Monthly Archives: March 2011

About “Traffic”, the film and compassion

Saw a film named ‘Traffic” while in Kerala recently.The main thread of the story is based on a real life incident of a little over two years go in Chennai. Dr. Ashokan and Dr. Pushpanjali had lost their son Hitendran in a car accident.The boy had not responded to treatment and had been declared clinically dead. The parents ,in a highly inspiring act of generosity even in hat hour of a colossal loss in their lives, had decided to donate all the living organs of heir seventeen year old son to needy patients waiting for donors. The heart, which is required to be transpalanted within half an hour , was sucessfully transported from Apollo Hospital, Teynampet to Life -line Hopsital Mugappair, in a record 19 minutes, with the co-operation and directions of the Chief Commissioner of Police. The driver of the vehicle had been highly lauded by the public. Read about this incident on his link:

In the film, woven into this story, were many other different strands, criss-crossing each others’ lives on that fateful day with a myriad shades of human emotions that rule our lives. I found the film engrossing. I did come back from the movie with my mind buzzing . I prefer that response to a film rather than the vacuosness that takes over after watching a routine masala movie with all its predictability. Here in this film was this young boy, aspiring to be a journalist on his way to the studio for his first major assignment, an interview with a celebrity actor. Almost out of the door, his mother urges him to take leave from his father. To the young lad, the father had always appeared nonchalant towards his career aspirations, as he is a well established doctor with a lot of connections , but who refuses to pull strings. The father later explains to is wife that the boy would never get the satisfaction of having made it on his own, if he had interfered. Proud father he is though and he is shown calling up his friends to tell them to watch the interview.

The boy is in love. She is just out of a relationship. They are tentative about their feelings for each other but they both know it is there and would grow. Travelling in a car, in the opposite direction on the same road on which the boy is hurrying on his bike along with his friend, is another girl who was being followed by a group of boisterous young males.In order to escape from them , she speeds forward at he traffic lights even before the lights turn green, colliding with the bike and grievously injuring the boy.

Elsewhere in the city, another young doc, so totally in love with his young beautiful wife had tied up earlier for the delivery of a new car, with which he intended to surprise his wife on her birhtday. On that particular day, he had asked his wife to wait at a specified corner and was on his way ,on the same road,in the shining new vehicle . Accompanying him is his very close friend with whom the couple had shared many lovely hours of companionship. The friend gets out of the car to see why the traffic had stalled. The friend’s mobile , which he had left behind ,keeps ringing. The doc picks it up and recognises the number as his wife’s and a slow wave of shocking realisation dawns upon him after scrolling down the messages on the mobile and his own recall of his friends’s side of his recent conversation on the mobile and other unheeded signs of probable intimacy between the two, which he had understood as familiarities of a comfortable relationship.Agony and fury overwhelms him and he speeds off when the traffic clears to reach the spot where his wife was waiting and hits her with the vehicle , intentionally and unflinchingly.

Then there is the police constable who has been under suspension for taking a small bribe. It is his day to rejoin duties. He is assigned to the traffic beat. He had fallen from grace in his home after the suspension. He had taken the bribe to help a near relative , financially, for a college admission. He is silently suffering from his teenage daughter’s disdain.

The celebrity actor is on his own trip of glitz and glamour and vainglorious self importance. His wife and daughter appear to play secondary roles in his life. We then come to learn that the daughter has been suffering from a rare heart disease and on the said day, was in the hospital, where the doctors had declared that she was as good as gone,unless there was an immediate transplant.

From there on it is all about the heart -wrenching decision of the young lad’s parents, to let go of their son and the challenge taken up by the Police Commissioner to get the boy’s heart transported to the hospital where the celebrity actor’s daughter is struggling for life in the I.C.U. In a twist of fate, the doctor who was supposed to accompany in the vehicle with the donor’s heart , refused to take up the assignment and the other young cuckolded doc , who has just hit his wife (of course nobody knows about it just yet)is called upon to do so. When nobody in the Traffic wing volunteers to be the driver of the vehicle , it was the besmirched constable who raised his hand.

All ends well eventually after some twists and turns along the way. The girl gets her new heart and the celebrity father too undergoes a metaphorical change of heart. The erring wife survives and decided not to press any charges against her husband for attempted murder. The police constable is full of grace His daughter is smiling again with filial pride.

And I came back home with these thoughts…the universe is compassionate. Always it throws open before us , ways to redeem ourselves, if we but recognise those opportunities with awareness and wisdom. The universe is never happy when we are unforgiving to ourselves.

P.S: I was a little peeved with the scriptwriter who did not provide for such redemption to the girl in the car, who hit the boy. But I guess we can take that story forward, what say?

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Movies



Tears welling up, arrested perforce

Trespassing sighs, cordoned off,

Gates pushed open, with violence I close

Cruel oppression; and I laugh!.

Memories will practice sabotage,

Overthrow the dictatorial reign.

Sometimes, they will take the stage

Speak of the past, relive the pain.

Sometimes in the darkness of the night

Surveillance careless and the guards asleep,

The prisoners cautiously take their flight

Into my pillow, silently I weep.

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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in Poetry


The end of history and the last Man

I love train journeys, although I am not quite fascinated by the structure of the train itself. Too much of metal. I can’t quite explain it. It’s silly, I know, for I surely do not have wings that could transport me across the fields and rivers and mountains without having to plonk myself in a mobile iron cage. (I have never been on an aircraft. So I don’t know what that experience is like).  But then again, I love the movement of the train, especially at night. Then , it is like being gently rocked to sleep by its rhythmic motion over the rails. So there are a few unreconciled paradoxes in my relationships with trains.


Ever since I took up a job with the Railways, way back in 1981, train journeys had become an essential part of my life. When the kids were small, there was at least one long journey every Summer, when the schools closed down  and we went home to Kerala. In those days, the excitement began days in advance, or even months in advance as , one had to book the tickets early enough to be assured of  confirmed berths. Till one became entitled to travel in an AC coach, with my first promotion, we travelled by Second Class and one couldn’t think of undertaking the long journey in the heat of Summer , without proper reservation. The Konkan Railway has now made the journey time much less than what it used to be for those travelling from the North to Kerala.


Nowadays, when I’m mostly travelling by myself, some of the anticipatory excitement of packing clothes and foodstuff etc. is no longer there. But as I said, train journeys will probably continue to be part of my life. You see, even though I have taken voluntary retirement, I can still travel free and so any other mode of travel does not even come into the reckoning as an option.


This time, when travelling to Bangalore to spend a few days with my daughter , Francis Fukuyama’s “The end of History and the last man” and a steady stream of anecdotes and gossip about a marriage function from a family travelling in the same cabin, kept me company.


The wife talked mainly. The husband listened intently. The son went off to sleep soon after the family boarded the train at Bhopal. Starting with a physical appraisal and hearty approval of the gifts that they had received(they were saris, suit lengths etc.), the conversation drifted from one relative to another. Seeta Didi , whose daughter was the one getting married, was quite angry that her cousin , on whom she was depending  to help with the hundreds of little things to be attended to, arrived only at the last minute, “just like any other guest” and that too when Sita Didi had so wholeheartedly co-operated when the latter’s daughters were married off. ” Quite true”, agreed the husband. “Even if she didn’t really run around, her presence would have been a moral support for Sita”.


Chachi was looking rested, the wife went on. The grief over the death of her husband and her eldest son, soon afterwards, seemed to have abated . The daughter ‘in-law took care of Chachi well, even when her own loss was so profound. Pratap, a distant cousin , was staying with them. It was he who looked after the cultivation and supervised the retail shop. He was good and honest and considerate. The buzz going around was that Chachi would probably will at least a part of her property to him. Her own children wouldn’t mind, as they understood and respected the role he had taken on, in their mother’s life. Working in high places, with enough money for themselves, they wouldn’t grudge Pratap her benefaction. They were only too happy that the void created by their distance from home was filled up by someone they could respect and trust. They had all been there for the wedding  and the warmth between them was evident.



Nandini Mausi was really something !. She had taken on all sorts of customs on herself. She wasn’t eating anything the first day, as apparently her “mangalsutra”, had broken and it was inauspicious to partake of food with a broken mangalsutra, she held. She was eating the next day, so she must’ve got it repaired. ” Or may be, she hunted out a duplicate chain for it”, her husband interjected laughingly.


Ramesh Bhaisaab was there too. Not much was left of the handsome youth of yesteryears. He was now a portly looking man with a prominent paunch. “Forty lakhs he spent on his son’s education abroad and the young man went and married a South Indian girl!”. “But you have to give credit to Ramesh Bhaisaab”, the wife went on in an approving tone. ” He really took it in his stride and welcomed the girl into the family. Didn’t you notice? They look so nice together”.


Cousin Anita’s daughter in law looked okay now. So did the baby in her arms. “And  to think that both of them could’ve died had cousin Anita persisted with her stubbornness. Her grandchild would have to be delivered normally, she had insisted. The daughter ‘ in- law was not to have a caesarian. “The water had broken, you know, and there was some other complication as well and if her son had not been around and decided to take control, why his wife and kid would’ve bid goodbye to this world. Cousin Anita still feels that the operation was unnecessary and that the doctor just wanted to give them a fat bill”.


And so the stories went on. My attention kept wandering from the pages of my book to the snippets that were being delivered in such an animated style. I have to confess that the Fukuyama’s learned treatise was  quite boring in comparison. What he had to say was this, at least that is what I could understand after reading pages and pages  and more pages of the same thing; there was a linear evolutionary direction to all of Man’s history and that all the clashes and wars and the turmoils between various systems of power  and governance could essentially be traced to the influence of the “thymos” or the human spirit that craved recognition for itself. In other  words, it was not merely about survival alone.  According to Fukuyama, the populations all over the world had increasingly kept evolving towards democracy because that ensured maximum recognition to the individual, in that there was no distictinction between the ruler and the slave and the power to govern came from the masses themselves. The more liberal a democracy, offering opportunities for individual growth, the less reason for strife and according to him, the liberal, capitalisitic democracy would therefore come to stay, as there was no other system that could be better.


Well Fukuyama wrote this book in the 90s. Looking around at the global recession, set off by the excesses of a too ‘free and unregulated market, looking at the at the terrible   levels of inequities existing in different pockets, it looks like we have a long way to go before we settle down to a world free of strife. Add to that the effects of global warming and “The end of history and the last man” may have different connotations altogether.


Who knows, all this may be part of the evolutionary process after all. May be our journey has to now necessarily be along a path which is more ethical and where the benefits of development and progress have to be more widely distributed  rather than being  concentrated in the hands of a greedy few. May be we will learn to be moderate in our spending. May be spiritually we will learn to satisfy our “thymos” by   our own individual journeys towards being better human beings.  May be



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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Travel


No answers , yet

No answers,yet

The house is quiet

Me,   alone with my thoughts

A lot many of them ,

I must confess.

Why strifes and struggles

Why loss and gain

Why minds light as laughter

And hearts  under duress?



What is the truth ?

What is it for me?

The certainty  of death

And human misery?

Or is it the innocence

That we’ve lost on the way?

Is it the hope that

We’ll  retrieve it some day?



Am I complete in myself ?

Is that the truth?

Why then  do  we search

For something  outside ourselves?

Will peace descend

When I detach ?

Why this longing to be part

Of your consciousness?




Why do I keep dreaming

Of a mindscape

Where we don’t need to hunt

Or find escape

Me the saint

And me the sinner

And you the lion

And you the deer




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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Poetry


My family and other animals

Gerald Durrell was a favourite author of mine in my childhood, the reason being that I could so easily relate to the pictures of a household where animals walked in and out amongst the humans,  each  one of the former having a personality as distinct as that of the latter.


From as far back as I can remember, we had dogs at home. My father loved them. He loved all animals, but was particularly partial to the canines. He was quite emphatic in his views that they were more loyal than us human beings. He cared two hoots for the muslim tradition of not keeping dogs at home( I still don’t know why that is so.) and so we had dogs of all breeds from Alsations to mongrels with the strangest of names such as Emden and Chonoki. We also had a dog named Hitler , so named by my father , because he indeed spelt terror to any man, woman or child who opened our gates and ventured in, unaware of the dog’s presence, on days, when he was let off from his lease.


You can get deeply attached to your pets, as they can to you and that brings a lot of sadness in its wake as when Emden got sick, with an infection on his leg, which kept spreading. There was no vet in our small town in those days and the ointments that we applied to the infected area did no good. Emden was carrying at that time and at the end of her term. Her litter had consisted of six little adorable puppies, who scrambled over each other to suckle at her teats. There they would lie afterwards, their hunger satiated and stomachs full, ensconced within her limbs, their little heads warm against her belly.


And then Emden died. The loss was accentuated with the death of her puppies, one by one. They didn’t respond to the care we lavished upon them, trying our best to play mother. It may have been that they became infected too with whatever the disease was that Emden had suffered from. Crying isn’t too difficult for me even at this ripe old age . Then, I was a kid and I cried and cried.


The last pet we had at home was Caeser, a white Pomeranian, brought into the house when he was just a month old, a soft white furry bundle that won all our hearts from the word ‘go’. I was fifteen then. For the next seven years, till I got married, Caesar was an  inextricable part of my life.


My elder brother had started working and was posted away from home. My youngest siblings, Shakila and Arif were still small and so the little jobs that were part of  having a pet in the house  like bathing it and cleaning its poop etc   devolved on me and my brother Niyaz, who is about a year and half younger to me. He has always been the smarter one and so, for most of the times managed to get away.


Caeser hated baths and he had a very strange way of taking out his vexation on me, who had made it a ritual of making him go through it every weekend. No sooner had I finished  bathing him, ignoring his whimpering cries, he would rush away from my grip, running round and round in the courtyard with frantic speed. My mother’s brood of hens would be clucking around here and there  generously littering the place with chicken shit. In the course of his racing around, Caeser would find a small heap of chicken shit and rub both sides of his face in it and then walk up to me as if to say’, So, Ma’am’who wins?You or me?’ He did that every time, till I started jailing him behind the closed doors of the litlle room at the end of the verandah, till he dried. By then, he would have calmed down and forgotten his vindictive intentions.


Caeser loved my father in a huge, huge way. The affection was mutual actually. Once when Caeser walked out of the gate and went missing for a couple of hours, my father’s anxiety was so pronounced that he had the whole neighbourhood involved in the search. Somebody brought back Caeser and all was well again. When my father passed away, Caeser refused to budge from below the  ‘Easy chair’, on the verandah, which was my father’s favourite place of rest. Caeser died much later ,well into old age, with very litlle left of his sense of sight or smell.


I used to love narrating to  my nieces and nephews the story of how Caeser almost saved me from getting bitten by a snake. I would love to share it with you as well. So here goes:


It was a bright  sunny Sunday, the mother hen and her brood of little yellow chicks, scurrying around in the compound at the back of the house, the crows perched on the wall and on the plantain trees, swooping down every now and then to peck at anything that they could eat. Sometimes, their swooping down was menacingly close to the little chicks. The mother hen would then cackle loudly and the little ones would run and hide beneath her wings.


We were inside the house, variously engaged in our Sunday routines, when suddenly there was a huge commotion outside. Caesar was barking loudly, the hen and her chicks clucking wildly as if in alarm and the crows were making a racket as well. Something was surely afoot. When I went outside to look, I saw that  the  ruckus was concentrated near one corner of the compound . Caeser was standing there, on one side of the broken discarded aquarium that was lying against the compound wall. The hen and her chicks were there too. I was sure that Caeser had been chasing them and had cornered one of the little ones. Shouting out to him, I strode purposefully to shoo him away and retrieve the chick which I had seen disappearing behind the aquarium. Caeser’s barking became more agitated as if expressing resentment at my interference, more so as I came closer to the aquarium and then suddenly, I realized why.  Even as I was bending down and stretching out my hand to get the chick, I saw it sliding further down into the hole behind. Looking closer, I saw that the helpless little bird was between the jaws of a snake.


The chick of course must’ve died immediately. The snake too met its end soon with a shot from my father’s double barelled gun (Hunting was a favourite pursuit of his and one of the several contradictions in his personality that had continued to intrigue me’how could someone who was so fond of animals find pleasure in shooting them down?) There was of course much drama preceding the final kill as the noise in our backyard was an open invitation to the neighbourhood lads , who had climbed over the wall into the compound to prod the snake out of its hiding place with long sticks and  to set fire to it after it was dead, as apparently it was quite a poisonous variety. Not quite sure why a simple burial wouldn’t have sufficed.


Of course , there  had been  no real threat of me being bitten, but I would always tell the little ones that it was Caesar’s incessant barking that had put me on my guard and that is perhaps how I would like to remember it.:-)


We had other pets too. Sometimes, clash of interests would result in some of them having to be given away before long. The rabbits we had and a little goat had to go because they would nibble at the plants in the garden which were equally dear to my father. A little turkey hen had grown into a big bird with the menacing habit of chasing us around to  peck at our feet with its hard beak. Then there was this mongoose, who was a cute little creature when he was small. But as an adult, his attention was constantly focussed on my mother’s chicks and she would have none of that. So my brother Niyaz was asked to take it away and set it free among the bushes  near the river, which errand was right up his alley. So he set off on his bicycle, with the mongoose tied up in a cloth bag which was slung across the handlebar.


It must’ve been around ten or fifteen minutes before he was seen putting on the brakes to his cycle in front of our gates, panting and sweating profusely. Instead of going right up to the river, he had set the mongoose free over a wall into somebody’s compound. A man there had seen him do it and had started shouting at him and run out on the road, chasing my brother who had taken flight in a panic.


We’ve fought a lot in our childhood, my brother and I. Being very close in our ages, our activities were common and that gave ample scope for a lot of tiny wars, every now and then. I still think he was responsible for my monkey’s death.


The monkey for obvious reasons, was kept tied on a long leash upstairs, which portion of the house had been meant to be a fullfledged storey, but was only half built , with the rooms partitioned with half unplastered walls and the tiled roof built over it. My father had been an employee of the State Government. He had overrun his budget and with his fixed income and a host of other problems, had never been able to complete it. It is still like that, the upper storey now serving more as an attic and a place to dry clothes during the monsoons.


So the monkey had a lot of space to jump about . Sitting on the wall, he would pull at my head whenever I approached him and pick through my hair, looking for lice , I guess(I remember having lice in my hair when I was very small, but not then at which point of time I was in high school).


It was quite an active little animal and there was absolute pandemonium, whenever he managed to break free.The whole house was held to ransom during those hours and nobody other than me could easily subdue it. For some reason , it wouldn’t put up too much of  a fight with me. I have been bitten by it though, not once but several times and I don’t remember getting any injections for rabies either.


Anyways( I’m really rambling ain’t  I ?), to make a long story short, the monkey was tied more tightly around the waist , which gave it a sore and( this is the important part),at the suggestion of my brother, he was tied with a collar around the neck. Something went wrong and the poor monkey injured his neck, while jumping off the wall. He didn’t die immediately, but only after three days of suffering. I would place him in my lap as I was at home studying for my exams. He could barely swallow the water which one poured into its mouth , little by little and eat no food at all. How I rued the mistake of listening to my brother.! The monkey slept most of the time and would sometimes open its eyes to look at me with soulful sadness. And then mercifully, it died.


Mercifully too, time heals the sorrow of  loss. But memories remain of Emden and Caeser , of the spritefulness of the little monkey and the affection of all the other pets that made our childhood so rich and varied.



Posted by on March 23, 2011 in childhood, Personal


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Laidback days

This is something I had written last year in my blog on Rediff, as are the other write-ups I’ve posted here so far. Most of the old blogs have become outdated, so I’m copy-pasting only those in which the time factor is not relevant. Here goes:


These last few days have been really hectic. Had boarded Mangla Express on the 2nd , to reach my hometown , Kannur, very ,very, early in the morning. As a rule, I don’t wake up early, but as I was travelling alone, I had willed myself to wake up in time, to get down ,when the train stopped . I went to the loo, came back and rested my head , on the window bars, waiting for the last lap of my journey to come to an end. The next thing I knew, was that, the train was pulling out from the platform at Kannur Station, amidst the cries of,”Kaapi, Kaapi”, creeping into my ears as if from a distant dream.

Okay, so I  had dozed off. Not to worry. I would get down at the next station. The only problem was that I had sent my brother in-law, who had come to recieve me, into a real tizzy. The battery  on my mobile was low and I couldn’t even call him. Anyway, I borrowed a call from a  co-passenger’s mobile and eventually got through, to explain. Got off at Tellicherry and took a train back, which to my good fortune was just arriving . Yes, I did buy a ticket. There was a queue, but that is what is nice about small towns. The people co-operate when they know the urgency of the situation.

I think that early morning adventure kind of set the tone for the rest of my stay here. I have been travelling a lot . First to Ernakulam to attend a wedding , back to Kannur, then to Calicut to attend the reception from the boy’s side, and back; then to B’lore by an overnight bus, to attend another reception and to be with my daughter , who is now settled there after her marriage. Returned back to Kannur again  yesterday morning  again by an overnight bus and this evening at 7.20 will be on the train to Delhi.

Hectic, yes; and yet, as I sit here, typing this out, I couldn’t have felt more at rest. The afternoon is langurous, so much like the afternoons, Iremember from my childhood.  The silence of this afternoon siesta time, is broken only by the twittering of the lovebirds in the big cage on the verandah or the occasional local bus , auto or scooter which plys along the road just in front of my house. This is the house I have grown up in, with its tiled roof and red-oxide floors , the stones of half wall all around the compound, now black with the dead moss of the monsoons. The mango trees in front of the house and the lone chickoo tree at the side, that I had watered , when they were saplings, with water being drawn up in buckets from the well (we didn’t have muncipal water supply in those days), have now spread its branches so much, that the house remains in the shade even in the peak of summer. My sister complains that she can’t grow any flowering plants that require sunlight. She has many pots of anthurium  though,  and a few pots of orchids hanging down from the lower branches of the mango trees and flowering cacti and hibiscus and bougainvillea plants along the wall ,  beyond the shady portion …she shoudn’t be complaining , should she?

My sister stays at home with my mother, husband and kids. That is because we belong to the Moppilah tribe, of North Malabar region, supposed to have our ancestry coming down from the intermarriages between the Arabs, who came here for trade and the local populace here. We follow the matriarchial system. I’m not quite sure whether this was picked up from the Arabs or from the Hindu Nairs of Kerala, who also follow the same.  As a child , (for no solid reason, except that it made the difference between us and the Hindu families a little obvious) I used to be kind of embarassed at the slight difference in our coloquial rendering of Malayalam, which is the language spoken in the state of Kerala. Words like “naashta”, “saboor”, “shakh”, “khair” “kismet”, “dajjaal” “maamool”, “manzoor” “aadat” were part of the spoken malayalam of mopillahs and had probably filtered in from the arab lineage. Now I feel embarassed to admit, that I was embarassed then:-)

I also remember a system of serving snacks during muslim marriages in my early childhood. It was called “suprah” . A big tray eac,of eatables, would be placed on  round mats and the guests would sit in groups around it and eat from the same tray. This too , I think was a tradition that came to us from the Arab tradition. The tradition disappeared gradually.

Social customs have a curious way of amalgamation. Initially, muslim brides never used to wear flowers on their head by way of decorating themselves. It was considered to be something that only “kafirs” did. Now , the jasmine strands are a must. Exchange of flower garlands  and rings , have all been borrowed from the way hindu marriages are conducted, to make the ceremony a little more elaborate.

The “nikah” ceremony in itself hasn’t changed and it continues to be the short affair between the bride’s father and the groom , when the father solemnly hands over the girl to the son-in-law. The girl still has no role to play . In North India, there is at least a ceremony, where the girl is asked whether she is okay with the marriage. In Kerala, even that is dispensed with and such willingness is sought formally only in the case of a bride, whose father is no more. The “Mehar”, which is supposed to be a sum, substantial enough to give the girl financial security and which the boy pledges to the girl is now only a token. What is more effectively in practice now , is the dowry , which is just a social evil prevalent all over India, irrespective of communal identity, with a few exceptions. And in my homestate, more than cash, it is being given in the form of gold ornaments. There is a jewelry shop at every corner and most of the media channels get a fair chunk of their advertisements from those in the jewellery sector. Seventy five to hundred  sovereigns ( One  sovereign is 8gms of gold) is the going rate for a bride belonging to a middle class family.

Kannur has changed over the years, but fortunately not so much, as to completely wipe out the laid back ambience of this place. Ernakulam, on the other hand, has all the glitz of the commercial blitz that has overtaken it. It appears to be a place where there is big money floating around and the consequent consumerism.

Well folks. I am off now , to pick up my little niece from school. She had agreed to go to go to school in the morning only on that condition. I will take her to the beach and then for ice-cream(I’ll have my glass of fresh grape juice) and on the way back buy some fresh banana and tapioca chips for my friends back in Delhi.

Life , right now is beautiful and surrounded by love.


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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Reflections


God’s black humour

I was feeling quite buoyant on my way back from the market. The carrier of my bicycle was loaded with all kinds of shopping that I had done. There was a kurta which I would try on as soon as I got back home. There were vinegar , soya sauce and tomato sauce bottles which I was going to use , to make a nice chicken dish for my son, some vegetables and so on.

I’ve always had this tendency to allow my mind to wander off once I am seated in a vehicle. I’ve come to the conclusion that that is the reason why I am so bad with directions. I tend to lose my way even in places that I have visited many times. So many times , while in a bus , I have come to my senses one or two stops after the place where I was supposed to get down. Happens regularly even now , while coming back on the metro train from Delhi to Noida. Sometimes one has to get down at a place called Yamuna back to board a Noida bound train and I just travel onwards , my mind playing on its own merry go round. Thankfully, one can get back and resume the onward journey without having to pay more, thanks to the way they have programmed their tokens.

Well , it’s no different when I am riding my bicycle. The short distances that I travel on it fortunately does not allow for too many mishaps. Well, here I was riding back with many cross currents swirling about in my ganglions. It was hot and I was thinking ..these sunscreen lotions are just another way of taking us women for a ride. They don’t do anything for the tan. No wonder you can see more and more young girls now venturing out with their faces masked completely with scarves. I had noticed that phenomenon for the first time when I visited Pune three or four years ago. I had then thought they were all muslim girls wearing the hijab. Now it has caught on here in Delhi and its precincts as well.

And then my mind skipped on to the Shah Rukh Khan advertisement , where he was smugly  recommending a fairness cream exclusively for men!  What happened to the tall, DARK hero whose handsomeness we all fantasized about in our Mills and Boon days? Don’t young girls read them anymore ?  I’ve seen men wearing elbow length gloves too, while riding their bikes just like us females. Kind of sissy, I think. Anyways….

And then for some reason  I started thinking of the Facebook faceoff in Pakistan some time ago and got to wondering how the Prophet would have reacted had he been around. I’ve read that the had quite a nice sense of humour. There was a photo  in the newspapers in which the protestors were carrying a poster which said “kill those who insult Islam” . Who was insulting who, I thought .   This holier than thou attitude actually insults the Prophet and what he stood for.

From there  my mind dwelt for a while on  the film “Bruce Almighty” starring Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman , which I had really enjoyed watching . It is kind of nice to think of God who has a nice sense of humour.

Then my mind went into a swoon of self endorsement. Here I was cycling to and from the market etc. I was saving at least eighty rupees a day which I would otherwise have spent on Rikshaws. My health was okay too etc. etc.(  It wouldn’t be prudent to give you all the details. I wouldn’t like to spoil my image more than is called for).

Okay. So I reach home and open the door , my hands laden with all the stuff . Just inside, some of it  drops to the ground. Yeah you guessed right. All the bottles cracked .

My house is now smelling just like the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. There are huge stains on the floor where the vinegar spread.

Does God have a sense of humour or what?  All that time I was giving myself those certificates of commendation God was probably muttering, “ just you wait, you pompous female, just you wait” .


Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Reflections


Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance

They say there is something to be learnt from every experience in life. Well I’ve learnt quite a few things in the last one month in the course of my daily trips on my new bicycle  from my home to the school where I spend some of my time.

First, do not let people try to dissuade you from doing things that you’ve wanted to do  pointing out your age. Barring those which really involve a risk factor , at least give it a try. I had just about learnt to ride a cycle when I was in my teens during one of those summer holidays when a shop in my neighbourhood started renting out cycles to kids . Well that was it. I never owned a bicycle and in that conservative circle, my father would never have allowed me to ride one on the roads once I had started growing up. But I had loved the feel of riding one and I guess, it has never left me. Whenever I  reviewed the list of the things that I would want to do before I died, riding a bicycle along a long tree lined road would always show up as one of them.

Once or twice many,many years later, I had persuaded my son to let me ride his bicycle and he had reluctantly agreed . So under the cover of night , he had held on to the cycle while I tried wobbling along on the road. I had managed to ride along for some length of the road on those occasions , on my own. But then I had lost balance and lay sprawled on the road much to my son’s embarrassment and that was the end of that chapter.

Now at the ripe old age of fifty three, I had set out with renewed determination to tick off one of the items on my “Bucket List’ (“Das Vidanya” , if you would prefer the bollywood version). And has it been worth it?  Of course!!!!

On one of those initial late evenings when I was practicing in the empty ground nearby and inside the lanes of my colony, I had skidded on a wet patch on the road where the water pipes had been leaking  and had fallen down cycle and all , bruising my elbows and ankle and bruising my matronly dignity as well in front of a group of young boys who were around. They were kind of course, helping me to my feet and making sincere enquiries as to whether I was okay etc. Back home, I had called up my nephew to report my progress( or rather the lack of it) and my little niece happened to take the call instead. She listened quietly and then disconnected rather abruptly. My sister later told me that after keeping down the phone she had got into a fit of uncontrollable paroxysms of  giggling, almost as if  she could visualize the scene in all its detail.

But from then on , my skill only improved and soon I was able to muster enough confidence to venture out to the school, choosing a route that would keep me off the main road for most of the part.Lesson number is  imperative that one is aware of one’s limitations. It makes no sense to indulge in any kind of false bravado.

On those  first few days, the kids who come to the school were embarrassed for my sake , I think. I can’t think of another way of putting it. I would see them nudging each other  if they caught me inside the lane and trying to cover up their crooked grins with their hands. ( I also wear a flop hat to keep off the sun from my face and that must have added to the  anachronistic image I must have been projecting) The adults whom I encountered daily would also look up with curiosity almost expecting me to topple off any moment  and I almost did  many times. I was more disconcerted and would almost lose my balance when I became aware of those glances.But by and by , their curiosity wore off .

So that was lesson number three. Do not put off doing things just because it may attract the curiosity of the world  and you feel uncomfortable with all the uninvited attention. Believe me, it wears off  and you would be a fool to have succumbed and given up for sake of the transient attention of the world.

The longer you persist with doing something , the more familiar it becomes and the odds that appeared insurmountable actually begin to feel as “no big deal”. You learn to get the pace and know how to slow down when you have to. The bends in the road and the obstacles  that seem intent to mow you down  stop being alarming.

You also learn that the “system” will always facilitate those who are bigger than you. In the vicinity of where I live, the  roads are all being “repatterned ” , doing away with the need for traffic lights at crossings to ensure smoother flow of traffic. So now , while the cars whiz along  without a break, pedestrians and cyclists have to wait humbly till providence awards you with a slight pause in the flow which just about allows you scurry across. Lesson learnt …Darwin’s theory  about survival of the fittest and other laws of the jungle extend to the cement ones too. So, might as well accept it .

These last four days,  I have been  finding it extremely laborious to pedal my way to the school and back home. I kept asking myself whether I had been foolhardy to conclude that I was “young” enough to take up something that most people give up at half my age. I have become quite fond of my companion of the roads and I knew I would feel very regretful if I had to give up cycling. But yesterday, one of the youngsters in the school pointed out that the tyres were either punctured or it didn’t have enough air.

So , yes , you may reach all the wrong conclusions of what you can or cannot do just because of sheer ignorance. Be aware of all the little things that are required to be attended to at the appropriate times and hey life can cruise along again .









Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Reflections


Through the glass, darkly

Those who have read “Many lives, many masters ” may recall that this book is about the reportedly real experiences of Dr. Weiss, the psychologist, encountered by him while treating one of his patients, who would have past life regressions during her  hypnotic states. The book did leave one wondering… who knows?

This afternoon I was watching a film by Ingmar Bergman , “Through  a glass darkly”. The name apparently is an indication of how we perceive God while we are still in this existence , clarity coming to us only on death. The story in the film unfolds over a twenty four  hour period, when the four characters, the only ones , are on a vacation on an isolated kind of island. Karin, the daughter has just come back after being treated for schizophrenia , her husband Martin, is a sensitive person  who is sincerely in love with her  and knows that she depends on him to help her to bridge the divides in her mind. Her brother Minus is terrified of his incestuous yearnings , which she, in her confused state seems to subtly encourage. The father , David, had sought escape in his writings , running away from the loneliness and coldness of his own heart, staying away from the family ,disinclined to deal with his daughter’s illness , as we come to learn that his wife had suffered similarly before she died. He tells Martin that he had even tried to kill himself by trying to drive his car into the sea over a cliff , which didn’t come to be because it developed some snag and the car was left standing with its front wheels in the air. At that point, he says , the emptiness had disappeared because he had suddenly become aware of his love for Karina and Minus , his children and also for Martin and that had given him hope.

The film is depressing, the loneliness of the sea front and the old house, all accentuating the narrative of  the dark and sombre  goings on in their minds.

Karina has hallucinations about waiting in a room, full of people with bright faces , for the door to open and God to walk in. In one of those spells she leaves the house and is found by her brother in the old wreck of a ship that had been lodged near the shore. What follows is not explicit ..but Karina then begs her father that she be taken to the hospital and that she was tired of flitting between one reality and  another and that she had to decide between the two. The film ends with a conversation between Minus and his father after the helicopter had carried Karina and her husband away , on their way to the hospital in the town.

Minus:      I’m scared Papa. When I sat holding Karen in the old wreck, reality burst open. Do you    understand what I mean?

Father:    Yes , I understand

Minus:    Reality burst open and I tumbled out. It’s like a dream. Anything can happen Papa, anything.

Father:      I know

Minus:     I can’t live in this new world Papa

Father:    Yes you can . But you must have something to hold on to.

Minus:    What could that be, a God? Give me some proof of God. You can’t.

Father:   Yes, I can. But you have to listen carefully.

Minus:   Yes I need to listen

Father:   I can only give you a hint of my own hope. It’s knowing that love exists for real in the human world.

Minus:   A special kind of love , I suppose

Father:   All kinds of love . All kinds Minus; the highest and the lowest, the most absurd and the most sublime. All kinds of love

Minus:   The longing for love?

Father:  The longing and denial, trust and distrust.

Minus:   So love is the proof?

Father:  I don’t know if love is the proof of the existence of God or not. It’s like a reprieve , Minus, from a death sentence.

Minus:  If it is as you say, then Karen is surrounded by God since we love her?

Father:  Yes

Minus :  Can that help her?

Father : I believe so

Minus:   For you, love and God are the same?

Father:  That thought helps me in my emptiness and dirty despair.
Minus:  Tell me more Papa.
Father:  Suddenly, the emptiness turns into abundance and despair into  life.

( In case you are wondering how I managed to remember the dialogue so accurately, here’s how..I kept pressing the pause button to write it down from the sub titles.)

And then there is all of Carl Jung’s work  in which he points to a collective sub-conscious from where we draw our individual psyches . So  what then  is the source of the so called” evil “that manifests itself  in us . Are some of us born with those tendencies . If so why? How do we distinguish ourselves as separate from the “evil” , if indeed we are just segmented manifestations of a whole combined reality? Won’t we become more compassionate if we can but really, really get even a fleeting feeling of it?

Whatever that may be, Love does turn emptiness into abundance and despair into life. Of that I am sure.


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Those were the days

A few months  ago ,  I got an invite from one my friends, who is into event management, to attend a programme of dance and music by  a well-known Odissi exponent  and a classical singer, who has made her own niche in the world of contemporary music, together with a strong background of Hindustani classical music. The venue was the Stein auditorium, in India Habitat Centre, in the heart of the city, New Delhi.

We arrived early, me and my friend’s   mother . The first row would obviously be reserved for the chief guest and other VIPs, so we strolled down to occupy seats somewhere in the second or third rows, as they were all vacant then. No, we were told by a gentleman , who had placed himself prominently there, who went on to apologetically explain to anyone who approached the front seats, that the Prime Minister’s  wife was also attending the programme and they didn’t know how many would turn up along with her, so, could we please seat ourselves elsewhere?

She  did arrive soon afterwards with quite a few in tow, most of them security personnel in civvies, it appeared . She herself looked unassuming and not given to any proclivity for making her presence felt. She sat there, enjoying the programme, but we who were sitting close by,  were somehow constantly aware of her retinue because of their fidgety movements and surveying glances around from time to time.

The crowd in the auditorium belonged to the cultural elite, so to speak , the conversation that fleeted around before the programme started, being about trips abroad and who met who at which party and so on. The  performance of the artist was no doubt  superb, the grace and rhythm in her movements, flowing along with the accompanying music, to hold the audience captive. The singer’s  powerful voice was no less a delight.

Returning home, reminiscences of a bygone time, kept flooding my mind, when the annual stage presentation of the local theatre group, used to be one of the “happening events”, in our part of the world.

Our local barber lived in one of the small, two- roomed houses, just across the road.  Chandrettan, as we called him, was a man of the arts. We went to sleep every night , to  the lilting notes of his flute. It is not that we consciously listened to it or appreciated it. It was just that Chandrettan’s flute playing, was an integral  part of our day or rather the end of our day.

A month or two before Onam, Chandrettan’s younger son, Satyan, a youth of around twenty years, a school dropout , who had no permanent employment that I knew of, would set into motion, the daily rehearsals , in one of the rooms of  his house, which was to culminate in the annual play that was staged a day or two before the festival. Whenever we could, we kids would troop in, to watch the drama unfold in bits and pieces, never quite getting the hang of the whole tale, which was just as well, as the suspense added to the excitement of the final day, when it would be staged.

The venue used to be an open ground nearby. It is really quite difficult to express now, the thrill we kids experienced , watching the preparations for the big evening. The stage was built, festoons and banners hung up between the trunks of the coconut trees, chairs borrowed from the nearby houses (including ours, which kind of gave us the exultant feeling of being part of the inner circle), for the chief guest and a few other local VIPs.  My brother and I would pester our father for permission to stay throughout  the programme, which invariably meant he whole of the night and once that formality was through, we would be in a kind of delirious excitement for the rest of  the day. We would keep running back and forth from the houses of our friends in the same age group and make plans about what to carry with us for munching purposes, which could be anything ranging from pickled mango pieces , jaggery cubes , tamarind balls etc. We would also calculate how much money we had between us for the ice candy and roasted groundnuts etc. which was to be bought from the vendors who would be found walking in between the crowd, selling their wares. It was a big day for them too, as they would sell, way beyond their normal profits.

The evening always began with an auction of an assortment of small and big items donated by well-wishers, ranging from cups and tumblers to wooden stools or a transistor or a not so new wristwatch. Each item was put up, with an accompanying message from the donor . It was a huge opportunity for expression of budding romances and the person behind the microphone became the swan of the Nala- Damayanti story , conveying  messages of love back and forth. The sender and the recipient remained incognito ,as the real names were never revealed, or it would have caused a local scandal. Nevertheless , from the replies and counter replies that accompanied each bit of fresh item that came up for auction, the general public understood , that the concerned heroes and heroines recognized and understood each other. There was a lot of humour in some of the other messages , all adding up to the general feeling of bonhomie all around. The auction would continue well into the night , the organizers stretching it to the possible limits with their constant coaxing to the audience to pitch in , the money from it being the main source of  funding for  the whole venture. Of course , they would also have gone around to all the houses earlier on in the last week or two, preceding the day of the drama, seeking contributions.

By midnight , many of the mothers  in the audience,  would have rocked their babies to sleep  and would be sitting around, their legs stretched out on the sand, completely relaxed  and ready for the drama to begin. There was  gender segregation,  in the seating arrangements, the demarcation in place, with a rope that went  throughout the length of the ground , tied on to bamboo poles dug into the ground at regular intervals. The local Romeos would station themselves at vantage points and the lissome young ladies would pretend not to look their way, although they would be dressed in their best, complete with coloured bangles, bindis on their forehead,  flowers in their long black hair and sparkling eyes accentuated with kajal. Flirting carried a lot of sweet innocence in those days .

And then the play would begin. Almost always it would be a sad tale with a lot of melodrama, but it always ended on a happy note. The harmonium would screech throughout, with the background score and there would be a few songs thrown in for good measure. Most of the younger kids would be fast asleep , sprawled out on the sand, even before the drama began and the oldies in the crowd would follow suit soon after. Every now and then, a small ruckus would erupt in the crowd ,  on the male side, the reason being anything from a drunken brawl to an attempt to pick pockets or just a fight for a better view obstructed by some of the onlookers standing in front.

Then , just before the break of dawn, the curtain would fall finally and we would go back home , tired and eyes heavy with  sleep ,  but blissfully happy.


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