the finals after a tough fight, decided to play down their strengths and ended up with a draw. It’s a good film no doubt, with a powerful star cast, but it could have been so much better.

Perennial back-slapping, annoyingly cheerful people, tons of food, huge frothing glasses of lassi, songs at the drop of a hat, garish weddings and equally loud clothes – such is the picture of Punjabis that Bollywood has shown us. Director Abhishek Chaubey shows us a Punjab devoid of all these stereotypes. Dusty villages, people sitting around lethargically with vacant eyes, and a generation succumbing effortlessly to the lure of drugs are some scenes which remain in our minds even after exiting the theater. There certainly are the ubiquitous lush green fields, but the workers are mostly women especially migrant workers from Bihar and other states. The smokescreen that mainstream Bollywood throws on Punjab is removed for a moment and the resultant image is bleak and anguishing.

Udta Punjab is a good film with a strong message. There’re 3 storylines, each approaching the central issue of drugs from different angles. We get a glimpse into the lives of a cop, a doctor who runs a de-addiction center and two end users. Each of them represent the many facets of a menace that is threatening to engulf the state of Punjab. Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) is a corrupt cop who doesn’t mind turning a blind eye to drug smuggling as long as he gets his cut. When his brother is admitted in the de-addiction center run by Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor), she holds up a mirror to the young policeman’s actions and he realizes the far-reaching effects of his apathy. Alongside this narrative runs that of Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) a hugely popular rock star who is not only a junkie but also glamourizes substance abuse through his songs. His brush with the law is the turning point where his life takes a different path. Now we come to the most poignant character, who is an unnamed migrant worker from Bihar, portrayed brilliantly by Alia Bhatt. Once a hockey player who was in the district team, she’s forced to leave home and work in the fields of Punjab due to extreme financial constraints. While Tommy Singh is a druggie by choice, the young girl is forcibly made a slave to drugs in the most heinous way. It’s chilling to see the complete lack of any humane qualities in people whose single point agenda is to amass wealth. Substance abuse in Punjab is shown through the ebb and flow of the lives of the main characters. The film tries to capture the changes that occur in the main characters as they grapple with the shadows that substance abuse throws on their lives.

Shahid Kapur as Tommy Singh has got all the swag, attitude and witty dialogues, but the petite Alia Bhatt with her haunted eyes lingers in our minds long after Kapur’s voice goes silent. The young actress has been able to perfectly slip into the skin of her character like a chameleon. The helplessness, frustration, anger and emptiness of the naïve girl trapped in the clutches of ruthless drug dealers has been portrayed brilliantly by Alia. Diljith Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor do justice to their roles but unfortunately their characters are not fleshed out properly. Abhishek Chaubey, the director, has tried to give a holistic view of the issue by covering it in detail from all viewpoints, but in the process the storyline has lost its richness and depth. He had three amazing storylines and it seems that in trying to give equal importance to all of them he has ended up losing the crux of the plot.

I only wish the director could have avoided the exceedingly incredulous flights of fantasy that he has taken, which has detracted so much from its credibility. The cop and the doctor wandering around unhindered in a warehouse where drugs are stored and the rock star cycling nearly a 100 kms while going through withdrawal were some scenes which were ludicrous to say the least. The songs, composed by Amit Trivedi will not stand the test of time and will soon be forgotten. However, one particular song written by the late Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, called Ikk Kudi stands out for the beauty it holds in its simplicity. That moment, where the rock star sings from his heart for the first time without any screaming fans or cameras, is one of the most enduring scenes of the movie.

Udta Punjab doesn’t tell us anything new about substance abuse, but it tries valiantly to provide a cohesive picture of the problem in Punjab. Unfortunately it doesn’t touch too many chords with the viewer and so remains a good attempt rather than a brilliant film.

 

Ammumma’s Kitchen

Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Nigella Lawson and the popular Masterchef series on television, have been successful in turning the humble kitchen into a glamorous setting. There are so many exotic ingredients being used and such a bewildering array of technical terms being bandied around that a dictionary is turning out to be an essential item to navigate our way in the culinary world. Shiny bell peppers, jaunty jalapenos and cheeky cheeses vie for prime position in today’s kitchens. Glossy cookbooks with cuisines from all over the world smile down loftily from kitchen shelves. There are quite a number of gadgets too, which supposedly do everything other than chew your food for you.

In the midst of all this space age machinery, which definitely has made life easier for women, my mind takes a nostalgic trip to my ammumma’s(grandmother) kitchen which easily remains my favourite. It was a cool airy room with just one wooden cupboard and a couple of shelves. The sunlight slanting in through the glass window above the stove gave a magical hue to the smoke rising from the dishes. I loved poking my head inside the cupboard to inhale the unique fragrance of spices and ammumma’s love. The air was redolent with the intoxicating smell of freshly pounded masalas and whatever delectable concoction she would be cooking that day. The most simple of dishes, like the ‘kayu mezhukkupuratti’ (diced raw banana sautéed in oil with a pinch of turmeric and chilly powder added to it) was elevated to a sublime level of deliciousness when she made it. With one edge of her mundu tucked into her waist ammumma bustled around, haggling with the vegetable seller, belting out instructions to the maid and enquiring about my grandfather’s requirements, along with getting a meal ready.

Festival times would see a bevy of aunts joining her in the kitchen to prepare the Sadya (a traditional feast with a number of dishes, served on plantain leaves), and somehow there was space for everybody. With a ladle in her hand, Ammumma directed operations with seemingly effortless ease. She allocated the work and my aunts would take up their stations to get the noon meal ready. My mom still fondly recalls that the payasam (a kind of sweet porridge-like dessert) was her forte. Preparing this involved standing near the uruli (huge vat) and stirring the concoction for a long time. Usually it’s one of the more boring jobs ever, but in ammumma’s kitchen it was the perfect opportunity to catch up on all the news. As I grew older, I preferred to be in that room with them rather than playing with my cousins. It was so comforting to stay tucked in beside an aunt and listen to the ebb and flow of conversations all around. I could see the invisible ribbons of love weaving through the words swirling around, binding everybody together. I think the women in the family looked forward to this time together, when they could shrug aside the roles of wife and mother for a few hours and become just daughters again. Another attraction of the bustling kitchen was getting my hands on the tiny white slivers of fresh coconut and fried golden brown cashewnuts. Ammumma kept a vigilant eye on the latter, and if she found me reaching out too often, it was deftly removed and placed out of reach.

Ammumma had a strict distinction between the kitchen and the storeroom. Other than masala powders, spices and oil, provisions were not kept in the kitchen. Those were the days of getting everything freshly ground in the mill. There were large canisters of rice flour, wheat flour, rice, sugar and other myriad stuff in the store. Snacks, which were invariably made at home, were kept carefully in a quaint little cupboard with glass doors, called the ‘meatsafe’. I went through my childhood calling it a ‘me-safe’, purely because I didn’t know better. It was only years later, when I read about it in books, did I realize that it had a more dignified name! The storeroom was my hideout in the afternoons since I was always shooed away in the mornings. During ammumma’s nap time I would slowly creep inside that cool room. What fascinated me were all the miscellaneous things in the interiors of the cupboards. I had to be very careful while conducting this operation because some of the provisions like pulses and such were kept in small tin containers, which at one time held Nutramul or some such thing. Those infernal things were quite clamorous if I didn’t handle them carefully.

Bits and pieces of coir, broken shells, discarded tins, old brass vessels and crumbling documents which only looked important, were just a few of the odds and ends I found. But my prime target was my uncle’s stamp collection. He had collected hundreds of stamps from all over the world, which he painstakingly stuck on thick black paper in albums, and my favourites were the triangle-shaped ones. Those stamps introduced me to countries like Espania, Latvia and Lithuania. I have such beautiful memories of sitting in that cool shady room and poring over the tiny colourful pieces of paper which took me all around the world.

Today’s kitchen is undoubtedly designed to ease the work of women and I’m so grateful for all the gadgets. But I sometimes feel that my children are missing out on the fun that I’ve had in my ammumma’s kitchen. Maybe as a person who had to do the cooking I wouldn’t have been comfortable in that kitchen without too many conveniences. However as a child and then as a teen, that was the most magical place for me, where I found comfort and an abundance of love.

Inseparable

I love her. I’ve been with her through thick and thin and all the in-between times too. It was love at first sight for her, but not so much for me. In fact I thought she was too quiet and mousy. I did feel a slight thrill when she zeroed in on me, and came right up to where I was. I resolutely looked the other way, trying to find someone more fun and sporty. But she was determined and I just couldn’t ignore the beautiful glow on her face when she looked at me. We ended up together that day.

Initially she preferred to keep her life separate from me. I did my stuff and she went her way. Those were tough days and I really wondered why we moved in together. I was the outdoorsy kind and she liked to spend more time at home. I didn’t even know what she did for a living since she would disappear after a hasty breakfast of toast and coffee. After staying out the whole day, she would drag herself back home and end up curled on the couch with a book for company. Some days I knew she was feeling lonely, since a strange restlessness seemed to come over her. I started taking her for walks. We pounded the streets and went wherever we felt like; through crowded alleys filled with the sounds and colours of life, on beautifully maintained walkways with gently strolling folks, on the beach with its invigorating smell of salt and distant lands, and finally when we returned disheveled and exhausted she would be smiling again.

Gradually I started to know her better. She had the most awful off-key voice but the gusto with which she belted out songs filled our little apartment with happiness. She hated sentimental movies and scared herself senseless watching horror. I saw my little mouse transforming into a tiger while watching action films; cushions went flying during fights on-screen and a manic glint lit up her eyes. She loved her coffee strong and sweet, but not very hot. Mornings were her favourite time of the day and some days we sat in companionable silence on the balcony –she gazing at the morning sunlight filtering through the leaves and me gazing at her. I had fallen in love with this girl who had a quiet strength, an endearing zest for life and who was a genuinely good person. She didn’t have too many friends, but had a wonderful relationship with her parents and siblings. I loved to listen in on her conversations with them, she visibly seemed to become softer and her spirits were always up afterwards.

One night I saw her sitting up late to catch up on some work and only then realized that she was an illustrator for children’s books. Her fingers created magic on paper, a swirl here and a couple of smudges there and I could see a little boy with dust smeared clothes looking wide–eyed at a fantastical creature hovering in the air. She was totally dedicated to her work and conjuring up fantasy on paper was her passion.

After a year of life together, I became aware of an unhappiness within her. By then we had understood each other well and were well versed in reading the contours of our relationship. Her calls to her parents became sporadic and even when they called I could see the forced cheerfulness on her face. We were together quite a lot during those dark days. She was always on the move, and I’ve never walked so much in my life. A bit strenuous for me but I went along to keep her company.

I remember very clearly the day she took that decision. It was raining and quite windy. I thought she would feel worse with the lack of sunshine and the dark clouds. But it was such a pleasure to see a smile flitting on her face. The dark circles under her eyes seemed to have lessened overnight. I could feel the spring in her step. Armed with a huge umbrella, we set out. We came to a huge old house which seemed to be some kind of establishment. She didn’t want me to go in with her and I stayed outside.

I waited impatiently for what seemed like hours, and when I thought that she had abandoned me, I saw her walk out with a bundle of clothes in her arms and the most amazing smile on her face. All her attention was on what she held, and she even forgot me ! When a smattering of raindrops fell on her two things happened at once; she jumped back with a start, becoming aware of her surroundings, and the most aggrieved wail erupted from the bundle. When she turned back to me, I saw her clasping a tiny infant to her heart, as if it was the most fragile and precious thing in the world.

That was the beginning of the rest of our life together. We have been through sleepless nights and stressful days, but the chortles of laughter and sticky kisses made up for that. I’m still with her and I look forward to seeing  the lil one grow up. I can only hope that she doesn’t discard me when she gets a replacement. After all, shoes are really not that hard to get.

(Memoirs of a Shoe)

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Pic Courtesy : Rita M. ; Flickr

 

Silence

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Pic Courtesy :Margot Trudell; Flickr

Silence,

white as snow,

smothering, featureless

tasting of things forbidden

a heavy sweetness

masking the hidden bitterness

clinging cloying

filling the mouth with

the tartness of

something that could have been.

 

A wail cut off mid-way

a shriek of agony

suppressed for too long

the absence of sound

overwhelming and paralyzing

with the smoothness of silk

and the coarseness

of gunny bags

leaving an imprint

on mind and body.

3 Days 3 Quotes Challenge – Day 3

This time my 3 Days have got stretched out over more than a couple of days ! But it’s such an interesting activity that I didn’t want to leave it unfinished. My earlier two quotes were by the irrepressible Erma Bombeck whose witty take on family and life has seen me through many a time when the blues would descend and smother me.

Another author who makes me laugh out loud is P G Wodehouse . His immortal characters, Bertie Wooster and his valet Mr.Jeeves are two of the most adorable fictional characters I’ve come across. I’ve often wondered about how incredible it would have been if both  the afore-mentioned gentlemen were to end up as my neighbours. The fact that they were the creations of Mr Wodehouse’s extremely vivid imagination didn’t faze me at all. Regular readers of P G Wodehouse will be familiar with the formidable aunts of Bertie Wooster, whom he is mortally scared of. Today’s quote is by one of these admirable ladies, Aunt Dahlia, who incidentally is not the scariest of the lot .

I never cease to marvel at Mr Wodehouse’s command over the language and the imagery he conjures up with mere words.

It-isnt-often-that-Aunt

 

 

3 Days 3Quotes Challenge – Day 2

I’ve been slightly tardy about the 3 day part of the Challenge, but since the blogosphere is quite forgiving in that aspect, I decided to chug along with the rest of my quotes. This time I’m completely taken up by Erma Bombeck and there’s none like her when it comes to seeing the lighter side of parenting.  I too am a firm believer in the restorative powers of humour. There’ve been so many moments when I’ve felt that the alternatives were either strangling somebody or laughing at the situation. And a good guffaw is almost like a full-throated war cry ; it helps to let out all that pent-up frustration 🙂

When my children were much smaller I have often felt the need for a time-out, more for myself than for them. Even today when both of them are teens, there are times when I feel like blowing a whistle like a referee and sending one of them away with a red card ! Emma has once again summed up the situation with her inimitable sense of humour.

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I couldn’t have put it better 🙂

Now comes the part where I nominate 3 bloggers

  1. Daily Luge – Varnam Gump (visit her blog to find out how she came up with this unique name!) is another blogger who has become a friend. We share the same sense of humour and she’s another Erma Bombeck fan. I love Varnam’s poems. She also writes about different aspects of daily living in her blog.
  2. Dreamz and Clouds–  A blogger who is very close to my heart. She writes mainly about books, about her experiences as a gardener and also the incidents in her life. I love to meander through her blog. It feels quite cosy and comfortable.
  3. Wanton Ruminating – Malvika Jaswal’s blog is about books and her art work. She works her way through books at a gallop and leaves me dumb-founded by the amount of reading she gets done ! The fact that she’s also a very talented painter is an added attraction.

 

3 Days, 3 Quotes Challenge – Erma Bombeck

The 3 Quotes, 3 Days Challenge has come to my doorstep again or should I say blog-step ? 🙂  This was a task which I thoroughly enjoyed, mainly because it legitimised a favourite activity, viz reading innumerable quotes when I should be doing something more useful yet infinitely boring, like organising my desk. So a big Thank you to CWFM for sending this Challenge my way 🙂

As usual I spend a week reading quotes and each one seemed more interesting than the other. Then I decided to choose something deep and philosophical. But today when I at last got down to penning the quote, a picture of Erma Bombeck caught my eye and I gleefully got side tracked. She’s one of my favourite writers and I don’t think anyone can beat her unique take on life. She writes with a breezy irreverence which lifts my heart and makes me grin. I also find myself nodding my head in agreement to most of what she says. Isn’t it amazing that there are some issues, seemingly trivial, which cuts across all barriers of country, language, colour and creed ?

The quote I’ve chosen today is something I have experienced countless times and still do. Just yesterday I went into the store for potatoes and came out with two bags full of stuff !

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A part of the Challenge is to nominate 3 bloggers to carry this forward.

  1. Where’s my backpack ?Ailsa has travelled all around the world and done the most marvellous things which include getting lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and having  her ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall ! Her blog posts are interesting and full of life,  and it will make you want to take out your travel bags.
  2. From the Seasonally Occupied Territories... –  Susannah is a very dear blogger-friend who writes about life in Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve read about Martha’s Vineyard in many books and it’s fascinating to get an up-close view of life as it is lived there.
  3. Scattered Thoughts – Maniparna has an eclectic collection of stuff on her blog. From Haikus to Book reviews to walks down memory lane, she touches on varied subjects which adds a lot of colour and life to her blog.

From Madonna to Medusa – A Tressful Tale

(To all my family and friends who are rolling around laughing at the image of me as a Madonna, I admit that it is the mother of all exaggerations when that word is applied to me. My only defence is that I didn’t get anything else to rhyme with Medusa 🙂  And the Glass Bangle is ready to wind itself round my neck and strangle me for not giving it any fresh fodder. I have been neglecting this poor blog for some time and now it’s time to redress that grievance.)

Pic Courtesy : Miss MIshee
Pic Courtesy : Miss MIshee

My hair has been the target of much experimentation on my part and it has behaved admirably for one that has been subjected to all kinds of torture. In fact I remember the time in college when my closest friend offered to cut it short for me and I happily agreed, in spite of said friend not having cut anything in her life. I directed her to trim an inch of hair and I had visions of my hair swinging across my shoulders like a smooth silken waterfall. However she went slightly overboard in her enthusiasm, and as a result I ended up looking like a cross between a newly shorn lamb and an escaped convict.

That’s a memory which still has me waking up in a cold sweat ! So coming to the latest adventure with my tresses, the only good part is, this time I was not at fault. I have been remarkably restrained in any venture involving my hair and as a result the poor thing was lulled into a state of complacency. I have been noticing silver strands weaving through the black, and there was even one particularly annoying one which sprouted right in the middle of my head. The offending strand had a strange tendency to stand straight up as if it was an energetic Can-Can dancer, bobbing up and down for good measure. I ignored it at first, but one fine day I realized that there was practically a whole team of them prancing around. And to add to my distress, once when I happened to look in a mirror, I saw an elderly lady looking at me. I smiled politely for a moment before realizing that it was my reflection ! I had to eat a dozen chocolates to recover from this shock.

So I decided to begin Operation HairColour. Tons of friends were already engaged in this activity and I took encouragement from how beautiful their tresses looked. Without much delay I trotted off to a beauty salon and set about explaining how it was my first time and hence my reason for coming to that parlour. I was quaking slightly thinking of the cost which was considerable more than the other places around. But I consoled myself thinking of the beautiful-me waiting to emerge from behind all the silver strands.

I was whisked away by two efficient looking youngsters and placed on a chair, where they proceeded to truss up my hair in aluminium foil. After some time they completed the process and trundled off telling me to relax. I sank back into the chair weaving wonderful dreams of sashaying into my house with the afore-mentioned silky waterfall for company. I must have dozed off because I was gently shaken awake and after various operations involving hair, water and blow dryers my hair was declared coloured. It indeed looked lovely and I must say that a lot of sashaying and preening in front of any available mirrored surface happened that day.

Two days later, I washed my hair at home. It was ok in the beginning, but as my hair started drying, it seemed to take on a life of its own. I was reminded of levitating sadhus due to the tendency shown by the strands to slowly rise. Since I was reading an extremely interesting book, I didn’t pay too much attention. After some time I got up to get myself a cup of coffee and as had become my habit glanced expectantly at the mirror. But this time I froze in shock and my heart almost levitated out of my mouth. It looked like I had stuck my fingers into an extremely high-voltage electric socket ! My beautiful silky waterfall had transformed into Medusa’s snakes. To call them frizzy would be an understatement. The texture too had changed to that of an extremely coarse coir mat. I walked around like a shell-shocked victim for the next couple of days. I kept my hair tied up at all times until I started getting a headache. I tried all sorts of remedies but I was destined to carry on Medusa’s legacy for some more time.

It has been nearly 6 months after that fiasco, and after a shower I still look like Medusa. But I have learnt to ruthlessly discipline my tresses with copious amounts of serum and oil and anything else I can lay my hands on. It is a continuous battle between us and the winning ratio is evenly balanced as of now. I live in the hope that my hair will grow back to its earlier state and I shall once more sashay.

Room of Memories

As another year dawns, it’s not only an opportunity for new beginnings, but also a time to stop for a moment and take stock of what has happened so far. My glance into the past does not involve a stroll down the proverbial memory lane, but it is more like stepping into my memory room. A safe place where all my memories are stored carefully, stacked in polished wooden boxes, some of which have dulled to a soft brown due to the passage of time. In fact the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts Castle (Harry Potter) reminds me of my Room of Memories. It’s always there, but only I have entry to it. Shelves border the room, rising  up to the ceiling, which remains unseen somewhere high above, obscured by the shifting fogs of time. The more recent memories are casually stashed in the lower shelves while the older ones reside above.

Pic COurtesy: Georgios Karamanis; flickr
Pic COurtesy: Georgios Karamanis; flickr

There’s a squishy armchair in a corner of the room, with a lamp throwing a warm glow beside it. The carpet has been worn bare due to my countless visits over the years, hurried ones as well as those where I spend ages just savouring the familiar scents from long forgotten scenes of my life, tinted in sepia and teeming with emotions. In here, the seasons, days and nights are determined by the memories. I have felt the wetness of  rain on my cheeks while it was sweltering hot outside; the winds of childhood summers have run their fingers consolingly over my hair while Sunday evening blues descended on me; I have found solace in the velvety darkness of my grandmother’s room while the sun blazed down mercilessly outside.

I love curling up in my armchair and just looking around at the boxes, each of them an integral part of my life so far. I have flung some boxes into the highest recesses, not wanting to see them at all. But there are certain moments when they come to the forefront of t and then I quickly exit the room. If I happen to delve further into those boxes, a deep pall of gloom settles over me and I’m left with tinges of bitterness swirling in my mind. On the contrary, there are those boxes that come tumbling down without much effort from my part. They lead me on a happy journey, with lots of laughter, the presence of loved ones, amazing conversations, shared meals and a general sense of belonging. I come away from such jaunts feeling relaxed and thoroughly refreshed.

At times while I lounge around in the armchair not looking for any box in particular, flashes of colour or the faint strains of a long-forgotten song draw me to some boxes which have remained unnoticed for a long time. And then it’s such a delight to open it and find so many precious memories that have been stored carefully but which have never been taken out and relished. Many a time, I have started with a box, the contents of which led me to other boxes, peopled with different characters and in different locations. By the time I have to leave, I find myself in an entirely separate landscape from the one where I began.

There’re so many keys which open this room for me – a familiar scent from my childhood like Cinthol soap or Cuticura powder, a particular fish curry which has the absolute same balance of flavours as the one I’ve eaten in my grandmother’s kitchen, a glimpse of a visage I see on the street which has me breathless for a moment because it reminds me of a loved one who is no more – all these and more open the doors of that beautiful room. At times, even without realising it, I find myself in the armchair with the contents of a box spilling onto my lap.

Each of us have our own method of storing those magical moments which have enriched our lives and taught us many a thing about life, both good and the not-so-good lessons. There’re times when I suddenly realise that the people I have left behind in that room are no longer with me. Just as a feeling of sadness rises within, the thought of visiting them in my Room of Memories makes me feel glad again. They have had various reasons to go their separate ways, and there’s no point in brooding over it. Life is a vehicle where we have very little control over the people who travel with us or the distance they accompany us. So enjoy their presence while they are with us and then visit them in our memories when they are no longer by our side.

 

Resolutions 2016

My resolutions in the previous year were on slightly serious issues. This year I have decided to stick close to home and bring some order into my life. These resolutions have been taken after a lot of thought and consideration. (The one regarding cockroaches is of crucial importance since it can contribute significantly to my mental peace and sanity.) Here goes.

Pic Courtesy: Marwa Morgan; Flickr
Pic Courtesy: Marwa Morgan; Flickr

Resolutions 2016

  • Try not to sing while walking on the road. It makes people uneasy. Uneasy people stare. People who stare in turn make me uneasy. Hence.
  • Treat Coffee with the utmost respect. It’s the only thing keeping me upright early in the morning.
  • Try harder to convince self that Vegetables are friends. Do not treat them like carriers of Bubonic plague who have to be avoided at all costs.
  • As a corollary to the previous observation, – potato is not exactly the only inhabitant of the Vegetable kingdom. Look around and get acquainted with the other guys too.
  • Adopting a horizontal position and thinking of going for a walk cannot be considered as any kind of exercise. So, get out of the house, put one foot in front of the other and cover a distance from Point A to Point B. Do not forget to get back to Point A.
  • Be more creative while coming up with excuses not to go for a walk.
  • People who do not use book-marks are not criminals. Stop glaring at them. Lecturing them further might result in acts of violence against myself. So desist.
  • Eating chocolates in stealth mode to avoid detection by the rest of the family is a wise course of action. However in future, when family members, especially suspicious offspring, make a sudden entrance into the kitchen, remember to extricate head from within the refrigerator before hastily closing the door.
  • While offspring are around, try to read the headlines in the newspaper, instead of heading straight for the cartoon strip. Do not worry about hurting the feelings of Hagar the Horrible. He will wait, but gimlet-eyed offspring will not hesitate to enquire in very loud tones why mom is reading only the cartoon strip. To be avoided at all costs!
  • While new dresses are being tried on in Trial rooms, do not get too ambitious. Clothes are vicious creatures that can smell your desperation. They seem to become tighter after being worn, rendering it an almost impossible feat to get out of. Children or friends should be kept on stand-by for rescue operations if such calisthenics are undertaken.
  • Cockroaches are multiple times smaller than human beings. Recite this daily a couple of dozen times. This might help to combat the complete madness that happens when confronted by a member of this species. Create a foolproof escape plan for such occasions. Jumping all around the creature and shouting at the top of my voice only results in maniacal laughter by the entire family and a bemused shrug from the cockroach.

From past experience, I have come to the comforting conclusion that Resolutions are quite gentle-hearted and do not mind being shunted to the next year. Point  to be kept in mind while communing with cockroaches !

India

I have started a blog with Mr A called Shutter N Quill. We are aiming to merge his interest in photography with my love for words. I’ve been wanting to reblog one of our posts on The Glass Bangle, but somehow it was not happening. Today I got an image which completely took my breath away. A craggy, weatherbeaten face from which I just couldn’t take my eyes away. I’m afraid that my words can never do justice to this face. And there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is what I wanted to share here.

Featured Image -- 1773

Memories and Madness

 

Pic Courtesy:Rodrigo Paredes; Flickr
Pic Courtesy:Rodrigo Paredes; Flickr

Was that the sound of a

heart splintering

I wonder.

It must have broken into

a million shards.

Each one a repository

of memories and madness.

 

 

Of the blanket of moonlight

he covered her with one night

Of the wetness of her tears

that fell on his eyes

Of shared cups of coffee

and cigarette smoke that caressed her cheeks

Of the soothing music of the rain

that echoed in his heartbeat

Of glances that spoke

of anguish and acceptance

Of scribbled messages in black ink

that tethered them together

Of a wet footprint on the floor

that she stood in one day

Of the outline of red lips

etched on a white shirt

Of the fragrance of jasmine

as it lay crushed beneath them

Of harsh voices and fervent whispers

that were stronger than promises

 

Of moments and minutes

and eons and ages

that scattered in the wind.

And all that remains is

whorls of cigarette smoke

and the scent of jasmine.

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Gifts

It was my birthday a couple of months back, and to my utter delight I received two gifts that were the most perfect I could ever hope to get. One was from my teen and the other from my 12 yr old.

Pic Courtesy:madelinetosh; flickr
Pic Courtesy:madelinetosh; flickr

My teenager gave me a letter that moved me to tears, although I valiantly held them back rather than embarrass the life out of the poor child. The contents shall remain strictly between us, but suffice to say that I have a new found respect for her, combined with a feeling of wonder that all those advice and lectures that I’ve been delivering over the years have not fallen on deaf ears after all. It’s quite an emotional moment when we realize that the babies whose hands we held constantly lest they fall, have now grown wings and are soaring into the sky. I realized that in the blink of an eye my lil scruffy moppet has become a young person who thinks so profoundly and with such clarity. But before I could get completely maudlin and sentimental, she brought me back to earth, by climbing onto my lap and almost strangling me to death in her efforts to cuddle up !

Before moving onto my lil one’s gift, I need to provide some crucial background info or as they say in Bollywood movies, it’s time for a flashback. Here goes.

Three years ago, I had written about my efforts to get my younger daughter to read books. She was 9 at the time and the only books she read were Archie comics and Tinkle, and that too not very assiduously. Mr.A, my teen and I are ardent readers and we like nothing better than to bury our noses in books and not surface for ages. So imagine my dismay when the lil one showed a marked tendency to stay away from words. She is the resident wraith of our abode, lost in her own world and quite content to be by herself and her thoughts.

Due to a massive dose of guilt, I had tried my best to lure her into my world. Unfortunately the wraith proved too elusive and always managed to slip from my grasp. At first I tried gently pointing her towards books that I thought she would enjoy. When the gentleness didn’t work out as well as I wanted it to, I changed my tactics and bought glossy books to entice her. To my consternation, I realised that I was the one who ended up reading them with gusto, while she would be engrossed in creating complicated things with gum and wire and twine and things that are usually found in birds’ nests. And some days she did remind me of a lil owl, happily ensconced in the midst of innumerable items of what I can only politely label as ‘Junk’.

But I wasn’t ready to be beaten by a little owl! After long and careful consideration, I craftily formulated a strategy to take the words to my child. I embarked on a ‘Read-Aloud’ campaign, starting with bed-time stories, and what better tales than the ones from our rich mythology. So with a lot of anticipation I acquired C Rajagopalachari’s Ramayana and Mahabharata. I’ve golden memories of reading these two books as a child and getting lost in the world of kings and queens and battles. I preferred the colourful, varied canvas of The Mahabharata to the slightly tamer world of Lord Rama. So, naturally I began our story telling sessions with The Mahabharata and both the children and I had a tremendous amount of fun with those stories. Unfortunately, the strategy failed miserably on different counts. On one hand, the stories were so adventurous and fun that the kids lost all traces of sleep after listening to them, and on the other hand, my lil owl decided that she preferred listening to stories rather than reading them.

Anyway, after my daughter effortlessly quashed all my brilliant strategizing, I fell back on the last resort, and that was to leave her alone. And as any self-respecting parent will tell you, this particular line of action somehow seems to work, but only if used as a last resort ! So the owl tentatively started digging into books and I took great care to ensure that I didn’t even look her away while she was thus engaged, lest I scare her away. Over the years, she got more interested in reading, though not as much as I would have liked her to. Being a true-blue Taurean, she would patiently listen to my ramblings on reading and children’s books, and then quietly proceed to do what she was planning to do anyway. A recent sighting of Harry Potter in her hands gave me much cause for jubilation, though I managed to restrict myself to a grin rather than the full-blown war cry that was gathering momentum within me.

Keeping all this in mind, imagine my utter shock when my lil one wrote a poem for me as a b’day gift ! It was titled ‘Mom’ and starts like this –

‘When the new born baby cries all day

The mom prays “Please keep her safe

From all the devils that want to prey

On the beautiful baby today”

That’s what my mom would say.’

 It further goes on to explain all that a mother does as seen from the eyes of a child. This poem categorically put an end to all my efforts to bring my lil one and books together. I realized that only somebody who is at home with words would attempt a poem. It was quite a thrilling moment for me, one that I will treasure forever.

Now she seems to be catching up on lost time. Currently she’s immersed in The Hunger Games and quite caught up in the deeds of Katniss Everdeen. I’m sure I’ll be hearing a lot of Katniss in the coming days. Yesterday I saw the lil one gulping down water, and for a moment I was quite happy that I didn’t have to badger her to do that as I usually do. After finishing half the bottle, she looks over at my goggly eyed expression and declared that she was dehydrated. That’s not all, she turned back after a taking a couple of steps to her room and proclaimed “Katniss also drinks a lot of water when she gets dehydrated.”

I only hope I don’t have to start wearing protective gear when Katniss takes part in combat !

 

 

 

 

Listen to the Voices

I would like to clarify that I do not have any leanings to any political party be it the Right, the Left or the Centre. I’m just an Indian citizen who has believed in the strength of our country to remain unified against all threats; battered maybe and bruised definitely, but my India has always stood with head held high, reflecting the dreams and beliefs of millions of us Indians. So when I see a subtle yet persistent effort to undermine that Unity, I feel quite anguished and at the same time threatened.

It’s definitely a sign of impending darkness when thinkers, writers, poets, artists and film makers are targeted. They’re the people who can call attention both on the national and international arenas to troubling issues affecting our society. So when efforts to discredit them and mute their voices are gaining strength, it does not bode well for our country. The awards might have been bestowed by a particular party in power at that time, but once it is given, then it becomes a symbol of recognition by the State. So the action of returning the awards should be seen as a form of protest against the policies of the State.

There’s a subtle yet spreading attempt to portray the movement of returning awards as an issue of ‘them’ against ‘us’- intellectuals and thinkers against the common man. We seem to be forgetting that they too are a part of this society. So when they express concern over a particular issue, in this case the growing intolerance in the country towards any thought process which goes against that of the establishment, we owe them at least a patient hearing, instead of heaping ridicule on them.

The question we should be asking ourselves is not whether the awardees should return the awards or not, but what has prompted them to do so. Unfortunately, the focus has shifted from the reason for their protest to the form of protest they have chosen. As a thriving democracy, we have always been open to healthy forms of dissent. We, who wait patiently by the road side for hours so that processions and marches of political parties can pass by, are not willing to give a patient hearing to the thinkers of our country who are engaging in one of the most peaceful forms of protest that I’ve witnessed.

It is true that they do not become better citizens of the country or even better human beings merely  by being recipients of the highest honours bestowed in their particular fields. But they are undoubtedly people whose voices reach further. We have all appreciated their works at one time or another. I do not have any awards to return, but that doesn’t mean that I blindly criticize the people doing so. My contribution can be to pay attention to what they are saying, form an informed opinion, and not get carried away by a misplaced sense of indignation.

It’s alarming that thinkers and thought leaders are being systematically discredited. History has shown us that a common factor of all autocracies has been the targeted annihilation of intellectuals, a case in point being the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. On a trip to that beautiful country, our guide told us stories of how people wearing spectacles were especially chosen for extermination since they were thought to be intellectuals, who were considered the worst enemies of the State.

A couple of days back I was discussing with my mother about the beautiful diversity that is so unique to India. We have so many differences and yet we are so proud to be a part of this amazing country. We don’t even understand each other’s languages, but the language of love, respect and tolerance has bonded us together against the worst odds. The only factor that cuts across all our differences, other than our national identity, is that of religion. While our national identity unifies us, religion will only tear apart the fabric of harmony that we have so painstakingly created over the years.

My appeal is to consider ourselves as Indians first, and then as members of a particular religion or community. Let’s be aware of what is happening around us and let’s not give in to divisive forces. If today, a particular form of dissent is being ridiculed, tomorrow it will be our freedom of expressing dissent that will be extinguished.

I strongly believe in the power of the individual. If each one of us loves and respects our fellow human beings and also teach our children the language of tolerance and love, we can definitely make India a better and safer place for our future generations.

Pic Courtesy:runran; Flickr
Pic Courtesy:runran; Flickr

 

 

 

Broken

Her eyes looked blankly at the world

Pic Courtesy: Cougar Sangria; Flickr
Pic Courtesy: Cougar Sangria; Flickr

the matted hair told a story of despair

Her cracked and mud-caked feet

Searched in vain for the way home.

 

Her mind loved to wander,

and always ended up in her mother’s room

Her nose twitched to inhale

the comforting scent of perfumes and silks.

 

Her mouth puckered in memory of

the sweet tartness of tamarind

Stored in huge white ceramic pots

in the coolness of dark cellars.

 

Her body cringed in horror

at the thought of that darkness

Her body and soul stripped bare

and trampled into the damp earth.

 

Her breath came in broken gasps

when her memories remorselessly took her

Back to those horrifying days of

feral whispers and greedy hands.

 

She quickly grabbed her mind

she hated it and its eagerness

To travel into a past of sunlight

and unbearable darkness of the soul.

 

She crumpled it and beat it down

and retreated quickly

Behind her wall of insanity,

the only way she could escape.

Mom Thoughts

I’m a mother, and that has become a label that somehow overshadows and obliterates everything else I am. My personality has been completely folded up and fitted into a box labeled ‘Mom’. My kids I’m sure see me as a cross between a meddling dinosaur and a crazy ostrich. Meddling Dinosaur, because even though my ideas and tastes seem to be getting outdated at an alarming speed, I insist on giving them life lessons; an ostrich because I seem to be running behind them squawking all the time. The beady eyes fixed on them just strengthens this opinion!

Spouses and progeny have this extremely irritating habit of creating vexing situations and then looking at me wide-eyed like innocent little sparrows when I erupt. The resultant tears and protestations of innocence has me feeling guilty until I suddenly realise that I am the wronged party here ! Hey ! I should be throwing tantrums and sulking ! But I’m a Mom, and I’m supposed to be right next to Gandhiji when it comes to displaying forbearance and restraint under extremely trying circumstances. Moms are strange creatures from an alien culture who children undoubtedly love, but stay slightly wary of. Popular culture wants to project Moms as hapless yet eternally smiling creatures who are always on the lookout for an opportunity to express their willingness to jump off a cliff for their offspring – ok, if not a cliff at the very least give up food and sleep so that the child can develop into a world-class brat. Well it’s a given that if you forsake everything for your children, they never value you and you’ll end up with a thoughtless offspring who should have been given a swift kick in the nether regions at certain crucial junctures in life.

So, I would like to throw some light on the wild side of Moms. We do have others aspects to our personality than acting as safety nets for our children. We have weird thoughts galloping through our minds; we love running in the rain, squealing with joy along with girlfriends for the silliest of reasons, climbing trees, licking melted ice-cream off our wrists, racing the car against a young whelp riding a bike and fist pumping the air on getting  ahead of him, going all misty eyed and slack-jawed on seeing a favourite actor, we do all that and more. So here are a few of the wild thoughts that I get which do not necessarily reflect favourably on my Mom avatar. But I feel that a Mother with a wild side is definitely an interesting and fun person to be with 🙂

Courtesy : Bloody Marty Mix
Courtesy : Bloody Marty Mix

I too want to throw stuff ! – I’ve waxed eloquent to my children on social niceties and proper behavior. One of the big no-nos was throwing things and slamming doors when in a temper. The poor things have been quite diligent in following this rule and I really cannot remember too many instances where I’ve had to castigate them on this account. However, I find that I tend to get this strong urge to behave like an Olympic discus thrower. In times of utmost frustration, I find my hands inching towards the nearest solid object with the prime purpose of hurling it with as much force as I can. The only thing stopping me is the memory of one instance when I actually let my inner discus thrower run amok. My daughter was a toddler and I’d had a harrowing day where nothing went right. (Moms, I can see that knowing smile of ‘we’ve been there’ on your faces! ) I was standing on the balcony, quietly bemoaning my fate and fuming at the world in general. The last straw was when Mr.A asked an innocuous question which just made me see red. Without a second thought I grabbed the nearest object and hurled it into the universe with all my pent-up emotions bursting forth. It was a Barbie doll and the blighted thing went only as far as the car park and somehow managed to  land on our car and to my utter horror created a tiny dent on the otherwise unmarred roof. To compound my agony, Mr.A came on to the balcony at that very instant to offer clarifications on whatever he was saying. I could only look wildly from the dented car to his face. I think he must have realized that his wife was just a word away from a total breakdown. He quietly stood there for some time looking quite sadly at the car and then at his wife practically frothing at the mouth and wisely withdrew from the scene. But I must say that it was hugely satisfying to let go ! My two takeaways from this incident were a new-found respect for Barbies and a note to myself to never stand on a balcony when I get angry. And of course never to throw stuff, although I often fantasise about it.

I too would love that !- Have you seen all the amazing things that are available nowadays in toy stores and book stores ? When I take the kids to such places, I indulge myself. But when we have the respective grand mothers or uncles and aunts along, I have to keep my inner greedy self under tight control. The most difficult part is when the loving aunt or uncle asks me whether I want anything. I can almost feel my tongue curling to form a Yes, but with superhuman effort I push it back to form a meek No. It’s not that they will object to anything I pick, but I don’t want to shock the gentle folk by picking a glittery hoola hoop or a game like Hungry Hippos. I do try to nudge my off spring in the direction of whatever I want but they somehow manage to evade my machinations !

I know ! – It’s a universally accepted fact that the single category which receives the maximum amount of advice, is that of Moms. Pregnant women do come a close second but Mothers win this hands down. Everybody, from well-meaning aunts and uncles, to the vegetable seller, to co-passengers in whatever mode of public transport you travel in will give you their opinion on different aspects of motherhood. I’m sure if given a chance even the migratory swallow will chip in with its two bits. I remember once when after a sleepless night which had been made infinitely worse by the spouse’s snore, I resorted to the time-tested tactic of depositing my toddler in front of the television, so that I could drag my zombie self to give the younger one a bath. At that time the friendly aunty who dropped in for a visit tells me that watching too much TV is bad for the child. How I would have loved to yell Time –Out and tell the well-meaning well-wisher what I’d really like to do with that piece of advice which I know and which has been drilled into my head by countless well wishers. The only factor that held me back was the genuine concern shown by the other person. Today even when I’m the mother of a teenager, I get unsolicited opinions on my daughter’s academic choices. Now I find it quite hilarious since I’ve developed this habit of making up the most absurd answers possible – in my mind of course 🙂

These were just the thoughts which occur at regular intervals in my mind. Then there’re those once-in-a-while kind of thoughts like

  • I want the last piece of cake !
  • Can I not be the adult around for once ?’
  • I want to sleep for 5 more mins
  • Serves you right for irritating your sister !
  • It’s my ice cream and I don’t want to share
  • I hate this vegetable and I don’t want to eat it

In the interests of maintaining domestic peace I think I better not divulge any more thoughts or they will be used against me in times of duress. I’m sure there are many Moms who have even more wilder thoughts and I’d like to say how much I love you ladies. We might be Moms but we are crazy, zany and wacky and we make life infinitely more interesting and fun for ourselves 🙂

 

Crimson

He was a poet, dabbling

Pic COurtesy:MAte Marschalko; Flickr
Pic COurtesy:MAte Marschalko; Flickr

in words and quicksilver thoughts

They spoke to him

about silences and dreams in black and white

about unicorns and blood-red wine

and sharp shards of glass

 

She was a book

languishing on his desk, littered

with all he held dear

crumpled promises and whispered sighs

bittersweet memories of silken hair

fractured smiles and drained emotions

 

He wanted to fill her

with words etched in gilt and gold

he yearned to write about a

breathtaking smile that threatened

to cut his heart to shreds

leaving stains of rust and blood.

 

She waited with bated breath

hungering for his thoughts.

his blood crept onto the paper

the crimson bands on his wrists

brought salvation and redemption

embracing her finally.

The Impossible Bucket List

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Pic Courtesy:JERRY : Flickr

The memories of childhood have always been a refuge for me in any storm that I faced in life. So many beautiful experiences, all of which have been woven with threads of jewel bright colours and flashes of laughter. A recent conversation made me realize that my Bucket List doesn’t have any bungee jumping or hot air balloon rides in it. Mine would involve going back and experiencing those moments from my childhood again. Those wonderful instances when I felt cherished and the world seemed to be in love with me. Once more I want to relive those tiny parcels of time. Just once more…

  • Once more, I long to inhale the sun-dried fragrance of my Ammumma’s (grandmom) spotless white mundu while snuggling up to her on hot drowsy afternoons.
  • Once more I would love to sit in the shade, while Ammumma spooned out batter for sun-dried ‘vattals’ on to a sheet laid out in the sun. The gummy smell of the batter, ammumma’s conversations and the bright blue of the sky have remained indelibly linked with the pleasures of childhood in my mind.
  • Once more I crave the exhilaration that came from being on a swing, which my cousin brothers used to push so high that I felt like I was flying into the sky.
  • Once more I just want to go back to the old kirana shop near my house and deeply inhale the heady scents of spices, masalas, gunny sacks and agarbattis. I was totally in awe of the owner, who sat perched behind huge sacks of rice and glass bottles which contained sweets and peanut candy. I thought he had the most interesting job in the world, a keeper of a treasure trove.
  • Once more I’d love to lie down on the terrace of my house, looking up at the night sky and dreaming on the stars, while the comforting smell of dinner being prepared wafted up on the air.
  • Once more I wish I could dig into hot fragrant samosas in a gali in Delhi with my only worry being unfinished homework.
  • Once more I feel like reading a novel in class, hidden under my textbook, with the drone of the teacher providing a soporific background score
  • Once more I would love to watch the moon following our car as if it wanted to see us home safe. The quiet murmur of my parents’ voices from the front seats soothed me while the moon comforted me.
  • Once more, I want to sit in my tuition class, staring blankly at the teacher and thinking longingly of the Sunday breakfast which awaited me – hot fluffy appams and fragrant chicken stew.
  • Once more I want to jostle for space with my cousins while getting ready for bed at my uncle’s house, where all of us used to land up for vacations. We had to sleep in the huge hall and since pillows were scarce, we would wait for somebody to fall asleep in order to appropriate their pillow. The jokes and banter, and the sense of belonging we used to get there gives a silken feel to my memories of those days
  • Once more I’d like to go foraging for midnight snacks in my uncle’s house along with my cousin sister, after marathon chat sessions. The memory of waking up my poor aunt from a deep sleep just to find out the location of the halwa still brings a smile to my face. The most beautiful part of this memory is how unperturbed my aunt was to see two apparitions quizzing her about food in the dead of night.
  • Once more I crave the hot coffee that amma would make for me while I sat up at night to study. The dollops of love in it might have been the reason it smelled and tasted so divine. Many a time, that has been the only reason that made me stay awake  🙂
  • Once more I wish to endure the agony of the last day of exams in school, just to experience the ecstasy of giving back the answer paper and rushing out of class, while soaking in the blissful feeling that the holidays had started.
  • Once more I’d like to curl up by the window in my room, watching the rains caress the glossy leaves while I wove dreams about the future.
  • Once more I want to feel the satisfaction of having played a great game while sweatily standing around with friends and gulping in huge lungfuls of air, after we played basketball.
  • Once more I’d like to see the twinkle in my Appuppan’s (grandfather) eyes as he regaled us with stories of two children who at that time I thought were gluttons, but now seem more like passionate foodies !
  • Once more I wish to overdose on Bollywood and home cooked food while chilling out at a friend’s house, supposedly for combined study sessions !
  • Once more I yearn to sit with my Achan on our verandah, exchanging comments on the news while we drank our morning coffee and read the newspaper, or watched the evening sun gild the leaves a mellow gold, sharing a comfortable silence, lost in our own thoughts. Just being with him was the best feeling.

 

The Click Brigade

I love Social Media. It has enriched my life in many ways. Keeping in touch with friends in all corners of the world has never been this easy and this instantaneous. Sharing and propagating an idea or thought has never been this convenient.

But, of late, I’ve been struck by the realization that all this ease and convenience has made us lazy. We are gradually becoming a generation of clickers. When I use the word ‘We’, I’m including myself since I know that I too am guilty of aiding the creation of noise on the internet.

Pic COurtesy:Sean MacEntee; Flickr
Pic COurtesy:Sean MacEntee; Flickr

Social Media has managed to manufacture a whole breed of Armchair Activists. Any issue, be it political, religious, social or cultural, creates a Tsunami of opinions and an army of protestors. In the earlier days, if standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square was a symbol of protest, now all that has to be done is change your profile picture to whatever is deemed politically correct for that situation, write a scathing comment on a public forum or better still, ‘like’ a particular image or video, and Voila ! – we have become socially responsible citizens ! I would like to emphasise that I’m not condemning all forms of protests voiced on Social Media. I’m just giving my point of view on the people who have perfected the art of appearing to protest, but not taking forward that thought in any way in their personal lives.

Voicing an opinion, or expressing solidarity to an issue or person is something we should certainly do. I’m all for it. But why are we, the majority out there anyway, not taking it to the next level ? Not possible for a lot of issues you say? Absolutely correct. We might want to do something about saving the rain forests in the Amazon, but due to a lot of constraints we are not able to do that. Fair enough. But what about all those small changes that we can make ? Seeing the sea of rainbow profile pictures on Facebook in support of the US Supreme Court decision supporting the rights of the LGBT community, was superb. But how many of us actually allowed the hues of those colours to run into our lives ? How many of us rainbow-profilers flinched to sit next to a trans-gender on the bus/train or even refused to rent out our houses to a gay/lesbian couple? Then there’s the selfie bandwagon. What’s the point in taking a selfie with your daughter on one hand and on the other hand refusing to let her go for higher studies or rushing to buy Fair and Lovely cream so that she becomes fairer? We jostle with each other to register our indignation about the rudeness and insensitive behavior of people who are shown on the billions of viral videos doing the rounds. But how many of us see the weariness etched on the security guard’s face at the end of a hot tiring day ? We don’t forget to shout at him if he’s a minute late to open the gate. A smile and a kind word is all it takes to bring an answering smile to his face, to make him feel that his services are valued.

At home, we shoo our children away when they come to us brimming with excitement to share their tiny triumphs and disappointments. But we don’t have time to listen, because we have to watch the latest video on Child Abuse doing the rounds on Facebook and express our anger and disgust. The shadow of sorrow that falls on the little face next to us goes unnoticed.

Then of course there is our favourite pastime – Govt bashing, or on a wider scale we can call it ‘system bashing.’ We love to rant and rail against the system, wax eloquent on its failure, and generally blame everything on the system. I agree wholeheartedly that both the Govt and the system do have a lot to answer for. But in spite of whichever party is in power, the people have learnt to live their lives. So, why should we wait for the Govt or any other social organization to bring about change ? It’s as if the responsibility of bringing about changes in society is solely that of organisations, be it Governmental or otherwise. We have got ourselves comfortably perched in our chairs, giving an opinion on everything under the sun, on Social Media. Let others toil, we will pontificate.

It’s slightly alarming to see this increasing inclination towards armchair activism. We need to recognize the power that each of us has, the power of the individual. We need to keep ourselves firmly grounded on terra firma, when our fingers are flying over the keyboard. We need to look beyond the world as framed on our screens and see it as it is. Just take a look out of the window, the sky is not as brilliantly blue as you see on your screen, there’s a softness to it which the pixels cannot convey. Social Media lets you exist in a false world, which you can construct as per your likes and dislikes. It can be either completely rosy or completely bleak. But the real world has both hues. One can see the most beautiful acts of kindness juxtaposed with acts of utmost cruelty. But there’s a balance that helps keep us stable and grounded.

So next time you want to click and express your solidarity for a cause, do it, but lift your head and look around you. Is the person working next to you looking slightly more weary and careworn ? A few words of concern or even a glass of water wouldn’t go amiss. We have the capability to bring a change in at least one person’s life, who ever it may be. Let’s not waste that chance. I’ve never felt the essence of Gandhiji’s words as I do today, when he said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.”

 

Romancing the Train

Faster than fairies, faster than witches  ;  Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches “

 Each time I travel by train, I hear an echo of these words of R L Stevenson in the clackety clack of the wheels. The beauty and magic of watching the countryside hurtle past in brilliant flashes of colour is so correctly depicted in his poem. I’m a huge fan of train travel though unfortunately the frequency of my travels has come down a lot. I realized that my love affair with trains remained as passionate as ever when I travelled from my home town to Kochi, recently. The journey was a short one of 4 hours. But it was more than enough to get reacquainted with an old love. I was in train-heaven since I had managed to get the window seat. As a child, this was the most coveted seat and a lot of wrangling and bargaining was usually involved before it could be attained. Many a time I had to surrender it to my brother in spite of falling back on my last resort – tears. So this time when I got the window seat without having to kill anybody for it, I felt terribly happy. Even though I kept a very benign expression on my face, inside me was an ecstatic little girl doing a mad jig. When I look out through the glassed window, I’m taken back for a moment to my childhood when the trains ran on coal. There were no air-conditioned compartments and getting flecks of coal dust in the eyes was a part of travel.

I have my own ritual when I settle down in my seat; in fact I’ve seen many travellers with their own particular rituals of settling down. I always have a bottle of water and a couple of books with me. After pushing the bottle into its holder, and stowing my bigger bag overhead, I take out a book and settle down. Anybody glancing my way would be forgiven if they thought that I was getting ready for a long reading session. But the truth is that I hardly read, maybe a couple of pages at the most. The scenery outside has me in its grasp, and tearing myself away from that turns out to be an impossible task.

It was a somnolent lazy afternoon and it was a pleasure to lean back in my seat and surrender to the beauty of the countryside. I felt like I was watching a series of short movies because each scene came with its own mood and story. Railway lines usually pass behind houses, and the backyards give a more fascinating view of life than courtyards. The debris of life is collected in backyards and so many interesting facets of life are revealed in these bits and pieces. Abandoned tricycles give an indication of a child who has left his carefree years behind and stepped beyond the confines of his mother’s arms. Clothes merrily flapping on clothes-lines have me constructing elaborate pictures of the entire family in my mind, complete with visiting cousins and relatives.

Since it was a Sunday afternoon, the pace was more relaxed. Children were sitting around with cousins or friends, desultorily swapping stories or playing quiet games. Women could be seen relaxing after the hectic activities of the morning; older women with legs stretched out and younger ones grouped around, with laughter lighting up their faces and weariness reflecting in the droop of shoulders. At some houses, the husband and wife would be sitting on the steps unconscionably leaning into each other and sharing a few words, or sometimes just enjoying a quiet moment together. A glimpse of the scene is all I need to give free rein to my fertile imagination and before I know it we have reached the next station.

Pic Courtesy:Dixie Lawrence; Flickr
Pic Courtesy:Dixie Lawrence; Flickr

The importance of each railway station in the overall hierarchy is reflected in their appearance. I’m not a big fan of the busy stations with teeming humanity, blaring announcements, abundance of tiny kiosks and mountains of luggage stacked around. My favourites are the tiny stations that often have just two platforms, and where many of the trains do not halt. It’s in these tiny out-of-the-way stations that Nature makes its presence felt, with beautiful shady trees left untouched, flowers growing in riotous joy clambering over fences seemingly eager to hold conversations with the speeding trains, and wild greenery crowding around the platforms as if they too want to go on a journey.

Pic Courtesy: ~Zipporah~ ; Flickr
Pic Courtesy: ~Zipporah~ ; Flickr

Kerala is a riot of green at all times and amidst this when I see flashes of colour it immediately catches my eye. A little hen-coop is transported out of the ordinary by the bright blue tarpaulin stretched across its roof. A sunshine yellow tractor merrily chugging along in a field calls out to me. The most catchy image is that of a pink bus parked in the middle of a tiny bridge with passengers standing outside chatting comfortably. The overcast sky adds to the surreal nature of this scene. I would have loved to find out why the bus was parked in the middle of the bridge and why the passengers were not in a hurry.

But trains do not allow me to linger at one place. They take me onwards, to the next scene, the next story, and the next slice of life. I pass a small temple with a cleanly swept yard and no signs of life, and then a sparkling white mosque. Both waiting patiently to welcome believers, and dispense peace and relief to burdened minds and troubled souls. I’m also fascinated by the small unpaved roads, which abound in the countryside. They look very beguiling, with the richness of the brown earth in sharp contrast to the green around, gnarled roots poking out from the embankments on both sides, and an air of expectancy in the air. The roads that disappear around a bend are the most interesting, since I can have my choice of characters waiting beyond the bend. The destination remains a mystery, which only adds to their charm.

Just like the people I see along the way, the trees too have distinct characters. There are giant trees waiting motionless and with bated breath for the rains to fall from the overcast sky. Others tower near the railway tracks, with bended branches peeking inquisitively towards the trains, trying to figure out what happens inside the rectangles of light which rush past them all the time. Some of these denizens of the forest have the most amazing flowers and one that had flowers hanging downwards like pale feathery chandeliers enthralled me. They looked like fantastic props made by some eccentric designer.

Very soon it was time for me to leave this wondrous world of possibilities and discovery and get back to my life. It’s always a pleasure to get back home after a journey, but this time there’s a slight pang because I don’t know when I’ll be back on a train again. As we pulled into my station, I was swept along by the rush of people eager to reach their destinations. I seemed to be the only one looking at the dusty train with any signs of regret, but I’m sure there are many like me out there somewhere who hanker after the simple joys of train travel.

 

 

 

 

Three Day Three Quote Challenge -Day 3, Khalil Gibran

Day 3 of the Challenge is here and I’ve saved my favourite for the last. The words of Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American writer, poet and artist, have been close to my heart ever since my impressionable adolescent years. Each time I read his words, I find a new dimension that had remained hidden earlier. The following quote, in my opinion, lays down the essential component for any successful relationship, be it a marriage, or a connection with a sibling, a friend, or even a child. A really exquisite thought.

let-there-be-spaces-in

 

I’ve completed the Challenge and it was an enjoyable experience. I got re-acquainted with my moss-green diary and took a long walk down the windswept paths of my yester years. Thank you Madhusmita of Dreamz and Clouds for sending me on this journey 🙂

 

Three Day Three Quote Challenge – Day 2, Woody Allen

I’m back again on Day 2 of the Quote Challenge, invited by Dreamz n Clouds, and spurred on by her enthusiasm 🙂 This time,  I’ve got something from the incorrigible Woody Allen. Though I haven’t watched too many of his movies, he has always struck me as a person who lives life on his own terms. Today’s quote that I’ve selected, perfectly reflects his ability to get straight to the point, without dallying around. What a refreshing attitude ! Saying it like it is 🙂 I-dont-want-to-achieve I’d like to nominate another book lover, Akansha from The World Past Me to take this Challenge forward.

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