Posted in Verses

Siron

I had a chance encounter

With a word today.

A name, an acquaintance of old,

Siron.

Is it C-ron or CY-ron?

In all those years when I frequented the joint,

I never cared for how it sounded in my head,

But now I do.

S-I-R-O-N was all it was,

Bright painted letters

Above the single dingy room,

With cheap chairs

And dusty corners

That promised milkshakes and ice creams

At rates we could afford;

And so it was

That a shoddy little place,

Grew into a horde of memories –

Haven for hot days,

Birthday treats,

Risque solitude

And covert first dates;

Sweet days tasting of

Thick mango shakes in summer

Choco deluxe in autumn

With cutlets and rolls

And watered down sauce;

.

I had a chance encounter

With five letters today

And together they spelt out

Mangoes,

Summer evenings,

Friendship

And love.

Posted in Musings

Misplaced Sentiments

We were a group of five, three Tamilians, a Bengali and a Keralite, sharing lunch and a frivolous chat when the casual conversation veered towards the varied cultural differences and similarities across the expanse of our country. Someone put in a word about how each state in India has an identity of its own and how, even Kerala and Tamil Nadu are different in so many ways, even though they cuddle together at the bottom of the map. I remarked how true that is, and indeed that Kerala has a lot more in common with the geographically distant West Bengal than with Tamil Nadu.

And all of a sudden, the discussion turned into a debate.

I still have no clue why my statement should have provoked them as it did. I did not intend to mean that TN is inferior in any way, just that things are different. Comparisons have always been drawn between Kerala and West Bengal with respect to popular culture, the kind of movies made, the high regard for Communist ideologies in the political set up and even the crazy football fanship in a country where every other state adores cricket. That is all I meant to put across. But somehow the innocent comment was conjured to be an attack on their cultural integrity and mocked to be a sign of how one always disregards one’s neighbours and worships distant lands.

Oh boy.

I found it rather ironic in retrospect that the Bengali and myself were on one side of the ensuing argument even as they vehemently opposed our attempts at clarification.

This is not the first time I’ve come across such incidents either. Certain opinions are lost in translation across borders, even if we happen to be speaking the same language. Inherent insecurities are projected as an overt need to stand up and shout down ideas, and many a time remarks are taken out of context and interpreted in ways deemed right. 

Maybe a lot of the violence and hatred that breed among us is the result of ill communication, and perhaps our own perceptions of how we are being perceived. If I were to remark someone is dusky, it becomes an insult, if I happen to hail from a place where the majority have a fair complexion. Dark becomes less of an adjective and more of a derogation based on who says it. Abstract theories define our sense of right and wrong, and indignation sprouts from simple matters.

I’d say patriotism and belonging are often separatist barriers that prevent us from viewing the big picture. How beautiful the world would be if diversity were embraced as the crux of existence, and not some precious aftermath of human interference that needs to be protected and fought for. 

Posted in Verses

What You Feel Like

You feel like my grey pajamas.

Old, worn

With the memory of many a day

Curled up in comfort;

You feel like warmth

On winter nights.

You feel like the sea breeze

That traverses long miles

To cool my brow

Under the sweltering sun;

You are the salty tinge

That rests on my lips.

You feel like the mighty mountains

That watch over me

From a distance,

And yet I need only turn

To know it’s there;

The misty hills

On my bare landscape.

You feel like dog-eared pages,

Like musty souvenirs,

Like inky letters on scrapbooks,

Like the lyrics rolling off my tongue,

Like ancient dreams,

Re-runs of childhood whims,

Like the smell of fresh rain

And coffee and the earth;

Yes,

You feel like home.

💕

Posted in Verses

The Shore I Seek

You claim to love the sea

And yet fail to see the restless waves

Of turmoil

That toss my heart;

I grope at the shore,

Again and again,

For a fast hold

But am cast away by insecurities

While need draws me close

Fear drives me away,

And forever I crash and recede..

Why can’t you see

All I want

Is to know calm and clarity,

Know a love that does not drain me

Of all I am..

Why can’t you see

Sweetheart

That the shore I seek

Is you?

Posted in Anecdotes

Mangroves For Two

Everything gets a little better with a good friend by your side. 

My last day of monitoring was around the region of Chidambaram in Cuddalore. Amigo SR, a monitor himself, happened to be free that day, so I decided to take him along with me. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the work progressed easier with his help; we went about in buses where I normally would have relied on taxis, and he proved to be more street smart that I had given him credit for.

The official work was done by noon. The last school I visited was in the village of Killai, a few kilometres way from the Pichavaram Ecotourism Centre. To have come all the way there and to return without checking it out would be rather dumb, so we made our way there.

An auto rickshaw dropped us off at the site. Pichavaram is known for its mangrove forests, one of the three prominent ones in India. The other two are in West Bengal and the Andaman Islands. 

Row boats and motor boats can be hired by the hour, and according to the number of people visiting, and are rated at fair prices accordingly. It ranged from a one hour row boat ride for two that cost you 185 rupees (~3 dollars) to a 6 hour motor boat ride which included a trip to the Pichavaram Beach thrown in, rated at around 2500 rupees. We settled for the former being pressed for time, and proceeded to find a place to lunch first.

Only a snack bar existed within the complex, so we were directed to a restaurant on the way we came. One side of the lonely road was lined by small houses and tamarind trees; on the other ran a rivulet filled with boats – fishing boats presumably. Two aged women sat some feet apart selling karuvaadu, fish salted and dried in the sun.

We walked a short distance before spotting the sign Neithal Seafood Resto, which was less of a hotel and more of an extension of a small house, with a makeshift shed modified to be the serving area. When we arrived, the single table was occupied by 5 other guests, so we were quickly shown into the next room, a small hall alongside the kitchen. A woven mat on the floor proved to be our designated seating area. The wall behind us alone was painted an enthusiastic orange with blue waves crashing, and the dull wall opposite was covered with old family photographs. The smell of frying fish wafted in from the kitchen and made us hungrier.

The home made food was a delight, adding to the raw ambiance of the place. We had a hearty meal of cooked rice, lentils, pickle, fish curry and a piece of fried fish each.

After the meal, we headed back to the Ecotourism Centre and were soon fitted with life jackets, ready to go. We made our way to the series of numbered boats tied to the shore awaiting riders.

Neither of us had been to mangrove forests before. It was a lovely ride, taking in the beautiful view, with a running commentary from the the rowing personnel.

He filled us in with trivia about mangroves, regarding their locations in India, and their importance in the ecosystem. He has been working here for the past 20 years and the words flowed easily with a practised precision, and at times when we interrupted him with our queries, he would repeat himself over and over, like a disfunctioning record playing, unaware that he was doing it.

It was a delightful ride. As we were taken deeper into the forest area, the place grew quieter. We spotted herons and parrots flying overhead and were charmed by the other worldly nature of the place.

The route rapidly turned into a maze as the trees split into little islands. Apparently there were around 3000 of these, and you could easily get lost if you were not careful.

The hour passed pleasantly. We were quiet as we came out into the sun again, revelling in the serenity we had just experienced, the sheen of the surreal alcove still shimmering at the back of our minds like the water glitter that surrounded us.

Note : Photo credit goes to SR. In spite of me blatantly claiming expertise in photography, it was soon evident that my skills ranged between nil and zero. I proceeded to blame my phone and he was gracious enough to pretend to believe me and subtly take over the job. 😀 None of the pictures are edited.

Posted in Anecdotes

A Happy Meal

I love to travel. 

It sounds like such a cliche in today’s world where almost everyone claims to be struck by wanderlust. But one thing that I guess sets my craze apart is that I am more into exploring places than sightseeing. Again, that came out as another cliche. Let me elaborate further.

I don’t care for destinations. I don’t care about whether the places I visit are sites worthy of exploration, or whether they feature in magazines and websites. I care not for public approval or appraisal. Everyone talks about Goa and Kashmir and Paris and Switzerland.. I don’t deny that I would love to go to all those places too, but I love equally to explore tiny niches that hold little value in the eyes of the average traveller. I don’t care if the place is amenable to be tagged on Facebook or to be bragged about to friends, I just adore being somewhere new; no matter what awaits me, if it’s someplace I’ve never been to, if it has something unseen in store for me, I fall in love with it. 

I also love getting to know places.. living somewhere for months and slowly making my acquaintance, knowing where the supermarket is, where the best eateries are, solving the puzzling traces of the little roads and by lanes till I can trace them on my palm, and if I were to pass by years later, it would feel like a glimpse of home.

This could be why travelling to the various regions in Cuddalore excited me so. The other day in Neyveli, it was past 1 in the afternoon when my work was done, and I asked the driver, a local, to find me a good place to eat. He stopped the taxi in front of a dilapilated building just off the main road. Mudaliar Mess. I raised an eyebrow but decided to go in with him. It had originally been a larger hotel, but the whole of the front part had been recently destroyed to facilitate road expansion. It remained as such, a crumbling ruin with a small opening that showed you some old benches laden with fresh green banana leaves in place, ready to be served lunch on. A couple of ladies waited on rusty chairs waiting for a parcel. The food was really good, but I could only eat so much, even after being compelled to take a second helping by those who served. They joked about how skinny I am, in the way only friendly small town folks do.It was a happy meal, not just filling or sumptuous, but truly happy. And that’s pretty lucky, don’t you think?

Posted in Anecdotes

Random Sights Of Cuddalore

I felt a follow up post was necessary to showcase the stuff I wrote about yesterday. I would like to apologize for the poor quality of images. Almost all of them were taken from a moving car as I did not have the time to stop for pictures. Still I felt some snapshots were warranted, and here they are. 

You may not even be aware of the rural district of Cuddalore that nestles in a corner of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Even I was not. Like almost the rest of TN it has the occasional bustling town separated by miles of empty fields. But I was unprepared for the raw life that existed there, the sort that is the heart of villages in India, man and nature interspersed, unwilling to separate into distant entities as in the urban landscape. 

Agriculture plays a major role and tractors laden with hay were a regular sight on the roads. In some of the more wealthier houses, you even spotted one resting by makeshift gates. I passed many a bullock cart too.

Hay on wheels! Clicked just as we were passing the truck..

The crops grown in the regions I visited were mostly paddy and sugarcane. I couldn’t help craving a bite as I passed lush fields of the latter.

Sugarcane fields
Harvested sugarcane being bundled for transport
Green and golden fields of paddy

Most of the houses in the villages were made from scratch using clay and hay. Occasionally some would have brick walls but these too were usually thatched with hay. An agricultural refuse, the left over paddy husk becomes a sustainable source for building houses!

Hut made of woven palm leaves

The post cannot be complete without a picture of the kind of schools I visited. The children were lovely, enthusiastic and welcoming and obviously shy. I did not want to distract them from their classes but managed to get a covert click of the primary school students as they sat on the veranda for their classes.

This is of course just a glimpse of the places that I visited. Many a lovely sight had to be forgone and many potential clicks abandoned, being pressed for time and due to the circumstances. I find every place has a charm of its own, and Cuddalore certainly won my heart.

Posted in Anecdotes

Alcoves Of Life

When I took up Community Medicine, I was not quite sure what I was getting into, whether I am truly cut out for the work it entitled. It heartens me that things certainly do look that way. I love the things I am getting to learn.

Less than two weeks into joining the course I have been lucky enough to receive an opportunity to work with the World Health Organisation; as an External Monitor on behalf of WHO for the Measles -Rubella vaccination campaign happening in the state throughout the month of February. I travelled solo to remote parts of the largely rural district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, monitoring certain assigned sites each day and the experience has been amazing. 

Barren landscapes dotted with cattle and ancient bullock carts stacked with hay met my widened eyes –  I had never seen the likes of these except perhaps in Tamil movies of old. Schools were part of the more populated areas, a couple of concrete buildings where children in red uniforms peeked out of the windows of their classrooms or from under shady trees where some had their lessons. My visits drew excitement; some boys saluted me as they would a teacher, and certain girls threw shy glances at my attire and accessories; one shook my hand and hid behind her friends giggling while all the others waved me goodbye.

As the driver took me from one remote village to the other, I watched in awe the alcoves of life emerging from the corners of my country – naked children playing in puddles and old folks squatting in front of caricatured huts made of dark mud walls and low lying roofs of hay, where nights brought darkness and light came up with the sun, where one walked miles altogether to reach the main road and the few necessities were met by a single grocery store.. 

I could not help feeling a little ashamed of how I complained about slow wifi networks, the occasional loss of power and late Amazon deliveries. The presence of supermarkets and designer stores at a walkable distance suddenly seemed an overindulgence. But funnily enough, in spite of lack of all these facilities, I caught myself feeling jealous of them. They were content in their way of life, and that’s what matters in the end.

Posted in Musings

Being Myself??

Live in the present. Live in the present..

The trending phrase, alongside Be Yourself and Follow Your Heart. What do these mean anyway? Abstract words strung together to give you the satisfaction of owning an identity that is as unique as a drop of water in the sea or another pebble on the shore. The pebbles that come together to make the land and the drops that form the masses that separate, dissolve, that encompasses the reality of all that cease to exist with green pastures playing on the other side; that draw us in with excitement and drive us away in exasperation, when the colours fade and turn grey overnight.

I do live in the present, I do follow my heart, I am myself. Once I am all that I am supposed to be, what next? When the goal is reached, what then? 

I laugh easily, talk pleasantly, make merry with all who surround me and make no efforts to reach out over to the past to where old bonds lie; when new branches shield me from the maze of roots beneath me, am I to content myself with the knowledge that I am happy in the present, or bemoan this fickle heart of mine that forgets in seconds all it held close and fails to remember fond matters of old? I live in the present.. Does that make me self centred?

I follow my heart. I fell in love with one and then with another, and each time it felt right and resonated with the sure leaps of my heart leading me on a path contrived of red roses and bliss; and as each came down with surmounting misery, I chose to flee into the warm welcoming arms of solitude. I followed my heart, followed its bloody trail of fluttering whims and fancies, the short leaps of faith and the chasms of chance encounters, revelling in ecstatic escapism. Yes I followed my heart.. But what if I churned others’ in the process?

I am myself. Who else can I be? The one that delves into deep spirituality and calls oneself an agnostic, the one that chides others for superficiality and checks the mirror for blemishes, the one who looks down upon blind beliefs and chooses to walk on criss cross edges of the patterned tile floors for good luck, who plays grammar Nazi and hopes to be forgiven for mediocrity in another tongue. 

I am who I am, we are all who truly are; the hopeless lists of contradictions compiled into human form, strutting about in self denial and pretending to be something we are not – capable of change. Is not the ability to change another factor keyed into our existence? The ability to hold fast to beliefs or to adapt like a chameleon, is that not engraved into our spirits?

So if I do live in the present, if I do follow my heart and I do proclaim to be myself, what does that make me? The all encompassing ideal of the universe or another misled soul lost in a world of definitions for rightful living?