Posted in Fiction

Yawns

You’ve all heard the story of big old Yawn, haven’t ya?

No??!

Well, well then.. gather around.

I’d start the story off by saying ‘Once upon a time, there lived a big old Yawn..’, but of course, it wouldn’t really be true, cuz they are all still alive. On yes, very much. Anyhow, I guess I should stick to convention.

Once upon a time, there lived a big old Yawn. He didn’t look like much, just like all of ’em other Yawns.. a thick grey mouthstache and a pair of ’em blue spectacles I suppose.. truth is, no one really knows what Yawns actually look like. We fall asleep way before we get a good look!

So, you know what Yawns do don’t ya. They are the helpers of Sandman, of course. Like Santa’s little elves. But then, Santa has only gotta work once in a year. It’s not an easy job going around putting little kids to sleep EVERY DAY, ya know.

Especially those little rascal toddlers that never go to sleep. But of course, there is no kid out there that Yawns cannot take care of. First, they take a massive breath in.. and with that they draw in all the tired energy from the kiddos.. and the kiddos feel all light and cool all at once. And then, before they know what hit them, they are literally blown over and away by a long loud yawn – a magical breeze that draws your eyes shut before you know it.. and as it washes over their tiny bodies, they get find themselves in the tales of secret Neverland that the rest of us adults never get to go to anymore..

Hmm..

Okay now, where was I? Ah yes, big man Yawn.. well you see, he..

Hello?

Hehe. Oh my darling sweet things, looks like the Yawns have done their magic already.

Nighty night, y’all. Guess that tale is for another night..

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Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

House Of Cards

My father has always been a rather distant entity in my life. Always there, but never really. I’ve never exactly been petted by him, as is the case with most fathers in the Indian scenario. But two things that I hold fast to my heart till date are cards and carroms – games I shared with him, and those he excelled at.

It was pure joy to watch him deal a hand, shuffling them this way and that, and even more so for a child. He is a leftie which was unique itself then – the way he held his deck and flung them out in triumph. We’d sit in a circle, Father, his friends, their kids and I, and we’d play for hours even as our mothers chided us in the background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose; he was great at cheating even. And carrom! He would always make the first strike, hitting the coins exactly at that sweet spot that never revealed itself to me even after years of persistent practice; I can still recall the awe I’d feel when he sent coins flying in four directions with that single strike, bagging four coins at once. Two blacks and two whites. And of course, the red queen would land in his lap in no time.

He had a drinking problem, and managed to gamble away a lot of money. As time went on, responsibilities and liabilities grew and Father quietened down. I cannot ascertain if the change was abrupt or gradual.. He refused to play with us anymore even when we pleaded. Maybe one round of rummy once in a while, but then those too stopped. Even as the drinking came down and he started getting a hold on his life, he was not the same fun person he used to be, and I do remember that I often wished he’d just drink, just so he’d look happy. The cards lay unused and gradually disappeared in the way things do, and the carrom board came to life infrequently when I had a random cousin or friend come over. Cracks developed on the board and the wood pealed at places and it was quietly put away. I too grew up.

A few days ago, some friends came together and organised a little party for Christmas on the roof of their house. Someone brought along a few decks of cards, and as I spread my share in my hand after more than a decade, I was reminded of the rare laughter and fun and frolic that I shared with Father. Fragile times. A huff and a puff and it all fell down. My childhood really was a house of cards.

When I left the party, I held on to a deck and took it back with me. For home.

Posted in Musings

Not Child’s Play

The Open Page of The Hindu today featured a short article titled ‘The World of Chhota Bheem’ which highlighted the dark sides of the highly popular animated TV show for children, stereotypical characters and racist biases being some of them. The writer lamented over how these may subtly influence the multitude of children who watch the show regularly. I, for one, being one of the 90s children brought up on a lavish dosage of Cartoon Network, couldn’t help pondering on my own upbringing. Looking back, I realize I can trace almost every aspect of my personality to one childhood experience or the other.

Yours truly is an environmentalist who faces constant death threats from friends secondary to irritating and long drawn lectures about saving Mother Earth, and today it struck me how my favorite toon as a kid, Captain Planet, might have something to do with it.

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The power is yours!!

For the uninitiated, it was an animated edutainment program which featured five youngsters from five continents, each in possession of a powerful ring that could be used to control the elements (Fire, Water, Wind, Earth and Heart). Working together, they could seek the help of Captain Planet who would fight the enemies (criminal masterminds with no concern for ecosystems) and save the day. Their portrayal  of the perfect Earth with a focus on sustainability, afforestation, animal conservation and responsible waste management had a significant impact on the kind of person I turned out to be.  Today, twenty years down the line, the mantra of Reuse, Reduce and Recycle still stays fresh in my mind and I try to comply with it wherever possible.

On a similar note, I am pretty sure Denver, The Last Dinosaur is to blame for my one devilish craving – potato chips.

The issue does not pertain to TV shows alone. One of my favorite toys as a child was a set of tiny colored wooden cookware I acquired on a visit to Madurai. The minuscule look-alikes of pans, rollers and traditional utensils won my heart like nothing else did. Over the years, the pieces were broken, misplaced, lost.. As I grew up, they became but a fond memory. Fast forward to January 2017 when I come across brightly colored wooden items at a handicraft exhibition in Pondicherry and go gaga over them. I come to know that these are the famous Channapatna Toys from Karnataka – these even have a GI tag! Since then, I have gone back multiple times and acquired more and more of these adorable collectibles. I’m afraid I can’t help it. They are a part of my childhood and that alone deems them a precious and priceless status.

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When I was a little girl, I imagined I would remember not to grow up to be the kind of adults I hated, the ones that forgot all the simple games, the tricks, the ones that did not know how to turn a piece of old newspaper into a little boat, or a ripe coconut leaf into a watch. But as J. M. Barrie ruefully documents in Peter Pan, we forget. All of us grow up and forget what it is to be a child. That in itself is not so dangerous – we only turn potentially boring. What is indeed dangerous is how, as parents, elder siblings, uncles and aunts, we forget how impressionable children are, how every little thing can make or break them and have lasting effects on their lives.

Especially in today’s world where mass media, social media and cyberspace come together to play a major role in our daily lives, we need to be responsible enough to decide and control what the posterity is exposed to. Toddlers do not need iPads, they need attention and care that they can in turn learn to disseminate. Let technology take a backseat; lead them to books, stories and imaginative play.

Let us create the perfect future, the perfect Earth, one child at a time.

Posted in Anecdotes

Pink And Proud

It has been so long since I last posted something that I have actually been framing and editing the opening sentence for a full ten minutes now, till it finally transformed into this. Nothing spectacular, I know. These fingertips are badly in need of inspiration.

It has been exactly a month since I wrote something other than research proposals or official letters. Being back at college is proving to rain on my literary parade. But I can’t quite blame the curriculum for it; it’s me of course. Old habits die hard and laziness is immortal. It’s just so easy and convenient to sit back against a cushion, whip out one’s phone and text the people you -wait for it! – spent the entire day with. So unnecessary, but such an integral part of one’s life these days..

Today.. umm wait. I realise I effectively procrastinated the post so well that it’s actually yesterday. So yesterday, the 19th of April, I came to know through a WhatsApp forward, is the World Cycling Day. Yoo-hoo!! Here is to eco friendly and healthy transportation! Bikers unite!!! 

I was a late bloomer in the cycling scenario and learned to bike quite late. I am reminded of the first time I attempted the antic of riding without side wheels. I was in my 5th grade and it was my friend’s cycle and the road leading up to her house used to be a precarious fall. It either levelled out as I grew or my visual capabilities recovered from imaginative hyperbolic perceptions. Either way, it doesn’t seem as notorious now as it did then. Anyway, I clearly remember screaming in horror as a coconut tree came rushing toward me. Thanks to the impact, the bike was broken and I stayed away from the similar adventures till I got a cycle of my own for the first time in 8th grade. 

My dreams of riding with abandon were soon put to rest as a local toddy shop opened right across my designated cycling route. Mother felt it inappropriate and unsafe for a young girl to bike in the area where drunken hooligans aka potential molesters loitered. The other route was all uphill – not exactly the average weakling’s cuppa tea. So that too came to a premature end.

Childhood whims are like one’s first love, you never quite get over them. Which is probably why, the moment I stepped inside the sprawling campus with its wide shady lanes, I knew I had my opportunity at long last!

Now, 12 years down the line, I am the proud owner of another bike. It did take a couple of weeks for my atrophied thigh muscles to get used to the climb, but they don’t complain as much now. 

The colour does make me cringe, but apparently ladies’ cycles only come in pink and lavendar in this town. Oh well. At least it stands out among the fleet of sober scooters and motorcycles!

Posted in Verses

Calicut

The land of my dreams.

The fantasy that was my childhood.

I look out eagerly from the passenger seat 

At buildings and banners flying by

And search among them

The remembered past.

The fabled streets and the taste of sherbet

The many hued halwas

And sweet faloodas

Flash before me and yet I

See them not;

I try to knead through abstruse reality

And am faced with surrealism,

Illusions of my own making.

I step into my dear aunt’s house

House, not home, mind you

For this is not home

Not this majestic monstrosity in white

With the perfect wooden floors

And the crystal chandelier

Surrounded by limp manicured shrubs

Ordered to stand to attention;

Home was where the flaky paint

Showed off marks of dirt and crayons

Where broken tiles and low parapets

With ageing wisdom

Nestled my young limbs 

While mighty trees swung their shade

Along walls where wild bougainville

Climbed and bloomed

In a frenzy of colours

In the direction of my fancy 

Where cats, no less than nine

Joined in to play with abandon..

I roam from room to room 

Struggling against my senses

And clutching at the scattered pieces

Of a child’s memories 

Afraid to let go

Lest I should lose myself.

A lonely tear strays out of my right eye

And wanders, a vagabond on a misled trail

Like me.

Posted in Verses

Green Temptation 

‘Go on, go on, a little bite’ 

The wily uncle tempted

As she sat in respite

The crafty task unattempted 

She stared at the little mango green

Placed in her tiny hand 

Eyes curious and keen,

An unsuspecting infant.

Two tiny teeth on her upper jaw

And two tiny ones on the lower

She smiled with them at all she saw

And o’er the fruit now did they hover

She bit down hard and as her face

Wrinkled in betrayal’s taste

Her uncle caught her sour gaze

In a click of notorious haste

For years to come, the photograph

Remained in the Favourites pile

For his sly capture made everyone laugh

And her innocence made them smile.

Note: My uncle was in college and experimenting with photography at the time I was born, and I was soon his favourite subject. All my childhood photos were taken by him, the first time I stood up, sat up, me creeping up the stairs.. I was around 7 months when the mango pic was taken, the first teeth just out and eager to bite into anything I got offered. I could almost taste the sourness every time I looked at it – me in a yellow dress with the very green mango in my hand and face scrunched comically. Sadly I lost it when I moved.


Posted in Musings

Grandfather, Remembered

My paternal grandfather passed away last year. He was someone I knew only from afar. In my memory he is but a cheerful greeting and a pat on the back that came with summer visits after every school year.

Our visits were brief but looked forward to, as he lived in the hills. He taught at a school there and refused to leave the place even after retirement. Reaching him meant hours of exhilarating travel up steep winding roads lined by forests on one side and a precipitous drop on the other. I remember how we used to roll up the windows, for fear of monkeys that resided in the area. It was not uncommon for them to swing off low branches and latch on to slowing vehicles to grab food from unsuspecting passengers. Once night set in, there were chances we might come across wild rabbits, deer and even herds of elephants. The memory of a lone wild elephant spotted one night still fills me with awe. Another vivid memory is that of a glorious sunset witnessed once, the sun a large ball of fire in the blood red sky, playing peek-a-boo from behind the thick foliage as we traversed the sharp bends.

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A view of the valley and the road traversed as we near the top

Large tea estates awaited when we reached the top. The shrubs trimmed to perfection resembled green crocheted carpets strewn over either side of the road. We’d pass a couple of small sleepy towns, punctuated by wilderness and estates. I remember I always kept a look out for an ancient tree shrouded in mythical mystery. Every year I’d gaze upon it with wonder as my mother pointed it out and recounted the legend.

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The tea estates 

When we finally reached, the first to welcome us were large clusters of pink flowers that fell from vines that grew along the walls. All my life I have associated Rangoon Creepers with my childhood vacations in Wayanad. Grandpa would lead us in with his typically flamboyant pleasantries. In a corner of the hall lay his faithful sheepdog, oblivious to our presence, blinded partly by age and partly by the unruly mane over his eyes.

Most of my time there was spent going through his collection of books, usually abridged and illustrated classics in orange paperbacks. Every year I’d scourge the shelf for new classics, exalting in the discovery of previously unread ones. Otherwise I would explore the backyard up to where a small stream ran. An unused grinding mill stood there, surrounded by thick layers of rice husk coughed up over the years, replacing soil. There were guava and mango trees nearby which bore fruit in the summer, and I’d munch on freshly plucked ones happily if the monkeys did not get to them first.

While books and nature always engrossed me as a child, people seldom did. I don’t remember ever having a real conversation with my grandfather. This is partly due to the fact that my visits dwindled after high school and ended once I went off to college. Me coming home became a rarity in itself, and travelling to meet him was out of the question. I was too busy growing up to notice he was growing old.

Last year, I made the journey again after nearly a decade. The place has undergone drastic changes in the last years. The climb up is not as steep anymore, the roads having been widened to facilitate the growing traffic. Wayanad is now a hot spot for people seeking ethnic enclaves and picturesque getaways. Large billboards boast of ostentatious resorts that cater to every need. Institutions have sprung up in between the tea estates. My fabled tree of old is easy to make out now, as the area around it has been cleared and fenced to mark its existence.

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The Chain Tree

A great many people showed up for the funeral. I knew my grandfather as a teacher, a retired Headmaster. But everyone who gathered had a lot more to share. I was intrigued to discover he had been instrumental in turning part of that isolated village into the town it is now, using his ties with the ruling political party to erect the first schools there and the first bus depot. He had been President of a regional bank. He had a degree in Law in addition to Literature. My ideas about Grandpa faded, and in its stead I saw a curious young man, charismatic and fascinating, alive through all who had truly known him.

As the stories poured in, I felt a deep sense of loss. In all those years as I scourged for orange paperbacks, I had missed out on this particular classic.

Posted in Fiction

Red Bangles

This is something I penned for a short story writing competition some years back. The topic/prompt was Tears. It seems rather amateurish to me now, but I figured I’ll  post it anyway.

He saw her almost every day.

Not all of her of course. Now an outstretched hand with the blood red bangles, now a glimpse of the blue dupatta that waved at him in the wind. Sometimes the mere tinkling of her anklets as she ran down the street would suffice.

Every day as he walked home in the evening, he would linger there, right between the paanwala’s den and the cheap dhaba that sold much sought-after fly-ridden chaat , waiting till she appeared. And on some days she would not, even after he sacrificed three rupees on the dirty snacks as an excuse.

It was on a day such as this that he finally decided to venture into the dark alley that he knew only as her home. But a few wary steps later, his courage gave out. He was just about to turn around when –

“Hey, you!”

It was with a start that he located the voice. There she was, peering from a doorway. She of the blood red bangles and the blue dupatta. He noticed she had pretty eyes as she smiled.

“Hey you”, she repeated. “What are you doing here?”

He hesitated. Took a deep breath.

“Hi, I am Rahul. Can I be friends with you?”

She laughed, a tinkling sweeter than that of her anklets. The friendliness in her eyes gave way to curiosity.

“Why do you want to be friends with me?” she asked

“Well”, he began in a matter-of-fact tone,”I don’t have anyone my age where I live, and I see you every day on my way back from  school, so I thought maybe you can be my friend”

“Hmm..”, she said, considering the offer.”How old are you?”

“Turning 10 this summer”, he replied proudly.

“Then I’m afraid I’m a bit older than you”, she reasoned.

“Oh that’s okay”, he said. “I really like you, so I can make an exception.”

“I guess we are friends then”, she smiled again.

Rahul beamed. He was finally talking to.. wait –

“What’s your name?”

It was her turn to hesitate.

“Ch.. Charu”, she said, looking away.

He seemed pleased with the name.

“So what class are you in?”, he asked

“Oh, I don’t go to school”, she replied with a twinkle in her eye. “You see, I’m  a princess”

His eyes grew wide. “A princess??”

“Yes, a princess. I live here because I don’t want my enemies to find me”

The skeptic in Rahul spoke next. “Princesses don’t wear glass bangles, they wear golden ones!”

“I don’t wear them because that will give away my identity, idiot!”

Rahul had to admit she had a point.

“Okay then, tell me more!”

And she did. She told him of the armed guards who protected her and the old maids who waited on her. Of the snowy white bed she slept on. Of the delicious sweets she had. Of the golden plates and silver forks. Of the chandelier that sparkled at night. On and on, as the twilight set in, and the twinkle in her eyes grew brighter.

As enraptured as he was, Rahul had to admit he was getting late. He left with a solemn good bye and a happy promise to be back the next day. As she watched him walk away, she saw the snowy bed in her head. So much as a wrinkle and the Lady would hit her hard. The amazing sweets. Pinching off a crumb had the cook try to wrench her skin off. The cutlery. If they weren’t done just right, she could go without food for a day.

Of course, all this was way back. They would not keep her once she came of age. Now she was no longer a maid, but –

“Cherry!!”

Startled, she came out of the reverie. The twilight had darkened and she was needed.  Those big men with betel-stained teeth and sweaty odour always wanted her. Her innocence, they believed, would wash away their sins. Her body had long grown numb to their hungry touch, but somewhere inside her, a child still dwelled.

Which is why, as she crossed the threshold into where shadows alone lurked, the twinkle in her eyes fell away and dropped down her cheeks.