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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Does that make sense?


If we sieve and separate
Nurture’s role
Dessicate the DNA
From the whole

If we distill away
All we learnt from school
And bleach our religions
And their rules

If we winnow the words
From the books we read
And the rsidue they left
Inside our heads

If we boiled the ideas
Handed down by our peers
And evaporated our emotions
Accumulated through the years.

What would we be
In our pure essence?
We’d be like each other!!
Does that make any sense?

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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Poetry, Reflections, spirituality

 

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Catharsis


I’ve been working on myself
The unplastered walls
Exposed to the elements
Were slowly crumbling to dust.
The cracks in the door
Had let in the wintry wind
And on its heaving hinges
No more could I trust.

Dirt had been blowing in
And settling in heaps
The corners were all swamped
With dead, decaying leaves.
The air, it was so sullen
Insidious insects swarmed
And the bats hung so listless
Below the window eaves.

I’ve been working on myself
Trimming all the trees
Hacking through the undergrowth
Plucking at the weeds.
Fumigating the rooms
Letting in the air
Cleaning up the shelves
Where the termites breed.

Painting all the chairs
Rubbing out the stains
Sweeping out the debri
Left by gnawing rats.
Throwing out the garbage
Left stinking on the sink
Beating out the dust
From the carpets and the mats

I’ve been working on myself
Filling up the cracks
Arranging all my stuff
Neatly on the racks.
Lighting up the rooms
Dispelling the dark
Decking up with flowers
Bringing the music back.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Personal, Poetry

 

Soap making tales


Yesterday was a happening day. I joined my brother-in-law in whitewashing the walls of the kitchen and those at the back of the house and I made soap

No I didn’t have to bribe him with a half chewn apple or marbles or bits of string . But there is something to that story of Tom Sawyer , the one where his aunt had asked him to paint the fence and the smart kid got his friends to do it for him and ended up with a lot of knick-knacks too in the bargain. If you keep watching that swish of the brush on the walls , it makes you want to do it too. My brother- in –law gets bugged by the fact that the guys who are generally called in to do this work ,act so pricey and hard to get. So he does a lot of stuff around the house , on his own, like digging up the backyard when it gets full of weeds after the rains , whitewashing and painting and so on.

My little niece watched on with great amusement as I splattered the walls with my adept brush strokes, pitching in now and then with her expert comments. The upper portions of the walls were done by my brother –in-law , as I was a little jittery about getting on to a ladder and balancing the tin of whitewash with one hand , while applying it with the other. What with my mother confined to the bed with a broken femur and me already fifty five, I didn’t want to risk a fall. My niece, whom I hadn’t spared from listening to all my trekking stories, quipped..”Hmm …Nacha says she climbs mountains ..but she can’t even get on to a ladder!!”. You want to keep your head on your shoulder?…Have a kid around you.

But a kid is also a kid . Staying close to me as I moved along the walls, she cracked a joke that may be I should make a profession of it. I went along with her and said..yeah, I’ll never go hungry if I finish off my savings , as I can always take up white-washing. The poor thing thought I was being serious and after a few moments of silence, warned me that I shouldn’t get the idea that it was going to be easy. I’d find it really tough if the house was big, she said.

About the soap making……well, I’ve been wanting to learn that for quite a while. I managed to get a soap-making sample kit from the Shastra Parishath office here in Kannur. It’s really easy. All you have to do is to mix caustic soda with a little water in a plastic or steel vessel (Lye) and when it cools down ( the chemical reaction gives out a lot of heat and the soda can burn your skin..so one has to wear gloves) add oil to it and keep stirring it till it gets to a “gooey’ consistency. That is the basic “saponification “ process. Then you pour it into a mould and let it dry. You can use the soap only after about a month so that it “cures” properly.

The soap kit I bought also had something called “filler”. The guy at the office wasn’t sure about what it was , but made a guess, possibly the right one, that it was boric powder. I had added this , as per instructions, to the oil , before mixing it with the lye. You can add colour and a little bit of aromatic oil for the fragrance and there it is , your soap is ready.

Reading up on the internet, I came across various recipes , including herbal soaps, coconut milk soaps and so on. I guess the quality of the soap depends on the kind of oil you are using (I used coconut oil) and the rest of the extra stuff you put in. I remember buying a few cakes of home made soap from a member of the “Kudumbashree” project here in Kerala, (which was launched as a part of poverty alleviation programme) which has scrapings of coconut in it. I’m really very excited at the prospect of all the experimenting I’m going to do ,once I get back to Delhi and find out from where I can get to buy “caustic soda”.

While making soap, I also realized using a soap to wash one’s face or hands or while taking a bath is just a matter of habit and convenience. Years ago, my mother would only use powdered “moong “ dal ( a kind of pulse) to scrub herself and for her hair she used aloe vera pulp or the viscousy extract of hibiscus leaves. I have used that too, in my childhood as would so many of our generation. The oil that is used in the soap or the other additives used for giving it the moisturizing effect like glycerol or coconut milk , can be applied directly on the skin , right? And for the cleaning and exfoliation of dead cells , home made stuff, like wheat bran, powdered pulses etc are actually more effective. But who’ll be bothered with all that in these times of “instant” everything. When the Delhi winters make feet extremely dry, so much so that my heels start cracking, I regularly use a mixture of glycerine and rose water. Have found that much more effective than any other foot cream. I use it on my hands too , so that it doesn’t get as wrinkled as an ninety year old’s.

A friend of mine commented on a status update about creams that are supposed to lighten skin colour ( which is an obsession for many in this sub continent , thanks to the premium on beauty , aka a fair skin, a concept we keep being bombarded with through one advertisement after another) that what really attracted her to all these so called beauty products , was the fragrance and I think she is right. A paste of pulses definitely will not smell as good as a fragrant soap. So all we have to do is to look around for a fragrant bath oil and we could do away with all those fancy soaps , which promise so much. Really, how much can it do when it stays on our skins for just a few moments before we wash away the lather?

I’m sure the same applies for all those creams. The basic ingredient would be Vaseline or something like that and the other ingredients like fruit pulp extracts or herbs could all be used independently and directly , with better effect, I’m sure . Ah…but the fragrance.

Seriously, we shoudn’t be allowing all these commercial giants of the cosmetic industry to numb us into believing whatever they say. If we have to use soaps, let’s make them on our own, I say. At least we will know what we are “pampering “ our skins with.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Personal, Reflections

 

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Dewdrop



The following lines took off from the image posted by a friend on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/febin.joy

Before I slipped and slid away
I wanted Beauty’s breath on me
A wayward sunbeam heard me pray
And kissed my face most lovingly.

Irridescently, I did shine
Oh glorious, wondrous ,wave of light
Fleetingly I crossed the line
Between the seeing and the Sight

P.S.Image of dewdrop accessed from the Internet

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Nature, Photography, Poetry

 

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“Akale” and “The Glass Menagerie”


Think about it…..if we couldn’t read the stories that others wrote , if we didn’t internalize the songs that poets composed and recite them as if they were our own, if we didn’t imbibe the colours of an artist’s imagination , if we didn’t get moved by the sounds of a string or the rhythmic drone of a drum , how impoverished we would be !!
Story telling must surely be as old as verbal communication or may be older still. May be as old as the time when Man started drawing pictures on the walls of the caves he lived in. How strong is our urge to communicate, to express our feelings, to speak of things that brings us delight , as also that which frightens us and fills us with awe!! He that can be alone and yet feel connected with everything and everyone without feeling this need to speak or sing , he who becomes part of the music and mystery is perhaps the enlightened one. But for us lesser folks, we will always feel the need to talk and be spoken to, to express and receive sensory inputs, to reach out and touch and feel the vibrations trembling to merge into our own.

A story well told touches a chord , not just in the immediate group of listeners , when communication was only verbal, or the immediate readers, when scripts came into being , but finds echoes through generations and ages hence, it evokes just the same feelings of helplessness, of admiration, of sadness and joy, as it did when first conceived in somebody’s imagination. All our myths and narration of anecdotes , many of which form the very basis of our religions, are but stories well told that have gripped the imagination of humanity because of certain values that have been applauded through these annals and which are still relevant .

Human emotions have not changed even as the material world has and drastically at that. Love and hate , pride and patience still jostle for space along with insecurity and frustration and hope and despair in our psyches . Only the externalities that evoke these feelings in us , have changed. They , of course will keep on changing. If the pre-historic Man felt scared by the flash of lightning in the sky and interpreted the mystery of it to be the presence of something huge and awesome and exalted it to the status of a God, we , in the Modern Age, have still not been able to quell our fears. We’re afraid of different things, that is all, of not being socially accepted, of not being rich enough to own the things that would bring us at par or above those in our neighbourhood or fraternity or group of peers. We have created other Gods, Success being one of them, although we pretend to be chanting prayers in the temples and mosques and the churches to other deities.

We still swear by love , but our ability to love has actually been shrinking from its dispersed way of spreading from one’s heart to another’s and from the limitless way of existing between Man and Nature to being confined to the tribe and then to the wider family , the smaller joint family , the nuclear and now perhaps primarily to the Self. Our sense of angst has not disappeared , only increased perhaps, as our ability to love has found smaller and smaller boundaries to confine itself and that is proof enough of the failure of all established religions.

All these train of thoughts were provoked by a really well made film I watched on the You Tube yesterday. The film, titled “Akale” (In the Distance) is by Director ShyamaPrasad and is based on the play by Tenessee Williams, “The Glass Menagerie” which was premiered more than sixty years ago. Shyam has been able to adapt the story and place it in a relatable atmosphere in South Kerala without the least bit of dischord. Compared to the crores that are being spent on lavishly made movies with inane scripts and marked by lacklustre performances, this film ,which surely wouldn’t have demanded too big a budget, is hauntingly etched through the four characters , within the spaces of an oldish house and a very few shots outside it. That it can still create a lasting impact on the viewer’s sensibilities , is as much an indicator of the strength of the script of the original play and the Director’s finesse and the stellar performances of the actors in the different roles , as also a tell-tale sign of the basic fact that we tend to recognize and relate to the emotional content in a story or film , more than the superfluous props of songs and settings. Those are our distractions and we need them too perhaps, but deep inside we still want to sit around that fire outside the cave and listen to stories that tell us of our own emotions, of things that make us sad and happy, of our insecurities and of heroes who manage to overcome them , so that hope remains alive in us . We also want to hear of those who succumbed because we realize that not all of us have the gumption or the destiny to go beyond our limitations and then it consoles us to know that there are others who have been and are like us, vulnerable and weak and worthy of our love still.

The story itself is not elaborate or complicated. There is this mother , in this film, an Anglo Indian,who is almost always in a wistful mode, harking back to her youth, when her beauty and charm had according to her own version, brought her a line of most eligible suitors. She had settled for a sailor, who had loads of charm , but who hadbecome an alchoholic and had eventually abandoned her to take care of her two children all alone.. In spite of her disappointment , she still seemed to hang on to that which gave solace to her, instead of being swamped by regret. And she wished the best for her children. The son who was older , worked in a warehouse. He is hedged in and suffocated by the circumstances of a missing father, an overbearing, yet affectionate mother and a limping sister whose physical disability not only restrains her physical mobility but also seriously curtails her capacity for involvement in society and negates her confidence in her worthiness for another’s love. She lives like a recluse, her only source of joy being the tiny, fragile, glass figures that she has collected.

The boy isn’t really selfish , just frustrated by the vision of a hopeless fate , stuck in a job which gives him no satisfaction and the responsibility of looking after his mother and sister , affection for whom binds him from escaping to find his own green pastures. And yet, that is the arrow the mother keeps flinging at him…that of selfishness . The ability of the Director to let the audience feel the overwhelming love of the mother for her son, even when she berates him, is what makes the film different from the loud and overly verbose dialogues that others deem it necessary to make the audience grasp anything. It is this underestimation of the intelligence of the film viewer by the Producers and Directors and script writers that make them dish out one gross film after another with the same bunch of oh so predictable characters and same attempts at comedy. The bar , sadly, is never raised . This film is an exception.

The Mother’s role has been acted out by Sheela remarkably well, the glamorous heroine of so many of those films one had seen while growing up. How much a good director can do to bring out the talent s of those he has in front of the camera , is clearly visible in this film. One also remembered the performances of Hindi Actors like Shashi Kapoor , who otherwise sang and danced his way through his film career, when given roles by a Director like Shyam Benegal. Geetu Mohandas as the sister , was excellent. She could exhibit the vulnerable , fragile, uncertain demeanor of the girl in a very endearing manner. She doesn’t have much to say in the film, but her expressions said it all.

One could even begin to relate to the hope that started fluttering and spreading wings inside the cage of her feelings, when her brother brought home to visit them , at the mother’s behest, a young colleague from the warehouse. She immediately recognized him as her young hero of their schooldays, when he had been the heart throb of many a young lass. The intervening years had changed his circumstances too and put fetters on his dreams , as he recounted to her in an attempt to make her understand that life is not hunky dory for anyone.
In between the time she reluctantly opened the door to receive him into their home, and the moment he took leave, he had managed to wake her out of her shyness, paint a picture of herself in her own mind as an extroadinary human being , delicate and different from the run of the mill kind of girls that thronged outside, made her forget the limp as he made her sway and swirl to the music floating towards them from the community centre where some revelry was on , in the warm glow of candle light , ( as there was an interruption in the electricity) and then finally breaking the very dreams he had slowly been building in her by the news that he was already engaged. A sigh escapes us too at the cruelty of destiny. She is like the glass unicorn , whose horn he had broken , the act inadvertent , both the times.
The film is in flash back mode , brought to us through the lines of the book the brother has launched upon to tell the story of his sister , whose life is so intricately webbed with that of his and his mother’s. It is a process of catharsis for him as he leads us through the days following his friends visit, when Rose his sister had become more withdrawn and eventually admitted to a sanitorium . She had died there and it was as if a part of him had also died.

The story is only another reminder that our lives are not entirely our own. The more sensitively inclined we are, the more tangled we become in the lives of those we become related to, not just as family and friends , but even as distant acquaintances. And if a story is well told or if a film is well made , we become affected by imaginary characters as well, because at the end of it all, the emotions that held sway in those tales, hold sway over us too.
It is also perhaps true that the cause for all our grief is that we tend to dwarf the possibilities for joy within the boundaries of our individual selves and those closest to us. Our capabilities then appear to us multiplied and grandiose and swells our ego and our failures and weaknesses deflate our spirits because we cannot let our cognition look beyond and understand that strife holds no monopoly over a single soul but is the underlying echo of all of Mankind.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Movies, Reflections

 

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When I let my mind roam


This is just an experiment. I’m typing out what I wrote down just as the words floated through my head, without pause. As I read it again, I can see that in many places the whole thing is so disjointed and makes no sense at all ( except may be to a psychologist) , but in some places it is quite lucid. The chaotic rush slows down too as I keep writing. May be this only confirms why I’ve always liked writing. It certainly calms me down. Now you folks read it and tell me what you make of it. May be you could try it out yourselves. Just go on writing non-stop, without pausing even for a second to think consciously or to consciously edit what you are thinking. It is kind of fun. May be it is the devil 

“So what have you got little by little not so much how can you its too far for what you should know that’s a damn can you not see of course that’s a bird sitting there on the tree as if I can ask you for this . It’s cold and heavenly honestly is this true what am I writing for whom what can you hear the peacock please.do not edge I cannot hear you there’s a blank that’s dead the bird the fan inside my head incorrigible the canoe stumbling over the deer. From where does he come radicles and plumule biology lesson in school if I close my eyes for half an hour rich and glorious at least for now. There happens to be questions in my head for all in one shell, may be the raindrops is it deep There is icecream in the fridge and fish fry in the kitchen I’m not spelling this for you .You cannot decipher what I write because I’m doing it with closed eyes on a page that is white It’s senseless as all else whisperings from afar that I do not know breathing and throbbing through the water ducks in the water can you catch a fish at least this time for they are gone and will never come back in the playground there is grass and a lot more .training school verandah borrom tree and the bilimbi tree the garden in front of the church .this is stupid as stupid as can be I know the lines are squiggling in front of me . I cannot choose or refuse or be a recluse to the muse often when I’m alone there comes a day when it is afternoon in the nun’s head lots of rain in the drain and lots of pain and a bane and a strain declare that you stare oh my God what is wrong with me that I cannot see who is coming for me in the wilderness amongst the grass the insects grope please succumb to the bruises in my head I’m dead as a door to be found in the ground or a grassy mound looking like a river that shivers in the dark .Of course there’s a rose in the garden of throes.Lots more to see in divinity as if they’re there for you and for me.I cannot budge over the sludge in the head of the man as proud as I can for destiny there is the sea and I cannot be like this tomorrow because you are there in my sorrow as I’m conscious and dead as the bee in my bonnet stupid and proud on the trap of a cloud. Are you there a song or a flair It’s a dead man walking under the sky as far as I can see there is literally no sea only the sounds of a far more cloud who is this that speaks of my bliss eternally as eternal can be on the feet of snow there is a willow and then I will come to destiny’s drum for you I stop by the chime of a clock and I cannot count when the hours mount Lost on gravity’s pull and push There are little pansies beside the green bush.I’m caught in rhyme in the bells that chime .They speak to me of eternity.And when the dark drives me mad and when the rains reek real bad I’ll walk through the forest dense and dark And then I’ll sit on a fallen bark Cute are these words that flow through my pen. The bird and the butterfly and the cock and the hen. I’m not stopping no not at all through the caves and where the waters fall Up and down Like a jumping clown Go where you will And then stay still Who is there behind the door Who is there creeping on the floor I can do this now and again It’s a bit of a rhyme and a bit of a pain. And when the waters flow over the innocent snow The lilies and the dwarfs and oh the little calf coming once more as stories of yore Just a string of words Like a row of birds Flitting and fleeting In the night sky That dances through As the dawn comes by I know I’m mad for this to pass I may as well be dead and buried in the grass There is sanity and there is a madness of a degree .There I can cry to see a singing lark fly over the mountains lost in the mist freedom roams abandoned as sand in the grist.There are people and crowds, talking so loud and pushing them apart is a vegetable cart full of apples and grapes and fruits of all shapes over the horizon dime for a dozen Who is looking for sense in a brain that is dense This is a pedigree of the wasp and the bee That is something I’d read out of Dickinson’s head. She is truly a woman of majestic grace Her thoughts are like magic difficult to trace.I wonder what Freud will say of me That I’m mad as a hatter who laughs ludicrously.But I know that for me there is no other destiny These words are my anchor and the soul’s symphony .I like what I write For I know it’s me and if there are others , they will follow me. These still born verses may not survive .they may be curses that will forever thrive to torment my soul through the ages that come or they may be melodies that I will continue to hum.Whatever my fate this I declare For every word written, there is a pair All I have to do is to go looking for them and stitch them together As a skirt’s ripped hem. Those friends in the forests they may be ghosts or gnomes But they stick to my side wherever I roam I love their free spirit Their ditties and songs And where the song leads I just follow the throng. It’s a bit of a mystery this flowing lullaby Like a young mother calling to a little boy to die so that he can follow wherever she goes .The distance is a lot to where who knows I know I must stop before the plague hits me I know there is lots of bribes and penalty For he who steals will have to pay the price.Stealing I know not what but the measure comes thrice. I can hear my own voice talking to me through the stillness of the air as if magically.There are lots of new sounds rising from the ground There are sweet echoes In the air that surrounds .Its a lttle like bliss When the chaos dies down And the smile then emerges on the faces that frown. I know there are others buried in me For all those phantoms a common destiny.Who knows who cares as long as I can sing What riches what dust what beginnings To each his own But we know we’re all one Little weeds that stretch out towards the glorious sun.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Reflections

 

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Siesta time on Onam


This specially for my friends who are not familiar with the festival Onam , which we celebrate today, here in Kerala. . It’s about three O’clock in the afternoon. Everybody else in the house is taking a post lunch siesta. I love afternoons like this, when the sun is past half its journey across the clear blue skies and begins to lose its aggressiveness and shows an inclination to mellow down. I can relate to its mood much better then.

In the morning my very enthusiastic niece and I had sat down on the verandah to prepare a flower rangoli.

She was a little put off in the beginning because her friend Namanna, living across the street, had managed to have one in place ,very early in the morning itself. But the impish smile came back as she placed the petals carefully one by one , with my help, to make a pattern which did look nice when it was done.

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In my childhood there used to be all kinds of small flowers growing in close clusters amongst the weeds in the homestead. Now they’ve all but vanished . So we had to make do with a little bit of flowers from the garden , duly supplemented with leaves cut up into tiny pieces for the green effect .

It brought back my childhood to me instantly. I could ,in a whiff, remember the smell of all kinds of fresh flowers that each class used to heap up ,to make flower rangolis in school . It brought back memories of the almost wild garden we used to have in front of our house , which was my father’s handiwork. Wherever he went, if a new plant caught his eye, he would come back home with a sapling or cutting of it. The garden never had a planned appearance. The new member was given space wherever it was available. But the place used to smell so good around this time with lots and lots of fragrant red roses and all kinds of other flowers. A stream of little children would come and stand in front of our gate, little bamboo baskets in their hands, pleading for flowers for decorating their frontyards with flower patterns. My brother and I would act very pricey then, but I don’t remember refusing anyone. May be we did play favourites. >
It’s harvest time too and the festival must have had its social origins in the rejoicing of spirits after a good crop was brought in. It was a time for feasting , grains and vegetables being available in plenty. It is another story that most of the fields have all been converted into residential areas and the climate too is not what it used to be thanks to the effects of pollution.
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But Kerala is still green after the monsoons. So it is not very difficult to create an ambience of those glorious times in our imaginations. Nostalgia can do wonderful things to create illusions and most of us of us Keralites are susceptible to a fault , of wanting to clothe harsh realities with the yarns of our fantasies.

And so we celebrate Maveli’s annual visit in style. There is a traditional lunch , traditionally served on banana leaves. Here at home, none of us are great experts at making vegetarian dishes, at least , it doesn’t quite come out the way our Hindu friends prepare them. The dishes are mostly coconut based, but each panders to a different set of taste-buds on our tongues and palette. Nowadays, these special dishes are home delivered or can be packed and brought home. Sadly, my nephew couldn’t manage to find a place to get us a decent onam lunch. He himself had an invitation to lunch with a friend and so scooted off. As my mother is confined to bed , my sister and I couldn’t have gone visiting . So we had to satisfy ourselves with our own version of the Onam sadya. It was not too bad actually.

The afternoon had a lazy feel to it. So I strolled around the homestead , breathing in the particular smells that I carry with me wherever I go…… ..the smell of wet weeds and the smell of smoke from the dry coconut leaves and coconut husks that we still use in the fireplace at one end of the small verandah at the back of the house, to heat up water for a bath , when it rains .

Also the smell of moss on the compound walls

and the lingering smell of fish fry and pappads and of seasoning with curry leaves and mustard ,wafting through the air.

A group of crows kept pecking at the lunch leftovers

While the cat kept loitering around in the backyard , waiting for a chance to slink into the kitchen.
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The house in the neighbouring compound looks lonely and desolate now , almost as if missing our running around and our games and laughter , for if the bunch of us, as kids,were not in our courtyard we would be in theirs. Now it stands there amidst the trees and the wildly growing weeds, all locked up , its inhabitants across the seas.


Change they will, all those circumstances that made our yester-years so rich with memories, as does life from second to second and yet ,there is a certain stream in our consciousness that does not change and we can take a dip in those cool or warm waters as we would want and when we want to if we do not allow the harshness of day to day living to push it too deep down from where we cannot reclaim it ever.

I would deem my life very poor if denied of that blessing of imagination that can take me to my childhood and back again in the interval between a crow’s raucous cawing and the koyal’s sweet beckoning on a lazy afternoon.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in childhood, Nostalgia, Photography

 

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